“Move closer, set my mind on fire” – Tim Wheeler.
The People’s Republic of Podjistan, which can be shortened to Podjistan is a self declared mini-country which is landlocked within Northern Ireland. This is a truly wacky place and one I just had to explore, having grown up in the same Northern Irish county, County Down. I had no idea that I grew up less than an hour’s drive from a tiny self-declared micro-nation. But as with a lot of my backpacking journeys, there was a crazy twist in the tail/tale, something which I couldn’t quite believe.
In the last few years of travel, I have visited a lot of disputed countries, unknown countries and debated regions. Here are just a few of them:
– Backpacking in a Druze Village
– Backpacking in Nagorno Karabakh
– Backpacking in French Guyana
– Backpacking in the Republic of Uzupis
– Backpacking in Transnistria
– Backpacking in Palestine
– Backpacking in Kosovo
– Backpacking in Vatican City State
– Backpacking in Iraqi Kurdistan
– Backpacking in Ladonia
– Backpacking in Austenasia
– Backpacking in Frestonia
– Backpacking in Christiania
– Backpacking in Gorno Badakhshan
– Backpacking in Adammia
– Backpacking in Lovely
– Backpacking in Karakalpakstan
– Backpacking in Romkerhall
– Backpacking in Kugel Mugel
– Backpacking in San Escobar
– Backpacking in Northern Cyprus
– Backpacking in the Sovereign Military Order of Malta
The Podjistan Twist
I mentioned there was a twist and this one was a real curve ball for me. Having visited a load of these disputed regions, I was looking at Micronations in Northern Ireland on Google just to see if there were any. I couldn’t believe it when I came across the People’s Republic of Podjistan. A fully fledged independent country with its own flag, borders, passport stamps, national stadium (for Subbuteo) and ideals separate from the surrounding country of Northern Ireland. I’m not sure if it’s the same magic air in this part of County Down that inspired Tim Wheeler’s rock band Ash to take on the world, to meet their girl from Mars (Ards, Newtownards) that inspired a local lad to dream this place all up. But there’s something special about downtown Podjistan and that much is obvious.
The brainchild of Ulsterman Simon Stewart, Podjistan became a country in 2010. I recently got in touch with Mr. Stewart to ask if tourists were permitted to visit. The reply was even more surprising than I could have imagined. Simon, spent 10 years working with my sister Cathy in Belfast and my sister is a fan of Podjistan!! And as a travel writer, long term backpacker and Northern Irishman myself, Simon made room in his busy schedule to welcome his first (and possibly the last) backpacker to this very remote and unknown state.
So I was off to explore the People’s Republic of Podjistan. I will write about the border crossings, sight seeing and top sights in the capital (The People’s Palace) in due course. But first you’ll need to get some facts on this place. I mean Podjistan? Come on, it sounds crazy! It sounds like an ex-USSR state, one of the “Stans”, but it’s not, it’s one of very few micronations to exist on the island of Ireland. The glamour being that it borders Northern Ireland!
What the duck is the People’s Republic of Podjistan?
The Peoples Republic of Podjistan is a country landlocked within Northern Ireland. Its territorial pretensions encompass two private residences and their surrounding estate near the town of Banbridge in County Down. County Down is one of six Irish counties to be governed by the United Kingdom and form the country of Northern Ireland. Podjistanis say “duck all that, we’re doing our own thing”. And they do.
Where is Podjistan?
Podjistan is surrounded by County Down in Northern Ireland, on the island of Ireland. It is situated on the Mill Road near Moneyslane and Closkelt, which is a few miles south east of Katesbridge. It is in remote countryside and I will cover the border crossing and exact location in another article. A local lad from Belfast might say “it’s in the arse end of nowhere so it is.”
When was Podjistan Created?
The People’s Republic of Podjistan was created on 1 June 2010 by Ulsterman Simon Stewart, as a personal response to the contemporary partisan social and political situation in Northern Ireland. The membership of Podjistan is comprised of the Stewart family and a few of their associates. The micronation’s putative territories consist of adjacent properties which have been owned by the Stewarts since 2000. This year saw the 15th anniversary of land ownership and the 5th anniversary of the country’s existence so this was a perfect time for me to visit. There is a hint of sadness to come in this story, but you’ll need to stay tuned to my Podjistan series to get the lowdown (craic) on this matter.
Visas for Podjistan
While Podjistan was formed as a separate country within Northern Ireland, it maintains its position within the EU boundaries, as both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are in the EU. These two countries share the island of Ireland with the Podjistanis. Oddly you could argue that none of the three countries recognise each other’s existence in the way they dream. Ireland is a political enigma and I don’t want to go into that just yet!
Visas for Podjistan are not issued, however you will need to have a legitimate UK or Ireland visa to be able to visit Podjistan, as you have to cross from the UK into its territory. Podjistan is landlocked within Northern Ireland, but parts of the border are boarded up and to counteract this, some walls have seen better days.
