Rooted in a lifestyle of nomadism dating back at least 1000 years, Irish Travellers today do not travel anymore. Originating in Ireland, Travellers consist of about 40,000 with large communities in the UK and US as well. Defined by their history of living on the road along with an impenetrably strong family-centric community, a particular attention to the Catholic Church, and their language “Cant”, Irish Travellers thrive within their own distinguished culture.
Though England recognizes Irish Travellers as a cultural minority, Ireland does not formally acknowledge the ethnic distinction between Irish Travellers and “settled” Irish. In an effort to remove Travellers from the road during the 1960’s, “halting sites” were built for the relocation of Traveller families. Though many still live in sites today, the economic prosperity during the era of the Celtic Tiger in the 1990’s gave some Travellers enough upward mobility to move on into independent houses. A seemingly positive change, the transition away from the road, away from their communal environment, and assimilation into “settled” Ireland, now presents many new challenges for Irish Travellers. Combined with the longstanding external oppression that Travellers face, this newly isolated lifestyle has lead to a dangerous degree of internal oppression within Traveller individuals. Constituting less than 1% of the Irish population, the suicide rate among Travellers in Ireland is now seven times higher than that of non-Traveller Irish citizens. In attempt to escape these struggles, many “assimilated” Travellers today choose to not identify with their culture in hopes of avoiding prejudice and remaining in competition for jobs.
Despite the rapid changes in lifestyle for Travellers recently, Irish Travellers remain rich with their own history and character. It is a captivating community that leaves every thought and emotion out on the line in their everyday fast-talking, quick-witted banter. Frequently tacked on at the end of a thought or statement in conversation, the title of this project comes from a colloquial phrase used by Irish Travellers to reverberate ideas, experiences, and their pride in the assured manner that defines them.
I arrived at this house on a Friday to meet the family of a bride-to-be whose wedding I would be photographing that Sunday. The bride’s grandmother - an unwaveringly strong, matriarchal figure of the family, asked if I would photograph her in front of her caravan. A bit suspicious of me at first, she warmed up a bit when I told her how much I loved her butterfly coat. She even let me try it on. About 30 minutes after I took this photograph, the son of the woman in the butterfly coat, the father of the bride, committed suicide. On Sunday, I found myself not at a wedding, but a wake.
Father and son, Patrick and Paddy, at their site in Monasterevin.
Historically, Irish Travellers have depended on horses as a staple of their livelihood. Their strong affection for horses carries on today, although modern laws limit Travellers’ rights to keep horses. Hiding the horses in various spots around their site, Patrick and Paddy kept two horses – one for each of them to take care of. The horse seen here belongs to the father, Patrick, whose struggle with schizophrenia is put to ease in working with the horse. About two weeks later this horse was taken away.
Marie, 17, hugging her niece, Shirley.
The first time I met Marie, she taught me just enough words in the Traveller language (Cant) to know when the others were talking about me. At the age of 15, Marie dropped out of school because she had still not been taught how to read or write. Last August, Marie and her sister, Anna, invited me to their cousin’s hen party. Anna dressed me and did my make-up for the event. When she had completed my look she told me, “Now, you’ve been Pavee-pimped!”
A group of lads playing a coin betting game at the site in Maynooth that I would visit every Friday before Zumba class with some of the girls living there. They asked if I wanted to play, but one of them wouldn’t let me because he didn’t want to take money from a girl. That day, me and the girls stayed in to chat and eat mint chocolate-chip ice cream instead of going to Zumba.
Micky Berry at his home in Labre Park - the first halting site built in Ireland.
Generations of Mickey’s family have been living on the site since it first opened in the late 1960’s. Later that afternoon, Mickey was off to help his son move into a new private house.