Reminiscences: The real lives of Irish Travellers
Missie Collins and her daughter-in-law Tessa Collins both work at the Pavee Point Traveller & Roma center in Dublin, as primary healthcare workers and in the violence against women programme.
Missie: No less than last week I was followed around a shop by two Gards. I was with my little grand daughter, wasn’t here in Dublin, but it could be all the same here in Dublin, I was down the country. I said to my little granddaughter don’t be afraid, we’re doing our bit of shopping, we’re not doing anything, we have receipts for what we got but she started panicking.
So I walked to the two Gards and says how are ye? Oh we’re grand. So he looked at the other fellow and they thought well she’s not a Joe Soap and they walked out. In a way I’m regretting one thing, that I didn’t say “Are you following me round the shop?”
I wouldn’t be a person that would discriminate, I know what that’s like and I don’t mind anyone from anywhere getting on in life. We are white, we are Irish and we’re Irish to the backbone since the 12th century and we should be able to go anywhere with pride and say I am an Irish Traveller and we should be respected. Respect for who you are, respect goes a long way, and that gets me angry.
A black doctor pulled me one day. I was doing me talking in a hospital and one of the black doctors put up his hand and says, I can’t understand, you have all this discrimination in education, accommodation, all these things. I said but when I step foot out of here and walk down the street I’m recognised as Travelling woman. You could fool me he says, because you look no different to any other white woman.
Your childhood lasts a lifetime, you see I had a good childhood, I had a great father and mother. I’d say I was about 12 years old and my father said to mother I’m going to try and get a house because the older ones had got no education because we were always moving.
“They were contented people, they never asked for anything, Granny would say if she had a smoke and a saucepan of tea that would settle her soul.”
My father was a Longford man, he was in the army for a while before he married my mammy, he couldn’t read or write. Come the summers he’d venture out to Galway or Connaught because at that time the feathers and the horse hair was on the go, he would go into the farms and they’d give him feathers, they’d give him the horse hair from their horses tails when they’d got too long. He’d get it all up in pile on his pony and cart and he’d go up to the market in Athlone where a fella would buy it off him and that’s how he’d earn a few bob. He could tinsmith as well, he could make buckets. Only 58 when he died.
Tessa: I’m a traveller, but I never travelled. I was born and reared in the heart of Manchester around English people but that never made me no different. I knew I was a Traveller. Me mother and me father taught us, even though we was brought up in England around settled people. I still knew me Cant. If we came back from school with a bit of the Manchester accent, my father, do you know what he would tell us, all six of us? Talk right. He meant talk like a Traveller. If I came back talking like an English, he’d say Tessie talk right.
My daughter got married, I’m back in Ireland 21 years at this time, so I said to myself I can’t walk into my own local county and get a hotel, I have to hide I’m a Traveller, I’m not doing it, I spoke the way I speak. Every hotel I went to, I didn’t say I was a Traveller but I didn’t hide it, I couldn’t do that. They wouldn’t give it to me anyway, they wouldn’t do it, they all had different reasons. I could have give a different name and got a settled person to go in and pay for it but I’m not doing it. I work in Pavee Point fighting for my peoples rights, why be a Judas, you’re trying to battle this, so then why go and deny who you are?
Don’t ever be ashamed, no matter who you are or what you are, be proud of it.
I’m in Pavee Point working in the violence against women programme, I work with the services. I’ll go out to meet the primary healthcare women and talk about the forms of domestic and sexual violence. So I sit in on a lot of meetings with the Rape Crisis Centre and Womens Aid, Probation, the Gardai. You know it’s surprising, when you’re sat at that table and these are right head up people, couldn’t be any higher. They have not got a clue about Travellers.
They’ll say to me, what are the barriers, what’s going on? They don’t understand that part of it. Then they don’t understand that we actually live in a community that we’re facing barriers within our own community. When I sit in these meeting and talk, no one will say anything to me, but at the side of the meeting, in a corner, they’ll say is that right? Is that the way it is? In that interaction, in a one to one, they’ll get an understanding of it, but I say you’re very professional people and you haven’t got a clue.
Reminiscences: The real lives of Irish Travellers exhibition opened in October 2016 at the Cavan Arts Centre, Cavan Town. The exhibition is touring Ireland throughout 2017, currently showing at the County Library, Cootehill.
Details of the London opening in summer 2017 to follow.
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