Galway Advertiser 1992/1992_11_24/GA_24111992_E1_033.pdf
M A R Y
O'C O N N O R
Mary 0 ' Connor has been talking to Galway's travelling people about what Christmas means to them.
A T A ELR C RT A R VLES H I M S ' S
Galway's travellers make up a small, highly stigmatised group, set apart from the rest of society by their nomadic lifestyle and different culture. County Galway has the highest traveller population of any county in Ireland ex cept Dublin, according to a special census of travellers carried out in 1986. Most of Galway's 500 travellers live on the East side of the city, in Hillside. Some 65 families live in caravans there. "There are about 20 in digenous traveller families in Galway, "explains Margaret Sweeney, local Traveller Rights' cam paigner, who now lives in Hillside. "The rest have come from places like Tuam, Athenry and Loughrea and from outside Galway. They have been forced out of the small towns into the city." Travellers have been described as one of the most vulnerable sectors of the community, who suffer pre judice, simply for being what they are. Many head for the bigger cities in the hope that their anonymity will lessen their chances of being singled out for prejudice. The Hillside children hud dle in groups outside the well kept caravans. Night is fast approaching and there is a bitter chill in the evening air. CROPPED HAIR "Hey mister, I want me picture took, "demands a small boy with an oversiz ed jumper and a tightly cropped hairstyle. "Are them your own legs, Miss? "his brother wonders as they gather courage and friends and follow this writer and photographer like the Pied Piper through the endless rows of caravans. "Do you like Christmas?" I ask, survey ing the growing group of small, eager faces. "Have ya something for me and I'll tell ya," bargains the most enterprising of the bunch. The Cleary's live in a house in Hillside. They moved there from Ballinrobe in 1989. Christmas is a special time for us, explains Bridget, a mother of five children. She is busy washing up and works as she talks. "We will be putting up Travellers celebrate the festive season among their own, he says. They have no other choice. No one else wants them. Even buying presents isn't easy. " Most shops don't want us. They watch every move we make. It makes you feel so low." HURTING He's not bitter nor angry , just hurt. A lot. If he had a wish ...."That the settled people would allow us to enjoy Christmas, "he says. Kathleen Casey, a mother of six lives in another caravan and is sitting in the semi darkness, surrounded by neighbouring youngsters. She looks young but is bored or beaten down by life. Maybe both. Her outlook is bleak. Christmas? It holds little for her except more money worries and misery. She is not looking forward to it. Christmas is a lonely time, she says flatly. She talks about going to Church and getting masses said for the dead. "Even if I had money, which I don't, I wouldn't be able to go anywhere. "Christmas gets me down. It's no good thinking about it," she trails off hopelessly. We sit in silence in the black velvet darkness while her visitors peer into my notebook. I write by the light of the moon, through the window. She starts talking again and paints a grim picture of always being on the outside, looking in. children, claims John Casey. "Christmas is for the children. It's their special time of year. But how can we enjoy it when they aren't even allowed to see Santa?"
MICHAEL AND BRIGID CLEARY WITH FAMILY decorations and a Christmas tree soon. And we have turkey like everyone else on Christmas Day. "What's different about us is that we can't go out to celebrate Christmas or the New Year. No place will let us in. We can dress up like the best of them but we won't get past the door of anywhere." Last Christmas she and her family tried to get into 20 Galway pubs but were turned away by all of them. Eventually they got served in Bally haunts! N O DIFFERENCE
JOHN, JIMMY AND ANN-MARIE Photo: Mike Shaughnessy/Solargraphic Bridget says travellers are M O V E D OVER only served in areas where they are unknown. They John and Mary Casey may dress up to the nines moved to Galway from and behave impeccably but England recently. They live it makes no difference. in a beautiful new caravan. Her husband, Michael sits It is like a showhouse with in his armchair by the fire, elegant touches like delicate nodding his head in agreechina, scatter cushions and meent. You get used to get oak framed mirrors. Mary is ting the door slammed in polishing the china and talks your face, he says with an over her shoulder at me. air of resignation. Her husband is sitting by the Bridget's brother is a fire. It is almost dark and settled traveller in Mayo. you can just make out the Good looking and well silhouettes. spoken, he says he has a bet ter social life because he " W e want to enjoy " d o e s n ' t look like a Christmas like everyone else traveller." but people won't let "People would be shock us,"says Mary, quietly. ed to realise I am one. They She's softly spoken and shy think we all look and sound and keeps her back turned at all times. the same. " Joe Sweeney, another visitor in the house, says Christmas for him is all about remembering the dead. "We always visit the graveyards on Christmas Day. We owe it to our dead to remember them. "We could have a better Christmas in England. There, the gypsies have more freedom, they don't stand out so much. Here, no matter what we wear or say, we'll be turned away from places." The Caseys agree there will always be some badly behaved travellers, just as there will always be some troublesome settled people. But not all of us are bad, they stress. Even Santa in the shops rejects the travelling
"We get masses said for them at Christinas too. Many settled people just remember the living at Christmas. We like to JOHN CASEY RETURNED FROM ENGLAND PICTURED WITH YOUNGSTERS IN HIS CARA VANremember those gone before
"This Christmas will be no different,"she adds before wishing rae the season's greetings. Then she sinks back into the darkness.