A traditional nomadic family of Irish Travellers have recently camped just a short distance down the road from where I live. They sat by the campfire one evening as I passed and of course I longed to photograph the scene. Although I had my camera with me (as always!), I felt my presence with a camera would have been an intrusion. Instead, I visited the following day and sought permission to photograph their caravans.
That was several weeks ago and I’ve since procrastinated over writing this post because of my lack of knowledge and understanding of the traveller community, their culture, traditions and lifestyles. I can only write about what I’ve seen.
As a child I observed these caravans lined along this road, sometimes up to twenty at a time. This was a popular campsite for the traveller community, who often remained for many weeks at a time.
A reliable spring well with fresh flowing water just a short distance away was probably the main attraction of this location for the travelling community, providing drinking water for themselves and their animals as well as water for cooking and for washing. The road was lined with great elm trees (before Dutch Elm disease) that provided shelter from the wind and limited cover when it rained. I recall up to twenty of these covered wagons at a time in this spot during the 1960’s ~ early 1970’s.
Irish Travellers and the Settled Community
Travellers were unpopular visitors in a rural, farming community at that time. Each wagon was horse drawn and the horses required grass to eat. It was the practice at that time for their owners to allow them to graze ‘the long acre’ (roadside) and this narrow strip of grass disappeared quickly. The horses where then herded into nearby fields, almost always without permission (trespass), the farmers depended on this grass for their own livestock and their livelihood. Local gardaí were often involved in an attempt to encourage the travellers to leave, often without much immediate success.
reMoving the ‘Problem’
Thus; the ‘problem’ of the travellers was just moved to another location where the pattern was repeated, leaving behind an unsightly roadside, the verges grazed to bare earth, littered with discarded clothes, footwear, miscellaneous household and other items and the remains of numerous camp fires.
This was surely a difficult situation for all concerned.
I don’t know how much of the travellers nomadic practice was of their culture and how much was forced upon them by the settled community – nor am I judging in any way their behaviour or that of the landowners. In hindsight, there was a clash of cultures and a lack of understanding and respect on both sides.
Much has changed since that time, very few of the Irish Travelling Community are nomadic and I’ve little notion of how much of their culture they’ve retained.
Side of the Road, Ireland
I’ve been privileged to meet and engage with the travellers who own these wagons. This family lives full-time on ‘Side of the Road, Ireland’. The care and attention to detail in these wagons can only be understood when viewed close up. The pride the owners display in their wagons must be experienced to be understood.
These photographs only go a little way to giving you, the reader, an insight into this lifestyle. Highly decorated and maintained both outside and inside these wagons probably represent and hold everything this family owns.
Romance of the Traveller
While they may look beautiful, space is extremely limited particularly if you consider space for their possessions, clothes, cooking utensils, tools etc. harness and dogs and accessories. Much of these travellers’ lives is lived in the outdoors, health issues are a dominating factor in their everyday lives.
I’ve no wish to dampen the romantic notion of these highly decorated homes and the travellers lifestyle but we need to know, understand and respect our environment and all who occupy it alongside us.
We are just one large family.
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