Travellers… Their life and times
Navan Travellers Heritage Group
In October 1994, Navan Travellers Workshops Ltd. Sponsored a Fás Community Employment Project, employed 36 Travelling people from the town of Navan. Five of those people were employed on the Heritage project and it is their work over many months that has resulted in this book.
The group interviewed 19 of the older Travellers who used to travel around the Navan area, this book is the compilation of those interviews.
The people employed on the Heritage project 1994-1995 were Noeleen Nevin, John Nevin, Jimmy power (snr.), Mary Lawrence, Davy McDonagh.
The 1995-1996 Heritage Group are:
Joey Hand, Suzanne Power, Jimmy Power (snr.), Christy McDonagh, Joe Duke.
We wish to take this opportunity to thank each of the people who allowed us to interview them; we could not have written this book without their co-operation.
The people interviewed were:
Nanny McDonagh, Mary Doyle, Bobby McDonagh, Mikey McDonagh, Mikey Stokes, Nellie Joyce, Jody Joyce, Patsy Joyce, Christy McDonagh, Christy Hand, Mary Nevin, Jimmy Power(snr.), Paddy McDonagh, & Dyna Duke.
Finally, we hope that you the reader will get as much enjoyment from reading this book, as we got from putting it together.
The Heritage Team
Life in years past
Reading the words spoken by the Travellers living and camping around Navan one comes to see there are two themes consistently expressed by these men and women when describing the life they remember from their youth. First, those times were more difficult in almost every respect. Work was hard and done over long hours and the reward was usually just enough food to put on the children's plates. Begging was a necessity. A family did not own much in the way of comforts. Mike Quinn remembers that in the winter of 1920 there was just one pair of boots between him and another man; they would do there tasks one at a time, the one waiting shoeless while the other tended to his ponies! Yet, those times are the ones which are held most dear in there memories; there was pride in the knowledge that what a family did have, they had earned. Perhaps more important was the travelling itself and the contact with friends and family that this brought. It seems to Patsy Joyce that this contact has been lost. "You'd have auld bike , "or an auld pony and trap, and away you'd go to see one another. They used to call it going for a kailly, but they don't do that today."
Both of these themes are eloquently stated in the words of Paddy McDonagh:
We done the best we could. We were all poor people. We come….and worked in the bog, working picking spuds, beets, turnips and all. Everyone was sort of poor, then they all got sort of rich again, got good auld ponies and carts, got good tents. We had really bad tents the first time. Some of us might not have a good cover at all; the rain came down on top of you…We had hard times, very hard times … but we started back again got everything we wanted again. We came back strong on the road as sound as ever we were. Most of us are in houses now, the worst thing we ever done in are lifetime. The time we were travelling was a happier time and a homelier time.
Several of the Travellers who were interviewed recalled the many different ways in which people would earn a living in the old days. Old Julia Quinn explains that:
The men used to make auld cans and saucepans, half-gallons and dippers, three-quart cans, big cans, common cans… with no lead, and we would go out in the country either walking or with the pony and cart and we would sell them. They were a bad price at that time, a shilling maybe and ten pence and four pence for the auld saucepans, and maybe eight pence, six pence and four pence for a half-gallon if you got it tight..
Then we would start begging of the houses, a grain of flour and anything the women would give us. A bit of meat, spuds or cabbage, lock of onions, tea or sugar or a bit of butter; we would get a bit in every house. We had to do it. We all begged with black shawls, the children in our arms, breast-feeding them… The times were hard; it was all begging.
Mikey McDonagh remembers that when he was young boy there wasn't a lot of work as we know it today, but he remembers that "there would be someone belonging to you a tinsmith." That was the way most Traveller men made a living. The old pots and saucepans would be sold around the country and you would go around looking for any jobs."
The work a family would do depended on what was available to them and on the season of the year. Nellie Joyce recollects that.
My father was a tinsmith. He would make the tins and we would help or mother to sell them in the country in the summer time of year. Sometimes we would all work in the bog footing the turf. In the winter we would pull the sugar beets and pick spuds, and years ago, when the rabbits were plentiful and clean, my father and other travelling men would snare the rabbits and collect them and sell them in the butchers'shops to get a few pounds for Christmas and buy cloths for winter.
Before plastic arrived as an inexpensive replacement for tin, the Travellers had an uncontested niche in the crafting of cans, pots and pans, milk cans and many of the other items that people took for granted in there everyday lives. The Traveller's skill was sought by those who needed something fashioned brand new, our even if there was an old container that required a patch. Mike Quinn recalls that at one point in his life he was asked to travel to England and America to work on various projects as a tinsmith, but chose to remain at home. He speaks in a humorously modest sort of way about the beginning of this career as a tinsmith.
How did I pick up to be a tinsmith? I was always nibbling at bits of tin when I was growing up with my father, hitting them with a hammer and breaking them up and beading them… and through time I got in a habit. It took me a long time … but when the brain turned the right way I got in the fashion that I could work and make my own tins according as I was growing up.
As Mary Doyle tells it, the work was far from over once the families returned to the camp for the evening. One would be at chores until well after midnight preparing for the next day, when everyone would have to arise before dawn to begin the routine over again.
After doing the country…you came back and you wash and clean yourself and whatever you got you put in your grub box…you'd have a big flour bag and you left that one side, and you made the tea and gave the children feed, and next you put down the cabbage, bit of bacon if you had it, and your boiler of spuds… and when that was boiled they ate there fill… you got your oven or your griddle and you kept backing on a summer night until two o'clock in the morning , and you'd say to yourself, "I won't have to bake tomorrow …I have enough bread." That's the way it was years ago, simple as all that. It was a whole hard life.