Border Control and Passport Stamps for Podjistan
I have written an article on How to get From Northern Ireland to Podjistan which covers the border crossing in detail. I have a cool passport stamp from my visit to Podjistan, which I must admit I am quite proud of as I was the first and last backpacking tourist to visit the country. I visited on the 13th September 2015, when the country was 5 years old.
Accommodation in Podjistan
The government of Podjistan do not promote tourism and I was the first backpacking tourist to visit Podjistan. For this reason, the country has no hotels or guest houses at present. However, you’ll be surprised to know that you can stay nearby Podjistan, just across the border in the village of Ballyroney, Northern Ireland. Here there is Ballyroney Cottage. Other options include staying in Newcastle, Downpatrick, Lisburn, Banbridge, Newry or the Northern Irish capital city of Belfast, which houses the famous Europa Hotel.
Transport in Podjistan
Podjistan has no public transport of its own, nor does it have any bus or train station links to Northern Ireland. It’s in the middle of remote countryside near Closkelt, Lowtown and Moneyslane. The nearest main bus station across the border in Northern Ireland is at Banbridge, the nearest bus stop is in Moneyslane and the nearest train station is on the Northern Irish Railways route to Newry, at Poyntspass. We drove there. Which means that hiring a car, sharing with a friend or getting a taxi is your best bet. Hitch hiking is not really an option, as the person that picks you up will not have a clue where the f**k Podjistan is, besides hitch hiking is difficult in these parts.
The nearest airports to Podjistan are the George Best Belfast City Airport and Aldergrove International Airport, which are both in Northern Ireland. At present, the country is too small to house its own runway and no plans are in place to develop an airport or heliport here. Do you research and fly into Belfast.
The nearest seaports to Podjistan are at Warrenpoint, Kilkeel, Newcastle and Strangford, in Northern Ireland.
Sightseeing in Podjistan
As a long term backpacker, the key shenanigans we all want to know is, are there some ice cool backpacking sights in Podjistan?? And yes there are and LOTS of them but, I’ve saved that for my Top Sights in Podjistan and Top sights in Four Gables article!! So stay tuned on here and follow my Facebook Page and Instagram feed.
Safety and Taxes in Podjistan
The People’s Republic of Podjistan is a safe nation and taxes are not paid or charged internally. All Podjistanis respect the tax laws in place within the United Kingdom, and as such adhere to the UK’s tax system.
Population of Podjistan
The population of Podjistan reached a peak with 7 and currently all Podjistanis live abroad. There are currently zero residents in the People’s Republic of Podjistan as the country is currently receiving maintenance work.
Language of Podjistan
On arrival in Podjistan, I’m greeted in English with an Ulster twang, so phrases like “Bout ye big lad” and “How’s yer ma?” are commonplace here. English is the main language of the country and the interpretation of it is very Northern Irish, so it is. Here is my summing up of Podjistan in local speak:
“That there Podjistan is a quare wee spot so it is” – I can confirm that Podjistan is a cool little place.
Currency of Podjistan
Podjistan does NOT have its own monetary currency unit, however currency is in the form of a barter system. In the barter system, Podjistanis have in the past swapped hen’s eggs for meat, vegetables and fish from neighbouring communities in Northern Ireland. The British pound is used in Northern Ireland, and Podjistanis happily use the banknotes when outside the country. Podjistan attempts to turn its back on mainstream capitalistic ideals. With Podjistan surrounded by the UK, citizens of the state use pound sterling for trading purposes externally, with the “Geordie Best fiver” being the most sought after UK note.
Economy in Podjistan
The Podjistanian economy has been fuelled in the past by the PEC (Podjistani Egg Company), where hens were laying eggs. The situation has meant that Podjistanis can actually earn more money by working in Northern Ireland.
PEC – Podjistan Egg Company
The Podjistan Egg Company has been the main industry and employs three of the states residents. This nationalised industry was used for the benefit of all residents and much of the produce was consumed in-state. During particularly productive periods excess eggs were exported into the United Kingdom and Republic Of Ireland in exchange for other food products, such as seasonal vegetables, line caught fish, and game. The flock were free range and roam the state in daylight hours. I was able to see the PEC on my visit, though production has now ceased and I will reveal the situation in another article.
Capital City of Podjistan
Despite the fact that Podjistan is only 0.00303514 km squared, it still has a capital city. In fact the People’s Palace is quite a striking capital and a tour of every room in this city is one of my lasting memories from my visit. Here’s my backpackers guide to the Peoples Palace.
Reason for the Formation of Podjistan
Podjistan was initiated on June 1st 2010 as a response to several geo-political, and social factors affecting the macro-region in which it is located. Situated in County Down within the region known as Northern Ireland, currently within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom, Podjistan is approximately 3/4’s of an acre in size. The ethnicity of the states residents are non-defined as the state refuses to acknowledge what it views as ‘divisive definitions’ of humanity.
National Flag of Podjistan
As displayed on their website and below, the national flag features a yellow star on green to represent the nature and peace of the Podjistani landscape. The rainbow flag in between represents gender equality and neutrality amongst people and the black represents Northern Ireland.
