No Camping

Every year there are more and more itinerants. Every year the apathy of the authorities deepens and the public's hostility grows.  By: Maggie O'Kane

By 1986 there will be 21,000 itinerants in this country. In the past twenty years the itinerant population has increased by 10,000 people. At present there are 15,000 itinerants living in Ireland, most are illiterate and unskilled. Some dive Hiace vans, make a comfortable living from sCrap and carpet dealing and don't pay taxes. Most live in poverty in overcrowded and unsanitary connditions on the side of the road, where they are despised by the locals; barred from
pubs and shooed out of supermarkets. .

They are a' group of people with the highest infant th0rtality tate; the l~west life~xpectancy (50 years for the average man); and tn~biggest aliwhol and family problems.

In 1963 the government produced the report of the Commission on Itinerancy. It was a long report: 166 pages long full of statistic and graphs. Twenty years later they produced-the "review: of the report 133 pages long full of more statistics and more graphs. In May last year a multiiministerial review committee was set up.The multiterial review.committee is now reviewing the review:

Meanwhile the travelling population in this 'country continues to increase. Despite efforts made by local authoorities in recent years to house travellers and provide proper halting sites for them, caravans there are still more travellers on the side of the road than there were in 1963 when reesettlement began.

Since then the local authorities, usually with stiff oppoosition from the elected councillors have been fighting and fiddling to get a halting site here and a chalet settlement there.

An elected local authority representattve who wants to Stay a local authority representative keeps his or her eye on the electorate who worry about the scrap cars the itinerants Ene behind; the value of their houses; the dogs; the stray bonies and the children who steal clothes off the washing line.

Representatives who really take their seat seriously go on the occasional march like Coucillor Damian Murray of Talllaght. Sean Walsh TD, in June 1982, marched with 400 people from caravan to caravan on the Tallaght By Pass giving itinerants, some of whom had lived on the road for over five years, 48 hours to get out of Tallaght.

Until recently it was easy to deal with itinerants. If people didn't want them around they got the Gardai to move them on and the itinerants would pack up-their pots and their pans and their children and move on.

In June 1980 a woman called Rosella McDonald decided she wouldn't be moved on any mote. She had lived in Templeogue for two years and most of her 11~ children went to school locally. Dublin County Council handed her a letter telling her to move. She refused and was warned that she would be forcibly evicted frqm the site. Rosella McDonald took her case to court with support from an Eastern Health Board social worker, Mervyn Ennis; and Senator Mary Robinson who represented her.

THE CASE WENT TO THE SUPREME COURT where Justice O'Higgins told Dublin County Council that if they wanted Rosella McDonald and her family to move out they had to give her somewhere to move to. Rosella McDonald wasSvenntually offered a place at Avila Park Chalet Site in Rathhfarnham; a site dominated by the Connors family. The Connors sand the McDonalds don't mix by tradition. It is a part the  travelling culture that certain families never "stop" together.

Rosella McDonald put her case to the court but settled people don't under-stand the, traditions and allegiances of the travellers. Justice O'Higgins ruled that she must accept the Avila Park offer and if necessary she would be given police protection. Rosella McDonald and her family went hack to the roads.

The following month a group travellers from Bray, backed by Sister Collette Dwyer and represented by senator Mary Robinson, took Bray Urban District Coucil to court when they tried to move them on. The case went through the Irish courts and is now lodged with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg awaiting judgement.  In May last year this country was asked to explain its treatment of the travellIng community by the European Court.

In 1963 the Report of the Commission on Itinerancy stated that almost all travellers were illiterate and that there were only 114 children attending school regularly in the country. Now while there are 2,500 children attending school daily, few remain on over the age of 12 years.

Fifteen AnCO courses have been set up in the country to provide some sort of training for teenage travellers but less than 300 young people can avail of these opportunities.

For the past twenty years the education of the travelling community has been almost totally fotsted on voluntary organisations because the government has failed to organise or provide a service.

In 1975 a special school was set up in Bray by the Dubblin Committee for Travelling People to deal with children who have learning and emotional difficulties.

In 1978 and 1979 Strand Street and Townsend Street Schools were also open to concentrate on children from deprived and alcoholic backgrounds. 1979 was International Year of the Child and people were beginning to feel guilty about the kids on O'Connell Bridge.