Life was not made any easier for the Travellers by the Guards, old Julia Quinn tells that:-
Some of the country people were alright and some were bad people. I often seen the time there now when the lads were pulling the beets or picking the auld spuds or snagging auld turnips and when you'd have the whole lot pulling the country people would go in for the guards to get you hunted. The guards would come and hunt you! Now the guards long ago when they came out, they'd drag down the auld tent, hail, rain or snow. Drag the auld tent down let it be Christmas eve, they didn't care!
Mary Doyle says:
In my time there was no squad cars, the guards would ride a big, tall, all black bicycle, and you'd only have the teacan on the fire when a guard would give it a running kick and drive it up in the elements, and maybe the last grain of tea you had… was gone in it… you'd have to leave the camp that night. Another camp, you might get a week out of it, and go to another camp and you might get three weeks out of it and go to another camp and just have the tent up and you'd when you'd have to take it down again.
Dinah Duke recalls from her days on the road that:
"It was hard at that time, because you might have only moved in, when the guard would come and tell you, you have to move on. When the guard came you would have to get the children out of their beds and go looking for another camp."
Mike Quinn continues along the same lines:
Some of the guards would come at twelve at night… there would be plenty of snow on the ground… several times they would drag your camp down, throw it out on the road, make you get up on your pony, pack up and go get your children up on a cold cart and send you on about your business for neither rhyme nor reason. More times now you could go to a part of the country that you wouldn't know and the local men all the young fellows stoned you out of it… it could be teeming snow or heavy rain and you would still have to pack up in the dead of night and go. You would go on to the next place, you would pull in and it would be that dark you wouldn't no where you would be going, putting up a tent to get the children in to it could be in water and maybe upon a snowy ground, upon the snow as well as anywhere else. But thanks be to God it never done us much harm. We must have skins like rubber.
Dyna Duke felt that settled people were nicer to Travellers long ago.
She says "the settled people don't have the same time for Travellers as they used to have. When Travellers try and settle down, the settled people don't give them the chance to settle."
That as they say was then. Many of the Travellers today report much different relationships with the settled people in Ireland. Prejudice and hatred still exists, to be sure and the problem of agreeing upon a halting site still plagues the Travellers, but they are improvements. Traveller and settled children go to school together, and hopefully the time they spend with each other will take them further along the road to co-existence than their parents and grandparents have travelled. As mentioned earlier, there is sort of a warm nostalgia for the past years. People remember the friends and loved ones of their youth, some of whom are now departed and perhaps the hardships are softened by the passage of time. Jody Joyce recounts some fond memories he has of summers spent in the counties of Cavan, Longford and Leitrim.
My father was a tinsmith and I used to walk out in the country with my mother selling the tins in my bare feet. There was a lot of house up lanes and across fields that we used to go to, and to think bake on it, it was very homely. God be with them days.
Nellie Joyce speaking of the pride she feels in being a traveller, says:
All our life we travelled up until I got married. Then we went over to England for a while and when we came home to Ireland again we travelled around Ireland for awhile. Then we got a house in Navan and were here ever since. Although I'm in a house I always consider myself a Traveller, and very proud to be one.
Patsy Joyce, when asked about his favourite sport when he was young , replied:
Hunting after rabbits, and playing ball with the young fellows and I often think of my cousins some of them are dead and gone now and the rest of them are a good auld age and when we were young we played the auld horseshoes, a game of skittles. You won't see that much now. I'd like to see it all happening again.
Mary Doyle remembers the day she made her first Holy Communion she tells us:
At seven year auld the man who gave me my first Holly Communion was a missionary and I made it in my two bare feet, that's the truth to ya."
Mary also clearly remembers the day she got married, it was on a Monday and she tells us about the reception:
It was on the
of Moate, with a gramophone, do you no the gap of Moate-around McCormack's pub. When asked if the wedding was "drew down" she tells us: No we just met. He asked me to marry him and that it. Anyway up to the priest and I was married in a fortnight. No white clothes, no noting."
Mikey McDonagh remembers his wedding. When asked how he met his wife Julia he tells us:
"There was a women staying with us some time before and I was asked if I would get married. I wanted to find out who the girl was, that was it we got married."
Mikey remembers that there was only about 6 or 7 at the wedding including his mother and father. He was 18 years old the time, his bride was16 years old.
When asked if they started married life travelling with a group of people he replied: "No, I went out on my own after I got married. We went off on our own in 1948. After we went off on our own we were lonesome." He recalls the wedding - "The wedding was alright, but there was no drinking or no hotel or noting like that, or no money. You would just go to the chapel and get married and that was it."
After he got married Mikey remembers moving to Westmeath.
Song: Green Grows The Laurels Singer: Nellie Joyce
1 I once had a true love
But now I have none
And since she left me
I sigh all alone
And since she left me
Discontented I'll be
Because she loved another far
Better then me
2 I passed my loves window
Both early and late
The looks that she gave me
My poor heart would break
The looks that she gave me
A thousand would kill
And she hates and detests me
But I love her still
3 I w rote my love a letter
With red rosy lines
She sent back another
All twisted and twined
You keep you love letter
And I will keep mine
And you'll right to your love and
And I'll right to mine
So green grows the laurels
And soft falls and dew
And sorrow was my love when
Parting with you
It's in our next meeting
I hope you'll prove true
And to change the green laurels
To the red, white and blue
4 O something I wonder
Why maidens love men
And sometimes I wonder
Why all men love them
And more to my to knowledge
I want you to know
And women are heros
Were ever they go.
