TRAVELLER culture was in the spotlight at Triskel Christchurch where a screening of footage of Travellers from the 1940s to the present day took place, followed by a discussion from a panel of Traveller leaders.
The event, hosted February 1, marked the launch of the Cork Traveller Women’s Network partnership with the Triskel.
Following the historic recognition of Traveller ethnicity in March last year, director of Triskel Christchurch, Tony Sheehan, contacted the network and said he had a space becoming available that might be suitable for the women.
“We worked with Tony on the barrel top wagon project (on permanent display in the museum in Fitzgerald’s Park) for the European Capital of Culture in 2005,” says Brigid Carmody, co-ordinator of the Cork Traveller Women’s Network. “He said that we should step up to the mark and show that Traveller ethnicity is real.
“We’ve been based in St Catherine’s School in Bishopstown for 15 years. It has been great but we were in a prefab. It’s not really suitable for office space anymore. We’ve been looking for a new office for about two years.”
The Cork Traveller Women’s Network is made up of 16 volunteers, all of whom are Travellers.
“We work for the health and wellbeing of Traveller women. Accommodation is a big issue. Conditions for Travellers in Cork are really bad. It’s clear that Spring Lane, one of the biggest Traveller sites in the city, has really bad conditions. We understand that housing is in crisis for everyone but we feel it’s more difficult for Travellers.”
While there is a lot of discrimination against Travellers, it’s improving slightly, said Brigid.
“We now have more Traveller role models willing to stand up and fight for our rights. But discrimination is still a huge problem, particularly for our younger generation, trying to access further education after school. There’s the issue of using halting sites as addresses.”
Brigid hopes that the partnership with Triskel Christchurch will raise the group’s profile and that of Travellers in Cork.
“We hope that Travellers will be part of Triskel’s programme of events throughout the year. We also hope that Travellers will use places like Triskel more so that they’re part of the city.”
The promotion of Traveller culture is part of the remit of the Cork Traveller Women’s Network.
Currently, Traveller photographer and artist, Leanne McDonagh, is exhibiting at Triskel, addressing the issue of accommodation versus assimilation.
Brigid said: “Leanne is a wonderful role model for us. She has worked with some of our women’s groups around domestic violence. She works with young Travellers around the arts and culture. We would be hoping that there are more Travellers like Leanne coming up.”
A big issue for young Travellers is the difficulty of securing employment.
“My own children have said to me that if settled people can’t get a job, then how can they? So, it’s important to build up confidence and a feeling of worth in young Travellers. It’s difficult to prove your point when you haven’t got many Traveller role models. That hopefully will change.”
On a general level, Brigid says that the image of Travellers “is very negative. In an ideal world, anyone working with Travellers would have received cultural awareness training, presented to them by Travellers.”
While Brigid is delighted with the ethnicity recognition, she doesn’t know if Travellers on the ground have felt an impact from it yet.
“It will probably take another few years for that to happen.”
Looking back, Brigid recalls a time when Travellers had their own unique skills which they could offer to society at large. But nothing, she says, has replaced tin-smithing.
“It was a skill that Travellers had for generations. Unfortunately, it has died out around the country. There are courses on it but there’s no need for that kind of work, mending buckets, now that plastic has taken over.
“Older Traveller men passed on their skills to their sons and grandsons but there’s nowhere to go with things like tin-smithing now. It’s a shame but that’s the way the economy works.”