Earlier that year Pope John Paul House had been estabblished in Dublin to cater for homeless children from alcooholic and unstable backgrounds and to offer them an alterrnative to sleeping out. But in 1982 it closed down. Townnsend Street School also closed in 1982. The Dublin Commmittee for Travelling People claimed that children were now ready to be integrated into local schools and that they had to hand back the premises to the Sisters of Mercy who owned the building.

Two years later it was established that 15 out of 28 children never attended school on a regular basis again and that the building had not been reoccupied by the nuns.

However, according to a confidential report on the reehabilitation of travellers the school closed, not because they were forced to do so, but because of a loss of energy in the DCTP. Staff difficulties were continually coming to the surface and the smooth running of the school was outside the capabilities of a voluntary body. "The closing of Townsend Street School came, not out of necessity", said a former teacher, "but out of the weariness of a group of business men, clerics and concerned people who set out in 1966 to work towards educating travellers and sixteen years later found themselves lumbered with a huge complex probblem that required a highly organised and professional appproach". She said the Dublin Committee for Travelling People gave in.

The schools set up by the committee had come more in response to a crisis than by planned intervention and the Department of Education and the local authorities were relieved to see that someone was displaying an interest. The government, having no real policy of its own for eduucating travellers, were happy to leave the work to volunntary bodies. But the population of travellers in this country has increased and continues to increase at a rate of 10% per year. The need for immediate government action and proper coordination is obvious. Belinda Stokes, a Donegal woman, who worked with travellers for five years on a voluntary basis has recently stopped her work. "I couldn't keep going on. The situation was impossible. Just when you felt you were beginning to get somewhere with the kids they'd be moved on. I felt I was just helping to prop up a useless system and I couldn't go on doing it."

For the past twenty years the St Vincent De Paul, social workers and the National Committee for Travelling People have been behaving like a great piece of elastoplast patching up the holes that nobody else wants to know about. Relations between the travellers and the settled community are very bad. The settled community resent the travellers who mess up the road, beg around their doors don't pay taxes. The travellers have little time for the ?OOple that bar them from their pubs and march on their - ames.

ON MONDAY 5 MAY 1982 a printed notice from the Tallaght Action Group came through the letter boxes in Tallaght. It said: "Assemble on Wednesday night at 7pm at St Mark's School Grounds, Springfield, to assist in the Final Movement of Itinerants from Tallaght. No children or teenagers."

Wednesday night saw over 400 people march on the Tallaght Travellers. With them was a TD (Deputy Sean Walsh) a County Councillor (Damien Murray) and a Peace Commissioner (John O'Sullivan).

It started up at the shopping centre near the school.

Mothers wheeling their prams walked in the march. Others leaned out their front doors with their arms folded to watch the crowds going by.

A group of about ten people from the Travellers Rights Committee stood on the Belgard Road protesting against the march. Tony Hackett stood there with his wife. He lives In Tallaght. The marching crowd were his neighbours. Somebody shouted "knacker lover". He was afraid.

The march lasted for nearly two hours. The crowd SUIIged from caravan to caravan. In the doorway of one caravan a woman stood and listened while the people of Tallaght gave her their message. Her children huddled behind her skirts peeping out at the faces of the men and the crowds standing behind them.

It was dark when the march was over and the crowd railed back along the by-pass for the final meeting. Along the way scrap cars burned on the roadside. Richie Riley of  the Tallaght Action Group stood up in front of the crowd at the end of the march. He told the crowd that the job was done and that 70 percent of the itinerants had agreed to go: "We'll deal with the rest", shouted a voice from the crowd.

Mr Riley told the Evening Herald on May 5: "The march on the itinerants was the last straw and the only method left open to the residents to bring the problem to the final solution. our community has been looked on as having a Hitler-type approach to these itinerants and there have ~ been suggestions that we are out to terrorise them."

On Wednesday April 20 1983 over 100 residents from Alpine Road, Cherrywood and Melrose Estates in Clondalkin gave travellers living there 30 minutes to pack up and get out. The men soaked rags in petrol and set six cars alight. Three blew up. "What sort of people do this?" asked Mary O'Donoghue , a Clondalkin travelling woman with 11 children. "One woman had a five month old baby in her caravan and had to grab her and run from these 'respectable' people".

