As Brexit is constantly compared to the process of divorce, how about suggesting a parallel with what used to be known as “divorce Irish-style”?

Divorce was prohibited in the Irish Republic between 1923 and 1995, and only barely scraped through a majority vote on a third referendum. It’s common to blame this distaste for divorce on the Catholic Church – and Catholic values certainly played a part. But my experience is that land, and the extreme reluctance of the Irish countryman and woman to divide up any agricultural holdings (or property rights), was also a major influence.

And so, before there was legislation for divorce there was an Irish solution to an unhappy marriage. The couple would divide up their home or property into “his” and “her” quarters. I know three couples who, after endless bickering, took this option. One couple I loved dearly as friends fought like cat and dog. It was an ordeal to break bread with them (and, worse, to drink wine), as they’d soon start exchanging the most ghastly verbal abuse with one another. The wife was passionately pro-Israeli and the husband would counter with an eye-rolling riposte – “Haven’t the poor Jews suffered enough without having you on their side?” It got a lot worse than that. It seemed evident that this was a marriage on the rocks.

Then they moved house, and split the house in two – she on the upper floor, he on the lower. And a strange harmony descended over this divorce Irish-style. After she died, he waxed emotional about her memory, and even encouraged me to visit her part of the house to communicate with her spirit.

The two other couples who took this course also made the best of their semi-detached relationships. It seemed as though, once they respected each other’s space, they could have a civilised connection, and where there were children, it worked out well for the family. I might also add that it worked out sensibly for property – no selling off of the family home and despatching a divorced man into a rented bedsit.

So, if a divorce metaphor is invoked for Brexit, perhaps we could encourage the idea of a “divorce Irish style” – where there is a separation of the warring parties, but the familial, cultural and mutually advantageous fiscal links are maintained. Incidentally, although Ireland now has legal divorce, divorce rates remain low: perhaps Irish-style divorce has left its useful mark.

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