I touched in my last entry on Travellers, that social group in Ireland that are nomadic and who are generally looked upon with suspicion (at best) and actively disliked by many.
As a child I used to spend a lot of time, usually the summer holidays, in West Cork. Dad was one of a family of 12 and the cottage in which they all lived was a mile or so outside the town of Dunmanway. It was perhaps 150m or so off the main Bantry – Dunmanway road. One summer a group of gypsies or tinkers (these were the days long before political correctness caught on) set up between the family residence and the main road. To a young English boy they were more than a bit scary. In those days they had proper gypsy caravans – horse-drawn and multi-coloured with wooden steps leading the way into a mysterious interior. Dogs barked, the men shouted and quarrelled. At night fires would glow giving this strange band of people an unearthly aspect.
But if I was apprehensive that was soon put to rights by Dad. He would greet them cheerily, often by name, and would often stop and chat – maybe share a joke and a fag or accept a drink. Very quickly I realised that although these folk were quite different to us they were nonetheless friendly, especially to those that offered friendship. From that time I would no longer be fearful as I made my way to and from town.
Times have changed of course. The horse-drawn wagons have gone, replaced by camper vans or cheap caravans. No longer are these people able to pull up where they wish. They are confined to halting sites which are far and few between and with each one proposed (I believe there is a legal obligation on councils to provide such sites) there is tooth and nail opposition. Their old trades (tinsmithing etc) have died out. They are susceptible to hereditary diseases and have a low life expectancy. Whilst our Travellers embrace their nomadic existence as part of their culture and raison d’etre their life is far from easy.
But they remain, happily in my opinion, part of the Irish landscape. But what a pity we can’t take them back to those horse-drawn caravan days with their campfires on lonely country roads, scaring the bejaysus out of timid English boys.