'I'm proud to be a Traveller'
What does it feel like to be a Traveller? In the latest in a series of articles exploring particular people’s experiences, a member of the Travelling Community talks about her unique culture and battle with prejudice
I am a Traveller and proud of my identity.
For the record, Travellers are a proud people and want their identity recognised. As a Traveller in Galway City, it saddens me to say that I believe that the discrimination experienced by the Traveller community is getting worse.
Their experience of low social status and exclusion, which prevents them from participating as equals in society, is mostly due to the widespread hostility of settled people towards them. This hostility is based on prejudice, which in turn gives rise to discrimination and affects Travellers in all aspects of their lives.
As a Galway Traveller, I work in partnership with settled people to achieve equality for Travellers in the city and county. I want people to know the definition of Travellers that exists in the Equal Status legislation and would like people to accept this and begin to treat us with respect and dignity.
“The community of people who are commonly called Travellers and who are identified (both by themselves and others) as people with a shared history, culture and traditions including, historically, a nomadic way of life on the island of Ireland” – Equal Status Act 2000.
We want to be recognised as an ethnic group but this has been denied to us. This would include our beliefs and traditions being recognised. These traditions are strongly rooted in music, storytelling, love of horses, religious beliefs and the Traveller economy, including markets and horse-trading.
We have many talented people who have struggled against the odds to get to the top. We have entrepreneurs that are hard working people and we have an increased number of young people staying on in education who have intentions to go on to third level.
We have a lot of talented sports people, with the most recent example being John Joe Nevin, who won the silver medal in the London Olympics.
But it’s sad to say, we are still denied the right to a social life. Shows like ‘Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ set out to make a laugh of our traditions and I believe they do not represent the majority of the Traveller community.
Weddings are very important to us and what people can’t see is that most families save so their son or daughter can have the wedding of their dreams. It’s not like they’re going to get married a second time. They have only one chance in life to get their dream and they put their heart and soul into making this dream happen.
Working with my own community has helped increase Traveller participation in the struggle for recognition and many have gone to take up employment and education opportunities. This is progress but we need the settled community and services to stand in solidarity with us to bring about real social change that respects the Traveller community.
I will end this with a poem I had written some years ago and a quote from President Mary Robinson.
Breaking the silence
In silence we stand
No one to turn to.
In bitterness and pain we cry alone.
Punishment and hardship are all that we’ve known
Is there anyone out there, who will listen,
Give us a chance to speak out,
And explain our views with no doubt
Then silence will break, and we’ll fit into place
Together we’ll be a happy human race.
“Participation and active involvement in the determination of one’s own destiny is the essence of human dignity,” Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997 – 2002)