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Crossing the border in a getaway tractor – a New Year like no other

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Jamie's Journal by Jamie Stone

'Like a fool, I'd left the keys in the ignition.'
'Like a fool, I'd left the keys in the ignition.'

New Year is in the offing. Suddenly my mind somersaults back to another New Year over 30 years ago when the Troubles were still very real, and my wife’s home in County Armagh was right in the midst of it all.

When our children were still quite small, and we regularly visited Armagh each year, the extraordinary thing was that all three of them seemed quite oblivious as to what was going on around them. The British Army helicopters clattering overhead with machine guns ready and loaded, the armed patrols outside the shops in Armagh, and even the occasional blackened shell of a building, never seemed to them odd as compared to Tain in the Highlands.

Indeed, it wasn’t until they were in their teens that they noticed several burnt-out school buses on a roundabout near the village of Dumcree, which was always a dangerous flashpoint.

“Dad – what’s happened to those school buses?”

“Doh, did you only just notice?” But I’m glad that the horrors of the Troubles blithely passed them by. Their childhood was about the best of Ireland. I shall be forever thankful for that.

But to return to the New Year… on that New Year’s Eve, there was one hell of a storm, and the old ivy-clad trees (so typically Irish) creaked and groaned in a monstrous gale. A new year and a new dawn. I stepped out into the yard behind the house to retrieve something from the car, but where was the car?

My God. It had been stolen during the storm, and I like a fool had left the ignition keys in it. Hastily I went inside to inform everyone. The entire family downed their forks and headed out in astonishment. I was right. There was no car.

“Uncle Jamie – Uncle Jamie! – I can see your car,” my niece, Helen, shouted, running back into the yard.

Suddenly with hope in our hearts, we all followed her. Round the corner and past the hay shed, an astonishing sight met our eyes. There was our car, a fawn-coloured Peugeot, sitting there with a huge beech that had fallen across the road inches in front of it. It must have given the would-be robbers one hell of a fright. Obviously, they’d legged it over the muddy field.

‘Damn it!” The ignition key was missing. Clearly, as a final act of revenge, they had flung it somewhere I would never find it. As I pondered this astonishing combination of good and bad luck, it occurred to me that this could only happen in Ireland. As we walked back to the house, I wondered how on earth I’d get a replacement key on New Year's Day.

But before my thoughts had gone much further, there was another astounding revelation. This time from my elder daughter, Georgina.

“Dad, dad! Uncle Edward’s tractor’s gone missing!” Clearly the thieves had not bothered getting their feet muddy.

Two days later, I got my car started again with the assistance of a local man who seemed to know more than most about starting a car without an ignition key… naturally I didn’t ask any questions.

My brother-in-law’s tractor was traced to a field across the border in County Monaghan. To this day, I smile at the thought of the thieves making their urgent getaway on an ancient tractor that could do no more than 15mph. As I say, it could only happen in Ireland.

Happy New Year everyone. Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh. Bliadhna Mhath Ùr.

Jamie Stone.
Jamie Stone.
  • Jamie Stone is the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross.

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