Many settled people harbour a suspicion of travellers. Through childhood they're warned to be good or tney be given away to the tinkers. They don't quite know what to make of these people who all live on top of one another in dirty caravans and upset the residents association. They dismiss them as drunks because they lie drunk on streets outside the pubs they're barred from.

Last August at the funeral of Francis Crumlish in Ballyyshannon County Donegal, the fear and suspicion between the good people of Ballyshannon and the tinkers reached a new high.

On Tuesday 2 August there was a fight at the Rock in Ballyshannon between rival itinerant groups. When it was over, 29-year-old Francis Crumlish was dead. Willy McGinley and his son Cecil were badly injured.

Francis Crumlish died from slash hook wounds when a long running feud over trading came to a head because of the sale of a pony.

The news of the death whipped through the town of Ballyshannon. The tinkers were fighting again, people said - but this time someone was dead.

The travellers and settled people don't mix in Ballyyshannon. Willy McGinley had been going into Charltons bookies in the main street for two years, but the men who took his bets knew only his name and that he lived in a caravan in Cornhill on the Bundoran Road.

On Thursday 4 August eight men were charged with 42 offences including the murder of Francis Crumlish. That same evening the travellers came to remove his body to the church in Ballyshannon.

They came in their hundreds. Silently the town filled up with travellers who seemed to come from nowhere in their cars and vans. They walked silently behind the coffin, men carried slash hooks to commemorate how he had died. Their feet made no sound on the road. The shops shut and the people of Ballyshannon went indoors. They didn't walk in the procession. It was a tinker funeral.

In the Milestone Hotel on the main street the staff peeped through the curtains. They said afterwards that they had never seen so many tinkers in the town and they knew by their faces that they were angry. The respectable people of Ballyshannon waited for something to happen. Then the tinkers left as silently as they had come .

ONE QUARTER OF THE TRAVELLERS IN this country now live in Dublin. There are about 640 families living in the city. Most camp on the outskirts and in the new satellite towns.

In the past twenty years the traditional livelihoods of tinmaking, farm work, chimney sweeping and clothes-pegs have gone. Nobody buys tin pots any more, clothes-pegs cost less than fifty pence in the shops and the farms have become mechanised. The traditional nomadic occupations are dead and the travellers have moved into the cities to collect their social welfare. The more fortunate ones sell cars and scrap. Like the resettlement of the North American Red Indians, urbanisation and unemployment has brought with it the problems of alcoholism and social decay. The glue-sniffing children on O'Connell Bridge in Dublin are victims of that decay.

In the past twenty years the travelling population in this country has increased by 10,000. There is no reason to beelieve that these trends will not continue. The increase is attributed to the early age of marriage among travellers hmost young people marry between the ages of 17 and 19 pthe rarity of spinsterhood and the high fertility rate. Children are very important. A man is judged by his peers by the number of children he fathers. It is seen as a test of his virility. Attempts by social workers to encourage women to consider family planning are met with hostility particularly by the men who see such intervention as a direct in trusion into their married life.

It is considered normal for a woman to bear ten children in a community where infant mortality is higher than in any other section. The children are rarely breast-fed despite the difficulties of sterilising bottles without a proper water su pply. It would be considered highly immodest for a travelling woman to bare her breasts.

Matilda McGinley sat in her caravan in the market yard in Sligo, her body swollen and pregnant with her seventh child. The McGinleys were waiting for old Willy to get out of hospital and recover from the slash hook wound he reeceived up on the Rock.

Matilda McGinley is his daughter-in-law. She is 28 years old and is expecting her seventh child. She doesn't believe in family planning, doesn't use contraceptives and says she would "rather have twenty of them than take any of those things. No travelling woman uses anything like that and when you're not used to such things you don't think about it."

Contraception is generally unacceptable to travelling women, partly on religious grounds, and partly because they are unaware of the concept of controlling their own fertility. "It's just not the way with us", said Matilda McGinley. "You just have your babies and then manage with ten the same as if you had one."

In Dublin the attitude among travellers is slightly diffferent: "The younger ones who get married are using those contraceptives now. They can read and they know how to do it", said Mary Collins, who lives in Carragh Park, Finglas.