Mike Stokes of Longford tells the story of a Mrs. Rattigan up at strandmore crossroads who has the cure for liver damage.
Mary Doyle tells of a salve for burns made from the mixture of the fox tongue or foxglove plant fried with white lard.
Winnie McDonagh reports that " a man in Navan has the cure of burns, he licks them."
These and others make up the varied forms of cures which are available to anyone who will have the belief that they will work.
Knowledge of the location of the cures is not something to be kept to oneself.
Travellers speak of telling other people of a successful cure almost as though were a duty. Perhaps this springs from the belief that all cures come from God.
Whatever the reason, even settled people are told about cures, although Travellers are very much aware that few of the country people put much stock in them. Tom McDonnell says that he would tell a country person of a cure that he knew, but that he never heard of any of them going and feels that this is probably because they do not believe in cures.
Christy McDonagh on the other hand, has a story of a settled person who did go for a cure.
There was a child and man and women living outside of the Silver Tankard and I was in it one day and she was telling me about some friend of her child who was covered in eczema....I said to her, " Did you go for the cure of it?" This is the truth, the women told me, "we'll go anywhere for it, anywhere, doesn't make a bit of difference where it is." So I gave them the address of the man in Athlone….The child was covered from the top of his head to the soles of his feet, every bit of him, with eczema…..The child was in hospital and still didn't do anything with it…They went to that man, a couple of weeks from that the child was clean.
Whenever these people would see Christy McDonagh afterwards they would bring up the story. " They did every time they saw them, and no matter were I'd see them they would roar out through the car, no matter who they're with."
While faith is necessary in order for a cure to work, Mary Doyle insists that she would only believe in the person who would not take money for a cure. "Likewise, Bobby Mc Donagh reports that she did not give money for cures that she had received.
Mikey McDonagh was asked did he ever recommend a cure to anyone. He said "yes, a country lad. This man came to me one day to see what was wrong with him and I knew it wasn't good. I asked him did he ever go to anyone to get a cure for it, he said he tried every doctor in Ireland. So I showed him a place to go. He came to Navan a few months after and he said he was very thankful to me. He was delighted with the cure, he said he would tell other people about the cure."
Nellie Joyce, however, says:
If I was taking the child to the person to be cured, then it wouldn't matter it me if the person took money, as long as the child would be cured. It would make no difference to me whether you would have to pay them or not. You would have the one belief in the person that would take the money as you would in the one that wouldn't.
Old Julia Quinn thinks that the man or women who will not take the money is the more reliable cure, but she has an exception for a women who collects money for a good use.
Now, there's an awful lot of people who has the cure for the bleeding of the nose. There's a women out there in Rahan, definitely she has a dead cure. The thing, like everything else, you have faith and believe. She takes two pound, three pound, but then she has the whole address there to show where it's going, that it's going out to the foreign missionaries. She has the box and the phone number and all.
If you have belief in her she has the cure of cancer, that's the truth. A young man was getting married. He was going to tell the girl. The girl knew it already. "No." she said, "don't call off the wedding. Come back again to me," Definitely she did cure it. Oh, that's as sure as God. But then you have to leave your mind and your heart down in it. Going outside the door and making a laugh, that's no good. You needn't be going to her or you needn't be going to anyone.
Dyna Duke says she wouldn't believe in a person taking money for a cure.
Asked whether she would take the children to the doctor also if they have received a cure, Julia Quinn goes on to reply:
No, just let the cure work itself. But, then, there's an awful lot of people that doesn't have the belief or hasn't the faith, you know. Well, they might say that man or women as no cure, and there are a few people through the country that as no cure. Now, there's more people that has the cure of arthritis, all things like that, dead cure now, but there is an awful lot of travellers today that won't believe in it now.
Believe in the success of a cure is often so strong that a person will travel any distance to receive it. This is reported time and again by the men and women interviewed. Nellie Joyce, who tell that she believes in cures because she has often gotten them for whooping cough, eczema, ringworm, burns and the thrush for the children, says that " If you needed a cure badly you would try and get it no matter how far it would be." Bobby McDonagh tells that the cures would be given by "ordinary people"; they would not necessarily have to be priests. "If I though I was going to get one, "she says, "I'd go to the end of the earth." She specifically men mentions, "there's a man living at Edenderry that has the cure of pain… and he is a deadly cure."
Tom McDonnell states that he dose not believe in very many cures, but is able to provide one example in which he has confidence. "There's a cure outside Athlone for eczema," he says. "That's the only real one I know. It dose cure eczema." Tom has heard reports of children who were there, and cautions that the cure take a couple of months to work.
Asked whether he believes in cures, Patsy Joyce replied:
I do. I often travelled sixty miles for a cure. I often saw children suffering with eczema, yellow jaundice and ringworm get cures, and they'd be a success. I knew a little girl who had a murmur on the heart, and I brought her to an auld man below in Longford. Martin Parker was his name, and about a fortnight later her mother brought her to the doctor, and the murmur was gone completely and never came back again. Thanks be to God. The doctor thought he had cured it, but it was the man in Longford and the power of God.
Christy McDonagh tells that he believes in cures, but he has never gone to one himself. He gives his story:
I seen Winnie at about thirty years of age, her hands were crippled up with arthritis. She couldn't open them. They were like that (demonstrates with his hands). This is the truth now we went to the man in Carberry out side Edenderry. That man gave her some kind of rub for it. Thanks be to God, it went away; her hands straightened back up completely.
Mary Doyle draws from her experience to provide several examples of cures, for ailments as routine as a burn or as serious as pneumonia.
