Twenty Donegal Travellers attended a festive event in Dublin which marked the first anniversary of the State’s formal recognition of Travellers as a distinct ethnic group in Ireland.
President Michael D. Higgins also attended, with hundreds of people from across the country enjoying the festivities.
The day-long Irish Traveller Ethnicity Celebration held at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham featured talks by well-known Travellers, displays of Traveller culture and history, and demonstrations of Traveller arts and music.
“It’s been a long time coming, but it’s so great to be here,” said Katie Boyle of Donegal Travellers Project (DTP), who last year travelled to the Dáil with other members of DTP to hear the then-Taoiseach Enda Kenny deliver a statement officially recognising Traveller ethnicity. “This comes from solidarity and working together.”
“It’s an absolutely fantastic day,” said DTP Manager Siobhán McLaughlin.
“For 22 years DTP has been advocating for recognition of Traveller ethnicity. To be here today with 20 Travellers from Donegal is an absolutely fantastic experience.”
While recognition of Travellers as a distinct ethnic group was a hard-fought achievement to solidify respect for Traveller identity and to protect Travellers from institutionalised discrimination; speakers at the event said that this government statement is the important first step towards these goals.
“For me, today is about thinking about the history and the past, but also about looking ahead to the future and recognising how far we have to go to get Travellers protected by laws,” DTP’s Ann Friel said.
Her sentiment was echoed in a statement by President Higgins which called for practical measures to back up the statement of ethnic recognition.
“Looking at the young people you are struck by how the ethnicity recognition has encouraged a confidence, that there is really nothing that Travellers can’t do if the obstacles are removed,” he said.
“I have to say, as President of Ireland, one of the things that runs through my mind regularly is all the misunderstandings that were unnecessary, the failures to actually deliver proper facilities for Travellers when the money was made available by the State. We should make a new beginning now we have an ethnicity recognition.
“We should start with a blank page and say, ‘Is it rocket science to put all of the temporary sites into good condition in terms of electricity and water and basic facilities?’ Surely it’s time now to put back the Family Liaison Service that was there to encourage young Travellers to get beyond Junior Cert. These are things that can be done overnight with a stroke.”
As participants in the event wandered among an array of exhibitions in the hospital courtyard – a barrel-top wagon, a tinsmithing demonstration, Traveller organisation stands, and more – they were accompanied by the sound of music being performed in the hospital’s majestic main hall, including that of internationally renowned uilleann piper Paddy Keenan, who is a member of the Traveller community.
“It takes me back years ago,” said DTP’s Annie Mongan, who attended the event with her son Martin and granddaughter Lena.
“The barrel-top wagon, the pans and the kettles, they bring me back a long ways… 45 years ago my father had a wagon. It’s a joy to see the old ways on display here today.”
The event also featured a discussion panel of Travellers who have won the national Overall Traveller Pride Award in recent years, including DTP’s Hugh Friel, who was the 2016 winner for his local and national work as a Traveller community advocate and representative.
“When I started off in a caravan in Milford, I never knew that a knock on the door would change my life forever,” Hugh said.
“If I’d never got that knock by Donegal Travellers Project, inviting me to take part in the organisation, I would never have been able to become an advocate and representative for the Traveller community. It only takes one knock to change someone’s life, and their family’s.
“Our Traveller organisations are playing a hugely important role in enabling Travellers to participate fully in society and to represent our community.”Tags: