Elizabeth Quilligan

Hi, my name is Elizabeth Quilligan, I’m a Traveller from Cork, I lived there all my life except when we travelled around when we were younger. I come from a family of nine, I’ve three brothers and five sisters. I got married to a settled man seven months ago and am living in Cobh since. I’m not working at the moment but up to last summer I was working in the Traveller Visibility Group in Cork. At the moment I’m involved in a Traveller Awareness Group with eight other Traveller women, and it’s going well. We go to schools, Gardai, childcare workers, local and community groups

Note from Sinéad: this interview was done in 2005, when Elizabeth was still single and living with her parents..

S: Going by your family trees, the names that come up is Brien and Quilligan… McCarthy, some Caseys. That would be the ones that come up over and over again. So I’m going to guess that the O’Briens and Quilligans have the same way of getting on. Why? What do they have in common? What makes them – compatible! There’s a word!

I suppose they’re all kind of related, and the Quilligans and the Briens get on, and they knows each others’ ways. And they’d know each other for years, and be from the same area, Or -brought up in the same places. Say, if I married, say, someone from the North, well, my father would know then that the chances are, I’d be most of my life in the North. They’d know by who I marry, where I’d be based, when I’m married. If I married one of the Briens, or maybe Quilligans, I’d be in Cork or Killarney or somewhere in the south.

S: Not a million miles away.

Yes. Somewhere near. So that’s probably why.

S: Okay. That’s part of it. But your theory falls flat because! (laughs) there are lots and lots of other names around here, that you don’t marry into much. Lots of them.

Yeah. Some people have different ways of getting on. Some Travellers prefer to stick with their own family, and people. It depends on the family whether they mix with different families or not. If you travel around the country a lot then you’re bound to meet and mix with lots of Travellers.

S: So when you were growing up, was there any families that your parents said to you, like, don’t mix in with them?

Not really, you would mix with all kinds of people while travelling. My sister was in a camp the last year in Dublin, and she pulled into a site where there was people from all over Ireland. Her husband seemed to get on with them and everything. They were alright, but the site was overcrowded. So then half the crowd, pulled out because their children were fighting a lot, arguing, and they were causing more trouble. So half them pulled out, and moved on.

S: Yeah.

You know who to stay away from, and who to pull in with, if we didn’t know someone, we’d probably ask about them, who are they? Families you don’t really know much about, well. obviously, now, they mustn’t be too bad, because you wouldn’t hear much about them, like. Or, like, for instance there could be different types of – say, [X]s, or [Y]s. And you’re keeping yourself to yourself as well. You’d kind of know who to mix with.

S: And I was just thinking – men probably have more chance to mix than women, because men go out more. So, would they drink together, or anything like that?

Yeah, it’s different for Traveller men, they’d meet other Travellers around the town or at fairs or markets or wherever. They probably would, if they were in a pub, they’d say, “Such a person was in the pub last night” or – if there was a few of them there, they probably would mix with them alright, you know? But then again the following day, they wouldn’t be up around them, being the best of friends.

S: Yes – just kind of cordial, and polite.

Yeah -talk to them.I attend all meetings, all around Ireland, and I meet all kinds of Travellers. I wouldn’t have a problem talking to them.

S: Yes. That’s really what I wanted to ask about. Remember when I was saying how, you know, Family A says Family B doesn’t give their women any freedom, and Family B says Family A gives their women too much freedom. That was just an example somebody gave me, but that was straight up, they said it about each other, so they agreed. They both agreed that one family is much stricter than the other. And I’ve talked to people, for example, who will say that, we don’t mix with so and so because they’re bullies. And the other crowd will say, Yeah, we bully them, because they let us.


S: (laughs) So, they agree! A lot of the times, they do agree.

I think in the lines of, being too strict, with their wives, a lot of Travellers is still back in the way it used to be years ago, so strict, and the wife is supposed to stay at home, and mind the children, and not go out, and not wear a short skirt, you know all these different things. And some people would still have that today. And the other people, then, leaves their wives go to work, and leaves them go out with a few other women, if they didn’t go out themselves. It’s kind of changing, you know?

S: So, which – your crowd, Quilligans, which type would your family be?