When a few of my children had the chin cough, they call it whooping cough, we used to boil goat's milk for them and give it to them. It used to bring up the phlegm.
If you had a bad, heavy flu you would boil buttermilk and sugar. You would boil gruel or old buttermilk; if you took that you would be as right as day. If a child got a burn you got a fox's tongue not a live fox, it grow in the ditch foxglove and you came along and you washed out your pans. You fried it with white lard without salt… and you drained it into a saucer. You leave it there until it turns green and you rub that onto the burn. No matter how deep it was, it wouldn't leave a mark or it wouldn't leave a pain.
If you took pneumonia in my days you were painted from the top of your head to your lips with iodine…red iodine.
For the thrush in the tongue, yes I do know the cure, because I cured my own. You come along with a lukewarm water and put in a saucer. You put a big spoonful of bread soda into it. You get three pieces of white rag and wrap it around your finger, and as according to when it's coming off you burn the rag in the fire, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Next morning the child would have no thrush.
Mary tells that the only people to whom she ever went for a cure was "the nun in Kells and the Friars in Multifarnham. The story she tells of her is that:
The nun in Kells, that sister Eileen Sullivan, she's a good nun. That young one of mine, she cured her of dying. She was dying above in our lady's Hospital in Dublin. I was staying in the Bishop's Road and she was three months old, and I got the word back that she was dying, and I went to her. She told me that this day month the child whould be down, and that month she was down. She is there yet, thanks be to God.
According to Mickey Stokes, there is a women living at Strandmore crossroads who can cure damage to the liver. This women, Mrs Rattigan, explains that there can be three things wrong with the liver, and she is able to cure two of them. Mickey tells about two wells in Athlone. The first is not named, but is described as one which will cure warts. The second is St. Bright's well where there is reports that people go to pray for cures, but must also pray for themselves.
There's a little well at Athlone, now sure you know about that… I have a first cousin, and his little young fellow was destroyed with warts, and these people didn't believe such a thing was to be had, or they weren't the type of people that would listen to you.
But he came to me for advice anyway, and this young fellow was destroyed with warts, his hands and feet and sometimes they would be bleeding. So, he says to me, "Mickey," he said, "you can go 'round a good little bit and enquire, and do you know were I can get that little boy cured?" "I do, I says, " it's only about two miles from here." So me and him went out…from the Ballymore road out to Athlone. We passed an auld iron gate, and down along by a river we met a little lone tree and a little lone track, and hid from somewhere under a little lone tree the water was pouring into a little stone trough, but it wasn't used for years and years and years…A country man farmer told me under that tree is the cure of warts, so he rubbed it on and couple of days after they were all gone and never came back no more.
Regarding St. Brigid's well, Mikey tells the story of a man who threw himself into the river Shannon in an attempt to drown himself. He was saved both times, and after the second time the man's father asked when he had prayed at the well he had thought to pray for himself. It came as no surprise to the father to learn that the son had only prayed for others. Back to the well they went, the son said a prayer for himself and from that point he no longer felt the urge to drown himself in the Shannon. As shown there are diverse forms of cure from the natural to the spiritual. Travellers place a strong faith in these remedies.
Nanny McDonagh remembers an unusual cure for burns, and as she relates in her story, she had needed to try this cure as a young girl:-
One day my father and mother were going into Mullingar to buy tin and they left me minding all the children. Our Patsy was a tall boy and he wore short trousers and no boots.
So when I knew it was time to make the tea I'd get the smaller ones to get sticks. I'd light a big fire and hang the tea can on the bar to make the tea. All the children would be sitting around the fire. Patsy was sitting around the fire with his two legs crossed warming himself. Anyway, I picked up the can and it burned the hand of me, so I dropped it and it went all over Patsy's legs and knees. I scalded him. We were staying beside a big field with cows in it and used to hear my mother say the cow's dirt was good for burns. So didn't I run down with a bucket and shovel and got the cow's dirt from the field. I ran back up and rubbed it onto Patsy's legs. You could hear Patsy roaring ten miles away with the pain. As well as doing that I went to one of the cottages beside us and got some bread soda. I told the women what I wanted it for and she said it was no good, that she never heard of bread soda curing a burn. I came back down to Patsy and rubbed the bread soda on his legs. He was still roaring and crying. It was five miles to the nearest doctor, So I got Patsy ready and left the small children there. There was no one to mind them only themselves. "I have to go to the doctor" I said " sit down there till I come back, or my father or mother comes back says I "and tell them were I'm gone." My father came back first and he was wondering why there was no children or anyone around. The smaller ones told him what had happened. I came back after being away for hours and my father was very angry. He asked me what had happened so I told him. He had a big red ash stick waiting for me, so he gave me a few clouts of it.
Second song: singer Ann Joyce Song: Pat O'Donnell
MY NAME IS Pat O'Donnell
And I came from Donegal
Don't you know that I am a treacherous folk
By traitors one and all
For the shooting of a James Carey
I'll be tried in London town
And the informers for the crimes
Mrs. Carey and her son.
