WHEN multi-genre writer and performer Dave Lordan was a lad of thirteen a convoy of New Age Travellers came to his home town of Clonakilty and infused the locals with curiosity and excitement.
Dave recalls the impact of their arrival in his essay ‘Revelations’, part of ‘The 32- An Anthology of Irish Working Class Voices’ edited by Paul Mc Veigh.
The collection follows the success of Kit de Waal’s Common People: An Anthology of Working Class Writers and features work by Roddy Doyle, Senator Lynn Ruane, June Caldwell and Martin Doyle, to name a few.
Despite not having mobile phones or Facebook in 1988, the word was out about a new busking festival in Clonakilty, and soon the convoys of New Age Travellers made their way over to West Cork from the UK.
Meanwhile, in a commune in Essex a seminal art collective/ punk band ‘Crass’ were anti war free thinkers who inspired a generation, including many of the New Age Travellers.
Disillusioned by the policies of Thatcher, they eschewed the nine-to-five grind and viewed strident militarism and destruction of the environment as obscenities to be resisted, and these were the ideals carried by the convoy.
Dave writes: “It was a mobile commune of fire jugglers and saw players, acid house ravers, of sixties free lovers, and eighties Crass acolytes, of hunt saboteurs, and Bakunist wiccans, a menagerie of drop outs and irregulars aboded in the strangest of convoys - repurposed horse boxes, mini buses, ambulances, double decker buses, high ace vans, even army transport trucks.
“It had sprung up overnight in our Fairfield when we were sleeping.”
These New Age Travellers were branches of a tree which had its roots in the UK free festivals of the 1960’s such as Glastonbury and Stonehenge.
“I really enjoyed the cabaret and carnival that the New Age Travellers brought to West Cork,” recalls Dave.
“They dramatically enriched the local youth culture, which was already fairly lively anyway, and by their very presence helped West Cork become even more diverse.
“They brought more gigs, more raves, more bands. Check out the You Tube footage of ‘Big Bag of Sticks’ in Connolly’s of Leap in 1993 to taste some of the exuberant atmosphere common at that time.
“And they made a strong contribution to the street theatre group ‘Craic na Coillte’ which I also participated in as a teenager.”
Their values also left a deep impression on teenage Dave.
“Group solidarity, mutual aid, freedom of the individual to be and express, collective democratic decision making on all communal issues and challenges were their ideals,” he said.
“Some call it anarchism or socialism, but these ideals are also at the heart of the Gospel of St. Matthew.
“We are now finding out, to everyone’s cost, that a human order based on the opposite of these natural and obvious ideals, as in our current order, is on a short plank to extinction.
“Their ideals were not so different than those of grassroots communities in general which had evolved over millions of years to ensure our collective survival and thriving.”
By way of stark contrast to humanitarian ideals of the New Age Travellers, in ‘Revelations’ Dave does not hold back from outlining the racism experienced by the Irish Travellers.
“I witnessed Travellers being treated with relentless and sadistic cruelty in my primary school,” he said.
Dave’s essay sits alongside work from both established and new voices from the 32 counties in the new collection.
Irish Times Books Editor Martin Doyle suggests that ‘in the literature of the working class, the rural experience is the poor relation’ but Dave tells The Echo he takes a different view.
“I wouldn’t agree with Martin that the rural experience is the poor relation,” he said.
“I couldn’t see Liam O’Flaherty, Máirtín Ó Cadhain or indeed Peig Sayers as anyone’s poor relation.
“In my view the major literary tradition in Ireland isn’t the novel or the book poem, or what the universities refer to as ‘Anglo-Irish literature ‘ but is instead our bi-lingual song tradition, deriving from the Gaelic bardic tradition, in which can be found the myriad stories of our working people for the last millennia and longer.
“It’s great to be included in the new anthology of working class writers, and the diversity and achievement of what’s included is heartwarming and inspiring, but mere books will always be ‘the poor relation’ of our song tradition.”
Dave refers to West Cork as the 33rd county and is looking forward to reading from his new book ‘Medium’ in De Barra’s in Clonakilty on July 20. Check out De Barra’s website for details. While you are there you can read Dave’s essay ‘Magically Real’ which recounts the time when Jimmy Hendrix’s bass player Noel Redding came to live in Clonakilty and his lasting influence upon the town.
There will also be a zoom event as part of the West Cork Literary Festival on Thursday July 29, where Dave will be speaking about ‘The 32’ anthology’ along with editor Paul Mc Veigh, and other contributors including Rick O’ Shea, Riley Johnson and Abby Oliveira.
Details can be found on the West Cork Literary Festival website: https://www.westcorkmusic.ie/literary-festival/programme/
The 32: An Anthology of Irish Working-Class Voices, edited by Paul McVeigh, published by Unbound. Available now