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The Vacuum Issue 12 Down Mexico Way spacer The Vacuum Issue 12 - Down Mexico Way
El Paso and Dundalk
by Rebecca Kiernan
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During his time as a BBC correspondent in the 1980s, Max Hastings went to all the war hot spots, Saigon, Israel, Port Stanley... Dundalk. The latter he affectionately termed 'El Paso' referring to Dundalk's dubious reputation for harbouring known terrorists and other assorted rogues from its handy position, nestling on the north-south border. The county of El Paso, situated on the Texas border, a stone's throw from Mexico, holds a long standing reputation for hiding gringos behaving badly and other various outlaws, pardner.
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Dundalk is a large town in Co. Louth, situated in the north-east of Ireland, bordering with Newry. It's never had a particularly great reputation, and when it made the news, it was usually because some terrorist was living there.
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The amigos of Dundalk were mighty angry at having their border town compared to this Tex-Mex hideaway. A spokes-sheriff for Dundalk Garda was resolute in saying 'El Paso? Absolutely not, our crime levels are no different from any other place.' I thought I'd be pushing my luck if at this stage I'd said 'what if that other place was Mexico?'
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Donna has been a Dundalkien all her life and 'doesn't care about the El Paso stuff'. As far as she's concerned, there are plenty of jobs and good clothes shops. In her own words, 'we have a new bowling alley, a lively social scene and a UCI cinema'. What more could a girl want? Dundalk is also responsible for The Corrs, and depending on your perspective, this is either a good or a bad thing.
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If Mr Hastings thought he was brave venturing into the midst of the Falklands, a true act of courage would have been to go for a Martini extra dry in Dundalk's Lisdoo Arms following his El Paso slur. I doubt he would have made it out with his chaps in one piece. Needless to say, Dundalk has not taken kindly to being dubbed as a bandit hideaway, it's hardly likely to include such an accolade in its tourist information brochure if it has one.
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I grew up not far from Dundalk, and as a child, my family used to drag me there for day trips. The roads were so bad I would have thrown up more than once before we got there. A lasting childhood memory is that of my mum fleeing a Dundalk bakery in disgust because the assistant was picking her nose. Now of course, all the EU subsidies means that Dundalk has a lovely motorway, what seems like a hundred shopping centres, you can get to Dublin in an hour and the bakery assistants have a food hygiene certificate. Everyone I talked to seemed happy to live in the town, and no one agreed with or cared much for the El Paso label.
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Despite the alleged similarities with Mexico, I could not find one fajita shop in Dundalk. The local convience store had never heard of refried beans, and they don't call each other 'amigo' in The Lisdoo Arms. Not many of them are drinking tequila sunrises either. Mexican bandits are usually dark haired shifty looking fellers in big hats with tassels on. Dundalk bandits would appear to have red hair and even redder noses (perhaps caused by eating chilli but I doubt it). I tried drilling for oil just off the Newry Road but to no avail. Not a stones throw away however is Jonesboro market, where I definitely spotted some pirates. It's an excellent market, brimming over with bargains providing you get there before the cops do. No one ever had a bad day at Blackrock, the lovely seaside town a couple of miles up the road from Dundalk, where I found a fine, only slightly stony beach, and a nice collection of pubs. According to the locals, the best time to visit Blackrock is any Sunday in the summer, when everyone gets drunk and falls asleep on the beach.
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On the flip side, how would El Paso feel at being likened to Dundalk? I wouldn't know, as the County Judge, Justice Briones, is unavailable for comment, and my local library doesn't have the Texas phone directory. Does it really deserve its reputation as the Dundalk of the USA? Well according to figures supplied by the El Paso Times, last year there have been 122 train robberies, 87 burglaries and 19 rock-throwing incidents at the border. Compare this to the forlorn Belfast-Dublin train which has a long history of bomb hoaxes and being pelted by stones as it approached Dundalk.
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The general consensus of the Dundalk people is that the El Paso label is old and worn out and not relevant any more, it's an old fashioned tag and quite frankly they're too busy shopping and bowling to give a rat's ass what anyone thinks of them.
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