When I first stepped on board of the auld ship Mollroe
Been in August '82
Which it came along to me
And when I found out it was Carey
We had angry words and blow
The auld villain taught to take my life
Over the auld ship Mollroe
Well I stopped to defend myself
And fight before I died
For it was a pocked pistol that I drew first
At him I did let fly when I drew the second revolver
Which pierced him onto the heart
But I let him have the third one before I did depart
It was early next morning
Mrs. Carey came to the cabin door
That was the cabin were I lay
Say O'Donnell you shot my husband
Mrs. Carey loud did cry
Well I did indeed in self defence
Cried madam then said I
Well I wish I was a free'er man
That could live for another year
I would make all these informers fly
Before my eyes would fear
Oh Saint Patrick banished all those serpents
From the blessed and holy ground I would make them fly before my eyes
Like a hare before a houn
And here's good health to you Donegal
And the friends I loved so well
And not forgetting the United States
And to this I show no accord
That the blessed Virgin Mary on my two bended knees
I fall, to pray for the soul of O'Donnell
From the town of Donegal
The routes of the Travellers take them too many places in Ireland and, of necessity, there must be several sites available to them at which they can live for a time. These sites, or camps are often no more then short stretches along the sides of the road where the caravans will be parked, yet they have been given colourful nicknames that bring them to life, and perhaps serve to keep their locations fixed in the Traveller's memory. Some of these nicknames are provided in the interview by Jody Joyce.
Noeleen: How long were you travelling around before you came to the house?
Jody: All my life.
Noeleen: Were about did you travel?
Jody: Around the counties; Westmeath, Offaly, Tipperary, Limerick, Cork,
Galway, Roscommon, Leitrim, Longford, Meath, Dublin, Kildare and
Noeleen: Had you ever a favourite camp?
Jody: An odd one.
Noeleen: Had you ever had a favourite county?
Jody: I would say out of all of them the county Offaly.
Noeleen: why did you like Offaly?
Jody: My memories go back farther to it remembering the good old times.
Noeleen: What was the names of the camps you went to?
Jody: There was few favourite camps in county Offaly- "Saps Conderans,"
"Saps Bridge," "Hill of Clara," Bogtown," "Gillian Bridge," "
of Birr, and loads more.
Noeleen: Had you ever a camp that you would meet at around Christmas?
Jody: Our father would pick out a town and there would be a good camp
around it, and all the Travellers would meet there.
Noeleen: What other counties did you like?
Jody: Cavan and Longford and Leitrim used to be lovely during the
Summer time of the year.
Similarly, Mary Doyle, Nellie Joyce, and Patsy Joyce, in their interviews, listed the names of yet other camps.
John: Do you no any old names for camps?
Mary: Plenty of them.
John: Give us a few names.
Mary: There was an old camp over Buckskin around Ballymahon…The (Isle) of
Ballymanhon, Begger's Bridge, Higgin's Hill, and we often stood there. And
we had a very bad tent in it, and a very bad ass, and our bare feet.
John: Was that the right name for it, Higgin's?
Mary: That's all the name the Travellers called it, cause old Mattie used to live up
There, and I don't know if he is dead or alive.
Noeleen: How did get around from camp to camp?
Nellie: We had ponies and carts to bring us around from camp to camp.
Noeleen: What was the names of the camps?
Nellie: There was several names of old comps, like "Goat Man's Road," "Penny
Tree," "Linnet's Road," "Ballrange," "Fox's Hill," and you could name
Them all day.
David: How long have you been here?
Patsy: I've been here eleven years. I was in the car park before that.
Jimmy: How did you get on with settled people? Had you any of them as friends?
Patsy: I had; several .
David: Had you a favourite camp?
Patsy: In Navan, the car park was a favourite.
Jimmy: Had you a favourite camp in the country before you came to Navan?
Patsy: There were old camps that you'd stay at in the winter. In the springtime we
Would go away to a different part of the country. There was a camp at
Longford we used to call the Ballrange.
Jimmy: Was that the right name for it?
Pasty: No, Stonepark was the right name for it.
Christy McDonagh remembers that there used to be a camp around Mullingar Curranmoor that he used to like, but his memories of this place have faded in the 35 or 36 years since he last stayed there, so that he is unable to recall anything more specific. He dose know that it was a mile or so out side the town and that Travellers would camp there all the time.
Tom McDonnell, in his interview, speaks of camp to which Travellers would return on a regular basis.
Mary: Did you have a favourite camp?
Tom: I have, the Beeches of Bailieborough
Jimmy: Tell us about the Beeches of Bailieborough.
Tom: We stopped in them years ago when we were only young.
Mary: Is that all you know about Bailieborough.
Tom: That's all I know about it (Laughs.)
Jimmy: Have you a favourite camp?
Tom: We'd be it in regular, Jimmy. No matter were we'd go we would always
Come back to it.
Jimmy: Would you go away for six months?
Tom: We would go away for six months, but we would all ways come back to it.
The Beeches of Bailieborough was my favourite place.
Jimmy: Would you know many people around it?
Tom: No, I didn't.
Jimmy: What way would the settled people treat you?
Tom: That time they were great, Jimmy. No remarks. I don't remember any
It is not always the Travellers are fortunate to report good relations with the settled people around their camps. Mikey Stokes relates an incident that happened to his grandfather which resulted in that man never again returning to a particular camp.
Jimmy: Have you a favourite camp, Mikey?
Mikey: A favourite camp-well, several auld favourite camps….
Jimmy: Had you one auld favourite camp that maybe you'd go away, stay a while
away, then come back?
Mikey: Yeah, yeah, we had auld Bracket Gates, above near Rathowen. That was one
auld camp; the long road of Sana was another one, and then we had Counahay
There, where at the end of the year, around the month of August, we'd meet…
They were the real auld favourites, but then we had other auld camps at
Granard, there between Edgeworthstown and Granard; they used to call it the
Jimmy: Was that the name of it now?
Mikey: Well, it was a little small fellow that lived in that cottage, and they called it
after him. His name was Martin, Mickey Martin, but he, like he was only
little about three foot three, and they used to call it the small boys. So, that
was a favourite auld camp.