When a Donegal social worker suggested to a travelling woman with ten children that she should try and plan her family, the woman said that her husband wouldn't have it. "Anyway where would I hide them in a caravan with ten of us here? If I had a cap the kids would have it out playing with it."

Michael Ward is twenty. His wife is sixteen and they had their first child three months ago. "I wouldn't use those things", he says. "Wouldn't that be a sin? If you don't want children you don't lie with your wife. My wife had a child three months ago."

He is a fine, strong-boned young man dressed in a worn tee-shirt and a pair of jeans. His wife has blonde hair pulled up into the nape of her neck. She is as tough as the conncrete path that leads into Sligo town. The baby is in hosspital with pneumonia. Michael Ward doesn't have much 2ille for doctors: "All they do is give you them tablets. I would go to a doctor to get stitched if I had a cut but that's it", he says. "If I have a cold I go out and run around and beat it. That's the only way." .

Michael Ward and his wife were matched in Bundoran by their parents. He is one of 19 children and they lived on the side of the road in two canvas tents. The boys in one, the girls in another. At night there would always be a fight to get to the middle of the tent so you wouldn't ge wet if the rain seeped in. But there wasn't much point - the bigger fellas would come in later and push into the centre and there wasn't anything you could do about it because they were bigger.

Michael Ward's WIFE COMES BACK INTO the caravan and sits quietly for a while listening to the interview, then she asks to see the tape and tries to smash it in her hands. "You'll tape no husband of mine". she says. "You had no permission from the woman of the home to come in here", she says. She is angry but eventually agrees to give back the tape. Mainly because she wanted to hear the voices being played back. A golden rule had been broken. Another woman had come into her caravan without asking permission.

There are very strict rules against adultery among traavellers. When Michael Ward's elder brother took another man's wife while he was in hospital, the man came out and beat him up and afterwards the "adulterer" was driven out of the community and was sent off to travel alone. He would not be accepted by other travelling families and cerrtainly wouldn't be accepted back by the Wards.

Matilda McGinley's aunt, Black Rose, became pregnant thirty years ago and was sent to Sligo Psychiatric Hospital after the birth of her child. She has been there ever since. "Black Rose was mental, she didn't know what was happen. ing to her", said Matilda. The family never visit her and she has been effectively ignored by the community .

While the boys are allowed almost complete freedom the girls from the travelling families are treated strictly by their parents. "If I headed off down that road there I'd have a flock of them after me to see where I was going. My brother can disappear for a week and nobody would be a bit bothered", said Mary Joyce who is 19 and is camped with her family at Dunsink Lane in Finglas.

"Travelling girls are strict about themselves. They never go with boys - they might go with the odd boy but they'd never make a habit of it", said Lizzy McGinley. "If a travelling girl is going steady with a boy then she'll marry him." Matilda McGinley is one of 13 children. She married at 15 and had her first child by the time she was 16.

"We're well fit to mind ourselves that way. If we're going out with a boy we're not going out for anything dirty. If a travelling girl went out with one fella one night and another one the next everyone would be talking about her. If a travelling boy asks you out to the pictures on your own then he definitely has to have you asked in marriage. The first thing he'd do if he was thinking of marriage would be to ask your brother if you ever went with a fella before and if you did he wouldn't go with you. It's just a clean life we're leading."

Among travellers there are strict divisions between those who are reasonably well off, running a carpet or scrap busiiness, and those who live on social welfare.

On the Sligo Road the Crumlish family are parked about 100 yards up the road from the Wards. The Crumlishes have two blue Hiace vans, live in their own house in Bunndoran during the winter and take to the roads in the summmer to sell carpets. The Wards live on the dole and remain in the caravan all year round. "Daddy doesn't like us mixxing up with other travellers. We're Crumlishes and we're nothing to do with the Stokes or Wards or even the Crummlishes from Sligo", said Mary Crumlish.

Her mother, Ann Crumlish, takes exception to a visit from Magill immediately after the Wards have been interrviewed. Her red hair swings about her face. "Get out of this caravan", she screams. Her hand raised threateningly in the air. "We're not tinkers - why do you want to talk to us? We've a house in Bundoran. Go back to your own people ."

