“Living in a house is lovely, I was reared in tents”

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The real life of Travellers

Reminiscences: The real lives of Irish Travellers

John Mongan, travelled in and out of Ireland as a boy to seek work in the fields, building sites and slaughter houses of Scotland and then England, returning home to marry when still in his teens.


John:  Living in a house is lovely, I was reared in tents.

I’m from Galway. There were five sisters and seven brothers, we were beside the road in a caravan and tents. My mother did begging. When I was reared you might go a couple of days without food but they were good times. Things have changed big time, there’s no arguments, no fighting, you’ll meet a couple of arsesholes round town but that’s all.

My father was from Roscommon. He found his mother dead when he was seven years old and he was reared by these people in Roscommon, the man was a boxer, won belts all over.

“Cassius Clay, his great, great, grandmother was from County Claire”

My mother, her people were from County Claire. She got married at 13 years and 8 months, what sort of priest was that then? She was smoking at 14 and was 86 when she died. Had 12 children, well 13 but one died. She was pure blonde a small little woman, loved three or four bottles of Guinness.

My grandfather, Packy Sweeney was at both wars and died a couple of months before he was 100. He could walk to the town until the day he died, his heart gave up. A lot of the traveller men went in the army for the money but deserted, my grandfather didn’t, he got his army pension.

First time I went away was to Scotland when I was 14, picking spuds, potato picking, I was getting a fiver a week there and we slept in a shed, a bothy with a sack for a bed and a sack for a pillow, came back at 15 and worked in a lamb factory taking the guts out of the lambs, for a fiver a week as well. If you brought me a lamb tomorrow I could still kill him and gut it for you.

I went to England in 1963. I was 16 years of age and this man got me an insurance card to work on the building sites, said I was 21, got paid seventeen quid a week and was in digs paying two quid a week.

“It was hard going, digging fucking trenches with a shovel in your hands”

I came back at 19 and married the wife.

Last August I was 68. I’m a smoker and I’ve taken a drink all my life. Last year my brother said never get your blood took and tested, it shows up everything, but I was at the doctor with my chest and she looked at her screen and said did you ever get your blood tested? So she did and everything was 100% so I’m still smoking and drinking.


Reminiscences: The real lives of Irish Travellers exhibition opened in October 2016 at the Cavan Arts Centre, Cavan Town. The exhibition is continues to tour throughout Ireland.


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I'm a London based portrait photographer working with business, charities and the arts. You can find my commercial portfolio at mikestone.co.uk and my documentary work at reminiscences.uk

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