One day me and grandfather, the Lord have mercy on him, auld grandfather
Joyce was at the Bracket Gates … we used to go back every month or three
Weeks. There was a farmer, a man…and he was a shy kind of man auld
man, and the thickset you know… we used to see that man every day at
three o'clock to come up and fodder his cattle, come up from the back roads
from Lagen out to the
, were he had more land to fadder his
cattle. We'd left now three weeks ago and we pulled back in three weeks
after to the same camp and this farmer said to me grandfather, this is the
truth now on me word of honour, he said to me grandfather. "Patsy," he said,
"you may bring your lot of blocks and cement next time you're coming."
Me grandfather got embarrassed and ashamed and never camped at it
no more till the day he died. He lived for twenty years after. Must be the
shock, He never went back no more, that's the truth of God.
Finally, Jimmy Power tells of two of the camps that he recalls, one where the Travellers would gather to pick potatoes, and a second where they would spend the summer.
Davey: Were you ever in a camp, Jimmy?
Jimmy: I was, yeah.
Davey: What was these camps?
Jimmy: Well, each camp had certain names to them. The Travellers nearly always
had nicknames on every camp they went to. Now there's one camp we
called it auld convent. It's on Kells Slane road. There was only a shed
in it, but the Travellers used to call it an auld convent. Why they put
"The auld convent" on it I never knew. That was a great favourite camp
For all Travellers now coming into the month of September, between that
The ring of the road of Gibbstown could be maybe a couple of hundred
Travellers there at potato picking. This was one camp of all of our
favourites. Maybe from the end of August to the first week of the
Christmas month, all the time there you'd meet lot's of Travellers that
You wouldn't meet all year long.
They would only be back potato picking; that's the only time we would get
An opportunity to meet them, every year in this favourite camp of ours.
John: Had you any favourite camps, Jimmy?
Jimmy: Well, there was a few camps around, but they weren't what you'd call a
Favourite camp. Now we were very interested in the Stack Allen
Bridge… that's the one-eyed Bridge. We would meet there during the
Summer. We were very near the river flowing. We would all meet there
during the summer, and the boys would go off swimming, fishing, and if
they weren't fishing or swimming they would go hunting. It was a great
favourite camp now during the summer, this one-eyed Bridge… the proper
name for it was Stack Allen Bridge.
Mikey Stokes told us an interesting story about how one of the camps he remembers got its name:-
Two auld sisters lived in an auld two story house at a crossroads. Mikey's great uncle "Few Sticks" was doing a lot of jobs bottoming a few buckets. "He needed a few bob badly, but anyway he was in a hurry to go to the next house two auld pigs ran out of the sheds and ran around the gardens and fields and the auld sisters wouldn't take time to give him the job till they got the pigs in. So I think he said "A curse on ye and the mad pigs" Now he was only a young man when he said that, but the "Mad Pigs" stood from that day to this.
Mary Nevin told us of her favourite camp which was Myvokily, she says:-
It was in the middle of nowhere, it was our winter camp around Moate. All the old camps were in the middle of nowhere.
Singer Patsy Joyce and John Mitchell
I am a true Irish man
John Mitchell is my name
And for to free my country men
From Eire Birr I came,
We struggled hard both night and day
For to free my country men
Until I was transported going to Van Dimond's land
For when I first joined my country men
It was in '42
And then what followed after that I'll quickly tell to you
I'd rather stand in dowry peel
Or glory in the dew
Which I bowed to heaven I never could rest till
Ireland would be free
While here in prison I'm close confined
I wait till my trial of day
My loving wife came up to me
And this to me did say
For John my boy
Cheer up your heart
Undaunted do not be
For its better to die for Irelands rights
Than to live in auld slavery
When I received my sentence
In irons I was bound
When hundred's of my country men
Assembled all around
My liberty was offered me,
that if forsake their cause
but I'd rather die a thousand times
then forsake my Irish boys
Goodbye my wife and children dear,
Up in heaven I'll wait for you,
Goodbye all true born Irish men
Farewell my country too
There is one request I will ask for you
That if liberty we will regain
Won't you remember poor John Mitchell
Who wore the convict's chains
One of the interesting things about ghosts is that almost everyone can tell you the odd story about them or give you the names of someone who believes in them, but every few will admit to having a belief in ghosts themselves. Consider, for example the experience of Patsy Joyce.
Well, one time we were in a camp near Killucan, a camp called Porterstown, and two men (they're dead and gone now) they were talking about ghosts. They had us terrified. I was looking around to see if there was a ghost coming behind me. I used to pull up nearer to the fire. Anyway, this fellow told me to get up and get a few sticks, so I went out and I was terrified because of the ghost story! I was looking all around me when I thought I saw the image of a man. Or I thought I did! I ran back inside and said, "look at the ghost!" Then the two brave men who told us the story got up and ran, and when they ran a bit up the road there was no ghost, they were a ashamed of what they had done. When they came back one of the men cut lumps out of me with a wattle from the auld tent. I never did believe in the bravery of men telling me ghost stories after that!
Christy McDonagh tells that, "you would often hear them talking about the camp over beyond Moybaughly… and there was supposed to be ghosts and banshees about…
I often heard me grandfather, Ould Davy Joyce, the light of heaven on him, talking about them that did see ghosts and banshees up and down the road." Christy himself never has seen a ghost, however, and he tell of those who have claimed to have seen them, this never affected whether they would use an allegedly haunted camp.
"They'd no heed of it, pass no heed of it at all."
In Jimmy Power's interview,
John: Did you ever see anything around these camps,
Say any ghosts, or do you believe in ghosts?
