“I’ve the luck of a black cat, but I’m not as vital as was, I had 9 strokes”

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The real life of Travellers

Reminiscences: The real lives of Irish Travellers

Brian McDonagh, typically of the elder generation of Traveller struggled to come to terms with life in a house and fears for the future of a community challenged by drugs, alcohol, violence and a loss of faith.


Brian:  I’ve the luck of a black cat but I’m not as vital as was, I had 9 strokes since 2010.

Really I’m lucky to be alive but you see a lot worse sights than me in the hospital, there was a young lad had a bad stroke and his sister was smuggling in the drink to him, he was swearing at the nurses, blinding and cursing, pissed, he wouldn’t go to his physio. She wasn’t right in the head, his sister thought she was doing a good thing for him. I didn’t touch a drink in 5 years but the wife does.

Problem is there’s a lot of stress now, the young ones are a long time in school and there’s no jobs for them, they’re full of drugs, they need something to do, something to look forward to.

“There was a fellow in Navan, slaughtered with a hatchet in his back and thrown off a cliff. That’s the drugs”


There’ve been big changes. If you look back at it right, Travellers have benefitted from the last twenty years; they had no houses past twenty years. I lived in a tent; I made my own tent from a round barrel with wattle sticks with a cover over it. They were some of the best times, no bills.

Then I lived in a caravan but that was a long time ago, we’ve been in this house for ten years. When we got in I couldn’t sleep for a week. I was up and down to the caravan, I couldn’t settle down, but now I wouldn’t swap. We were in the caravan but my children have never slept in a tent. Now I’m here seven days a week, can’t get out, I see nobody and it’s a long day, the weather doesn’t help but they won’t let me out.

Me grandfather was in the army, he’s dead now, my father died when I was 11 he was 32 my mother died, she was 31. There was seven of us, five boys, two girls and I’ve 16 children.

Most of the Travellers are Catholic but the religion is gone, they used to go the mass twice a week and confession, though I wouldn’t go myself. My last confession was six or seven years ago.

“If you’re a good soul it doesn’t matter what religion you are”


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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