National Sport of Podjistan
I was totally surprised and delighted to hear that they not only have a national sport, but the head of state, Simon Stewart is a pro at it. Subbuteo is the national sport here and in the 1990s, Mr. Stewart represented Northern Ireland at the UK championships and World Cup of Subbuteo. The national stadium in the country is a Subbuteo pitch. I haven’t been able to confirm, but I think that this is the only country in the world to have Subbuteo as its national sport. Amazing!
National Anthem of Podjistan
The National Anthem of Podjistan was played to me while I was in immigration getting my passport stamped and it is based on the Sly Stone and Family song – Everyday People. However the lyrics are doctored to read “Podjistan People”:
Where does the name Podjistan come from?
I was intrigued by the name “Podjistan” and even some friends and Facebook followers thought I was heading to Central Asia to this country, so I asked Mr. Stewart where the name comes from, which he explained to me in video part 4 below. It was a sock puppet that the leader’s son had. The sock puppet was called Podjov. Therefore the comrade general of the nation is called Comrade General Papa Podjov, and the Stan was added to make it Podjistan. “Stan” and “ov” have inklings of Soviet times in the USSR and indeed as a gift on arrival, I presented Simon with a banknote souvenir from my trip to Transnistria. The country shares some similarities to nations such as Transnistria, especially in the anti-capitalist sense.
Internal Departments within Podjistan
The state is split into six departments with four roads running through Podjistan, two of which lead to the UK/ Northern Ireland border. I was able to tour all six departments on my access all areas tour of the nation.
1. The People’s Palace (the capital)
2. Frog Pond National Park
3. Lower Yard
4. Upper Yard (which has an open border with Northern Ireland/United Kingdom)
5. Four Gables (which has an open border with Northern Ireland/United Kingdom)
6. The Lane (which has an open border with Northern Ireland/United Kingdom)
Diplomatic Relations with Podjistan
The Peoples Republic of Podjistan wish to create diplomatic relations with other countries for the mutual benefit of the citizens of all countries. At one point, the front office was to become the British Embassy in Podjistan.
Forbidden Items in Podjistan
In Podjistan, Coca Cola products are banned. Also banned is popular drink of choice Buckfast (also termed “Lurgan Champagne”). I haven’t checked, but I believe this to be the only non-Muslim country in the world to ban both Buckfast and Coca Cola. Smoking and alcohol other than Buckfast are permitted in Podjistan and parties have been held here. Buckfast and Coca Cola is banned on entrance and entry to the country may be refused if either company’s products are found on your person.
Religion in Podjistan
Podjistanis believe that every person has their individual right to religion and they are free to choose the religion they wish, however it must not be promoted to one another. Podjistan has no churches or religious buildings and while the rest of Northern Ireland sees religion as an important way of life, in Podjistan it is not. Podjistanis also believe in ghosts and fairies and there will be more stories on why they hold this belief.
Secession From Northern Ireland
The 1998 Good Friday Agreement had several clauses in it, one of which recognises the right for individuals in Northern Ireland to have the freedom to express their own nationalities and create a boundary as they so wish as long as it does not interfere with others. This suggestion may seem ludicrous to some, but it is often overlooked. While the Northern Ireland Assembly have not formally accepted the secession of Podjistan, the Podjistani government and leader, Mr. Stewart has met with representatives of the Ulster Unionist Party and Sinn Fein in the past expressing his views on democracy and the existence of Podjistan. The state is self recognised and a few other Micronations also recognise its existence.
Government and Voting in Podjistan
Mr. Simon Stewart is the leader in what is classed as a benevolent dictatorship. He is in charge of the country and has been since the formation in 2010. Government meetings have been held internally and externally.
Foreign Affairs with Podjistan
Podjistan extends the hand of friendship to other nations, both macro and micro across the world. For more details of their diplomatic missions around the globe, their relationship with NI, UK & Republic of Ireland neighbours, or to volunteer as an Ambassador for the Peoples Republic, contact the government at the e-mail address below.
Peoples Army of Podjistan (PAP)
Despite being a peaceful nation, the People’s Republic of Podjistan is aware that it is situated within a volatile political region. Explosive devices are still being planted within a few miles of the micro-nation and sectarianism is still a harsh reality. These hazards can easily spill over into Podjistan and for that reason a Peoples Army was mobilised to protect the state and its resident citizens. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
I could mention a lot more here about Podjistan and what it is, but this has probably melted your brain and whetted your appetite already, so let’s leave it for there until my next articles! I’ll be writing about the border crossing, sightseeing in the capital The People’s Palace and the other sights of this wacky off the wall country.
Contacting the People’s Republic of Podjistan
The government of the People’s Republic of Podjistan can be contacted in a few ways.
Thanks to my Mum, Muriel Blair for driving me to Podjistan, my sister Cathy for her role in this adventure and to Mr. Simon Stewart (Comrade General Papa Podjov) and the government of the People’s Republic of Podjistan for welcoming me to the country and giving me a guided tour in an “access all areas” tour of the country.
Here are some videos from my time backpacking in Podjistan, safe travels!!