Jimmy: I don't believe in ghosts, but the old people had
great belief. There's one camp there on the Lady's Road-Blackman's
Road is the right name for it - a man who used to make baskets, Sally
Baskets, he used to live in it, then there was a rumour went around that there
Was supposed to be a ghost lady seen in it, so they christened the camp then
The lady's road. But I never seen anything. I never believed in ghosts
John: Did anything ever happen, say if anything ever happened around a camp
Would you ever go back around it?
Jimmy: well, not with a death or anything thing in this camp. Say we had somebody
die in it, and we in this camp, we would get all kinds of feelings, we
wouldn't go back to that camp again. Now, such as this camp in
Johnstown…after these two tragedies that happened down there with that
Little Power girl and that Donovan chap, nobody would ever camp on that
Road. Well, not my knowledge nobody ever camped there no more.
John: That was an unlucky road, Jimmy
Jimmy: We all thought that was an unlucky camp. Now, we firmly believe for the
last few years that the Travellers that was stopping at the Moate Bridge
before the site opened, they had a very bad share of bad luck… And a good
lot of us firmly believe the Moate Bridge was sort of an unlucky camp.
John: Was there any ghosts seen out there, Jimmy
Jimmy: There's supposed to be a yarn about some noise around the site, but only
Yarns going around, but nobody seen it happening.
John: Could never tell?
Jimmy: I never believed in it anyways.
Having said all of the above, there is definitely a belief in ghosts among some of the Travellers. Asked whether he had ever camped in lonesome places and places known to be haunted, Jody Joyce replied, "Yes, there was several. One at Gary-hinch between Mountmellic and port Carlten; Tuberdaly between Edenderry and the
. There was one camp called Watergrass Bridge, one of the split hills outside Tullamore, and I could tell you several more, but I won't."
Mikey Stokes, of Longford, tells the story of his encounter with the ghost of an old women one night when they were camped.
Myself, Chap and Christy Nevin was lying in the one wagon when the ghost came to the door. We had a horse tied to the gate of an auld house. When we pulled in we thought there was someone living in that house. It was a little one-story, you know.
So, the next thing, anyway, between twelve and one a knock came to the door and she said, "Open the horse from the gate," The two boys locked themselves and they didn't come out, so I said, "Go in by him, ma'am. Go in by him he's quiet." "No she said," Open the horse from the gate," I said, "Go in by him. The horse is quiet. He won't go near you." So she said, "I want the horse from the gate." When I went out there was a small, Little women and a black hoskina on her head like a little cap, and a black apron going right around her and I looked into her face… I had no notion she was a ghost. She had all little marks of age, little warts and black things on her face, you know. I opened the gate and she walked in. When I got up in the morning I seen the briars. There was two little privy ditches going down into the little house. When we got up in the morning the little privy bushes was going down along a little path; I wondered, when the briars grew across, how did she get in? There was a man coming to work, anyway, and he was coming along on his bike, and there was a little bray of a hill, and he had to get down to walk over the hill. I said, "Boss, wait till I tell you," said I. "Dose anyone live in that house?" "No," he said, "no one lives in that house… There was an old lady lived here, but she's dead twenty years." So I said, "We opened the horse from the gate last night and let her in." "Well," he said, "believe me she is dead twenty years and…another thing, I believe now that such a fellow seen her." Another neighbour told me that he had seen her, but he didn't believe it, so the second time he did believe it when I told him.
Mike Quinn has his own tale to tell about the night a ghost came into the tent were he and his wife were sleeping.
That happened down here at Ballyduff Hill, upon the
We were stopped on the left of the road. We were in bed one night and we heard a fuss and all the walking around the tent, So she shouted. She said, "Who's that?" She got no answer. "Will you get away you so- and-so, "she said, "whoever you are?!" the footsteps did go away. But next night we were in bed and this man came to the door of the camp that was by the fire and put in his head. They were only shelter tents and he kept staring at me. He was as white as snow, and he must be seven foot high, with a Mackintosh coat and hat. But he just looked for a couple of seconds in and put the piece back again and went away. I done me best to roar, but I had no power. I thought to nudge her, but wasn't able, and the sweat that left me, I had to take me shirt off and ring the water out if it. Well, now, next morning came, I got up and I was that light getting out of bed. I thought a breeze of wind would blow me back into the town, I was gone that light but a few nights after, Martin Collins was stopped down below us and they went to a late picture in the town. But before they came back we were all up waiting for them when this man walked direct into the shelter then that was by the fire to were Kathleen was sitting. A tall, thin man with a Mackintosh coat and a hat, and all he ever done was just looked in and went off. I never stood there after in Ballyduff Hill 'cause it was to lonesome.
Julia Quinn recalls that one evening, about six o'clock in the month of June, she saw a man dressed in the brown robes of a friar walking on the road. There was a wooding gate on the left and a telegraph pole on the right. The friar kept walking, with his head down the whole time, until he disappeared. "next morning," Julia continues, "I was sitting up in bed and I opened the back window, and there he was standing on the road. Well, that's the time the priests were getting beheaded, the time of the trouble. Lord have Mercy on them. I never got afraid though.
Christy Hand recalls camping in Galway, Shortly after he was married, he tell the story of an encounter with a ghost:-
I was troubled in Galway, the time we were married. Now chains went down the road by me, by were the tent was, the chains dragged along the road, went straight on down the road. I got up next morning anyway, Mother of God, I heard the chains on this road. There must be an awful amount of goats around here, I says to a man. No says the man, you stopped in the wrong place. He said their were people killed there, shot. There was a cross out in the field, but anyways there was a man murdered where we stood in the corner, murdered and it must be him, God Bless.