The Crumlishes or the McGinleys will not stop in a Corporation or County Council halting site. "You'd have too many travellers come in to stay and you wouldn't know where you were", said Matilda McGinley. "We just stay by ourselves."

There are also traditional family feuds running back for generations and some familities will not remain on the same site or camp in the same areas as others.

Ann Maughan from Sligo Town has 14 children and is pregnant with her fifteenth. She is 42 years old. She grew up in Northern Ireland and camped for four years in Bellfast, at one stage on both the Falls and Shan kill Roads. "It didn't matter what religion you were. The Protestants wouldn't have us and neither would the Catholics."

After her marriage at 15 she moved with her husband to England. "That was hell on earth. They treated you like scum over there. As soon as you'd pull into a place and your husband went off to get some work or food they'd come along with the vans, hitch us up and move us. Then he'd have to spend half the night trying to find out where they'd brought me and the children."

When she was 15 she complained of pains in her stomach to a woman who lived in the flat upstairs. She was four months pregnant and suffering from a kidney infection. The woman brought her to the doctor: "He wanted me to pull up my petticoat to examine me but I wouldn't let him so we went on heaving and hauling for ten minutes, and in the end he had to do me over the petticoat. I'd never had me clothes off in front of anyone in my life and I wasn't going to start with him. He told me I had a kidney infecction and that I was pregnant. I thought being pregnant was another sickness. The doctor sent me down to a hospital in Piccadilly to get seen to but there were them student docctors there and I had a great fear of them. They wanted me to lie down and examine me but I wouldn't so I ran out of the hospital and along Piccadilly in my bare feet to get away from them.

She hated sex. Once while in hospital with a kidney infection and pneumonia she became delirious and shouted to her husband in her sleep not to touch her and keep away. A male doctor who heard her ranting tried to get her to talk about the problem. "I wasn't talking to him about it", she said. ''Then he sent this woman in who asked me if I liked having sex with my husband. I said I didn't and she said sex was a beautiful thing and I just laughed at her. Then she said me and my husband should go to one of those films and see people having sex and how nice it could be."

Despite the overcrowded conditions she lives in, Ann Maughan would not consider living in a house: "I'm resttless, restless even from being here for two years but the children have to go to school so I can't move. But I always move my bed around the caravan and I don't feel I'm in the same place. Or sometimes I move the caravan round so the door is facing another way."

ONE OF THE GREATEST IMPEDIMENTS TO providing a solution for the travelling commuunity in this country is the preconception that they want to settle down and live in houses. Matilda McGinley says she could never live in a house. "I'd never be able to get on with the four walls of a house around me", she says. "In a caravan you get outside to do the washing and cooking and I couldn't take doing that all inside.

Willy McGinley's family lived in a house in Bundoran for four years. They eventually left the house because Willy preferred to be on the road.

In November 1977 a travelling woman finally received a house from Galway County Council, after waiting on the housing list for several years.

She stayed in the house for just three months. Local people picketed the house for the first month. One of those who led the picket was a settled itinerant who said he didn't want any more itinerants moving in. After the picket was lifted her children were constantly harassed in the street. She moved back onto the road.

In Sligo last winter one family housed by the County Council took down the wooden stairway of a new house and used it for firewood. Having spent all their lives in a one-roomed caravan the concept of an upstairs floor had no obvious value, so short of fuel, they used the stairway for the firewood.

However, some travellers do decide to settle into chalets and houses. In Avila Park in Finglas the Collins family have been settled for ten years.

There are thirty chalets there occupied by three main families: the Collins, McDonaghs and McDonalds. The site has a recreation hall and a caretaker's hut. The caretaker who has worked in Avila Park for eight years feels that the travellers "have it too easy".

"There's too much done for them here. They seem to get whatever they want. When they were building the new houses they complained that they didn't like the direction doors were facing and the Corporation changed it. Can you imagine someone on the Corporation housing list saying they didn't like the way your door was facing? They'd be told where to get off."

The chalets in Avila Park are small and functional. There are three bedrooms, a kitchen/sittingroom and a bathroom.

Mary Collins is 79 and says she would not consider reeturning to the road: "It was hard to stay in the same place at first but you get used to it. We were stopped in a house in Mullingar for a few years and that made it easier."