Whether the reader chooses to believe in ghosts, one can perhaps understand that this aspect of Travellers' lives plays an important role in determining which of their camps they will frequent the most and which they will tend to avoid. Should you ever have the chance to hear one of these stories told, rather than shrug immediately in disbelief, why not listen and simply enjoy the tale.
Song 4 Shanagolden
Singer Kevin Gavin
The cold winds from the mountains
Are calling soft to me
The smell of scented heathers
Brings bitter memories
There's a wild and lonely eagle
Off in the summer sky,
Flying high ore shanagolden
Where my young Willie lies.
Do you remember darling
We walked the moon light road
I held you in my arms
Our hands were entwined with my love
All in the pale moonlight
Ore the fields of Shanagolden
On a lonely winters night.
Then came the call to arms
The hills they were ablaze
From the lonely mountains the
Saxon stranger came
I held you in my arms my young heart
Wild with fire
By the fields of Shanagolden
In the spring tome of year
And you fought them darling Willie
All though the summer days
I heard the rifles firing
In the mountains far away
I held you in my arms
Your blood ran free and bright
By the fields of Shanagloden
On a lonely summers night
But that was long ago my love
Our son grows fine and tall
The hills are at peace again
The Saxon strangers gone
There are roses on your grave my love
There's an eagle in the sky
Flying high ore Shanagloden
Where my young Willie lies.
Among the elder Travellers, the jury is still out on whether their people are better off now then in the years of there youth. Of the 19 men and women interviewed, those who expressed an opinion are split almost evenly down the middle. Some believe that there are most opportunities for the younger generation today, opportunities for education and employment, such as those made available though the Training Centres and Fas programmes. Meanwhile, others think that the ready available of the dole has worsened life, making people less dependent upon themselves, less willing to work, and more inclined to spend their days sitting around or drinking in the pubs.
Compare, for example the statements of Mary Doyle and old Julia Quinn with those of Christy McDonagh and Patsy Joyce. Julia Quinn feels that, "The dole made a job of the Travellers because they had to pull in around towns now, and they were better people if they had to keep out in the country, out along the sides of the road." Similarly, Mary Doyle says:
I tell you what, I think people were healthier before ever they got the dole. They were out miles in the country. They had loads of children and because they had auld animals that had stay out in the country, they couldn't pull in near the town. They were rough times, the people were rough, they were able for it. The generations out now are not able for hardship. If they got a cough or cold now, they are gone straight to the doctor. That time you had to cure yourself. The dole made them lazy and made them proud, some of them. The men today are more lazy, because it's handed them.
But, Christy McDonagh believes that young Travellers today have a better chance at life with the Fas schemes and training centre. With all the moving from camp to camp years ago there was little opportunity to get an education. Now, the training centres teach them skills, and as a result the young people are more confident not ashamed to attempt something new. Patsy Joyce is of the opinion that Travellers today are given more opportunities by moving on to a site or into a house. The permanent residence gives the children a better chance of education, a chance which was not available to generations before theirs. Pasty further thinks it is wrong for Travellers to take a house and then after a short time, returning to the road. This disrupts the children's education by removen them from the schools. Education is, in fact, something that holds much importance to Patsy. He sent his own children to school, in Mullingar. Because there was no proplem with the settled community as a result of this, he believes that settled and traveller children ought not be segregated in classrooms. "All children in the same age group should be let mix together in the same class, all children it doesn't matter whether they're settled or Traveller. After all, they're all children. I'd like to see all children mixing and playing."
One of the differences Mikey McDonagh identified was how the role of tinsmith has changed:
"You would not be called a tinker at that time, you would be called a tinsmith. But these days they call you tinker."
Another issue on which there is a split concerns whether Travellers ought to go back to the road. The question is answered from the point of view of the individual, whether he are she would want to return to the road. As Patsy explains, "it's not the same now on the road as years ago. No one knows the Travellers now, you'd be on your own nowadays. Even if I did consider going back on the road, no one would come with me .I'd just be creating trouble. They wouldn't come with me, so I wouldn't go." Christy tells that he "wouldn't bother" going back on the road; he has bean living in Navan for many years now and gets along "great, absolutely marvellous" with settled people in the area. "We still hadn't much of a choice," Christy says of leaving the road, "we had to go into the houses or halting sites, and were still getting put off the road."
In her interview, Julia Quinn considers the question thoughtfully. "Definitely I would go back to the road tomorrow morning, but the road is gone to dangerous. There's to much black-guarding and fighting and arguing, all the auld Travelling people robbed, all this carrying on. At my time there was none of that. Now there are a lot of Travelling people getting held up, and there money taking off them." Similarly, Tom McDonagh concedes that living in camps would be "a lot harder now then it was that time, "Yet he still would like o go back to the road this minute." Tom also remarks that "you won't see any Travellers unless you go to towns or sites or where they're settled, but you won't see them on the road"
By Mikey & Peggy Collins
How many times have I heard someone say
If I had your money I would do things my way
One rich man in ten with a satisfied mind
Once I was waded in fortune and fame
Everything I dreamed for in life’s little games
Suddenly it happened I lost every dime
But I'm richer by far with a satisfied mind
Money won't buy your youth when you're old
Or a friend when your lonely
Or a love that's gone cold
The wealthiest person is a pauper by times
Compared to a man with a satisfied mind
When life has ended and my time run out
My friends and loved ones I'll leave in no doubt
When it comes my time I will leave this world
With a satisfied mind.