Although the Collinses have been living in Finglas for ten years they are still not accepted by the local people: -1: we go into some pubs you can't get served no matter how clean you are or how well you're dressed up. The man says he won't serve you and you're left standing there like a stick not knowing whether to go forward or backwards or what to do", said her daughter Eileen.

Chrissie Ward, a sister of Nan Joyce, the woman who ran in the November 1982 general election, is angry about the way travellers are treated by the settled community. " It was a hot day and I wanted some ice. I wanted to go into a pub and get a mineral with some ice in it. I was pregnant at the time and I was craving for ice. But the man blocked the door in front of me and said I couldn't get served."

"You can 't come in here' , he said.

"Is there something wrong with me', I said.

"No", he says "there's not'.

"Do I look different from your women", I said.  


"Do I smell?"

"No," he says, 'but you can't come in here'.

"I wanted to hit him really hard but I didn't - I went home. But I was mad - mad because I didn't just hit him and make myself feel better."

Chrissie Ward's husband went to school in Rutland Street School and came from the settled community before he decided to travel. A man he went to school with was behind the counter in a Dublin bar when he went in with Chrissie and some friends for a drink.

"I'll serve you and your wife - but I won't serve your company", said the barman.

They left the pub.

IN JUNE LAST YEAR NAN JOYCE APPEARED in Dublin District Court on theft charges. She has no previous convictions and although the theft charges have since been dropped she still faces a charge of possession of a bracelet. The charges were given a high profile in the national media, badly affecting her public image and that of travellers in general.

According to Nan Joyce the goods were found in a car which her husband had bought in for scrap.

In 1963, Grattan Puxon, an English gypsy and journaalist started a campaign in Ireland to resist the eviction of travellers and to campaign for serviced sites and education facilities. After a highly successful six month campaign he was arrested in March 1964 on explosives charges. There was strong public support for Puxon, a romantic English radical who became involved in the travellers cause. On Monday 4 May 1964 the Guardian newspaper carried the heading: "Pacifist on explosives charges". The explosives were found in the garden of a house rented by Puxon and Puxon claimed throughout that they had been planted there. At the time of his conviction philosopher and peace campaigner Bertrand Russell wrote to the then Minister for Justice, Charles Haughey, describing Puxon as a man of integrity and arguing that the charges should be dropped. A protest march against the charges was held in London on May 3, 1964.

There are interesting parallels in the fall of Puxon and that of Nan Joyce, the 41 year old travelling woman and mother of 11 children who fought the election campaign in the Dublin South West constituency and got 581 first preference votes. An articulate attractive woman, she susstained a high profile during the November 1982 election campaign.

In both cases any attempt to set up an autonomous travellers group failed when both leaders were discredited for alleged criminal activities.

To solve the problems of the travelling community in this country would take a great deal of money and poliitical will. Money is available from the EEC to reimburse the local authorities for all halting sites and chalets built in their area for travellers. But there is an institutionalised prejudice within the local authorities against providing accommodation for travellers.

A former Galway TD said at a County Council meeting on October 3, 1973: "I am not opposed to any itinerant getting a house. They are as entitled to it as anyone. But it's a very bad policy because people are so badly in need of houses."

The problems of the travelling community have always been analysed as a lack of housing and the authorities and voluntary bodies have been trying to solve their perception of what the problems are rather than consulting the travelllers on what their needs are.

Through the education system, their negative self image is reinforced by schools that ignore their history, origin and culture. The Department of Environment Reports talk of the "rehabilitation" of travellers and employ social worrkers to social work them into houses.

After years of social neglect, prejudice and ostracisation it won't work to move groups of itinerants into housing estates and hope for the best. No matter how nice the house is, how lucky they are to get it or how grateful they should be, it is useless unless they want to live there and the people in the housing estate will have them.

Nearly twelve months after the latest report was presennted to the Minister for the Environment, over 1,000 famiilies will spend this winter on the side of the road, sleeping in caravans and cars; without sanitation or water, due to public prejudice, lack of political will and lack of imaginaation.

There is no sign of a change in attitudes. It is more likely that travellers will continue to be treated as drop outs that need to be put into houses, put into schools, rehabilitated and got out of the way.

Travellers don't vote. People don't like them very much and nobody is going to get elected telling people about what they are going to do for the knackers. •