Ours wouldn’t be too bad. There’s a lot of women in Cork working now. They’d go out the odd night if their husbands didn’t or maybe on special occasions like Little Women’s Christmas or a women’s night out, they wouldn’t mind them going out. That kind of thing. They’re changing. But years ago they used to bevery strict: you have to do this, and you have to do that, But then, most people are kind of old-fashioned in their thinking, as well. If you go out by yourself, they think you’re up to no good.

S: Mmm. Are you allowed out without a sister with you, or..?

Of course I am!

S: (laughs) I dunno! How am I to know?

Just kind of – the way that people are thinking. I’d say my father wouldn’t let me marry someone that he’d know I’d be tied in all day, and not let out, not mix with people. Not mix with my own people, And some people, once you’re married, you’ve to stay with his family and that’s it, and you wouldn’t be allowed talk to your family, or mix with your family, or – not as often as you would like to. That’s it, then! So you’d know, what kind of life would be ahead of you, if you did.

S: Did you tell me where, when you were growing up, where you travelled around? What parts of the country – the planet – were you on?

We were in England a lot of times, and we used to always go to Cahermee fair, in Buttevant.

S: That’s County Cork?

Yeah. We’d go to Puck Fair, in Killorglin, in Kerry. We’d go to Tralee, then, for the Rose of Tralee. Mostly places around Kerry and them kind of places. We were mostly in England then, for months at a time.

S: And how’d you end up in Cork?

Because my father and mother, my grandparents, lived in Cork. My father and mother got a house here. So we’re in Cork – they have the house now thirty six years.

S: Jeez! That’s a long, long time!

Yeah! We used always go travelling in the summer, all the time.

S: And do you still do it? Will you go travelling this summer?

No, I don’t think so, Its not that easy for Travellers to go travelling now with the anti-traspass law. My mother and father have a camper van, a motor home. They just stay in that when they go travelling around in the summer.

S: And you won’t go with them?

No! Well, I could drive down to meet with them if I wanted to, Where before, I’d have to go with them. But now my relations have houses in Kerry so if I was going down there, I’d stay with them, the weekend or whatever, or if there’s anything on down there. So there’s no need for a trailer, really. And they have the motor home then for theirself.

S: And do you still go to the fairs?

Not Cahermee, Cahermee is not as good as it used to be, years ago a lot of Travellers used to pull in to the field there. That’s all done away with now. There’s only a few left there. I still go to Puck, the whole time, and I go to Tralee races.

S: Right. And when you go to Puck, are you dealing? Are you doing marketing stuff?

Oh no, no! Just down for the craic of it, like. Just the fair.

S: And when you say your family did the fairs, were they not doing any kind of business at the fairs?

My mother is a fortune-teller, she tell fortunes there, alright.

S: Oh, really! What does she call herself?

Madame Rose.

S: Of course! (laughs) Lee, or not?

Yeah, Madame Rose Lee.

S: How did I guess?

But that’s what she does, is the fortune-telling.

S: So when you were growing up, you were travelling mostly around Kerry, and England.


S: Any other places, that you travelled?

Probably would be loads of places, but not anything that would stick to mind.

S: And how is it your grandparents ended up in Cork? Because – you said you came to stay in Cork, because your grandparents were here.

They got a house. They used to live in Blackpool, in the huts.

S: This is Blackpool here in Cork?

This is Blackpool, it would be over on the other side. You know, you come down the hill from the TVG.

S: So, in this general area, like.

Yes. They used to live there in huts.

S: Oh! That would be the prefabs?

Huts, now, my father would call them.

S: But that’s what they were. It was a legal site with these horrible prefabs on it.

My aunt married and got one of the huts as well. So then they got a house, my grandfather and grandmother got a house up in Churchfield. And that was it, then, they just stayed around Cork then, they settled down, I suppose. Got a house. And then my father got married, and they put in for a house as well. They were staying in waggons, in the church field. Then they got a house in Cork and they’re there since. Thirty six years ago.

S: And have you done much travelling yourself, then?

Years ago, I used always go travelling in the trailer with my mother and father. But I didn’t with years. I often have stayed in a trailer, I have no problem staying in a trailer, but there’s always somewhere for me to stay, no matter where I’m going.

S: I understand. It’s no big deal. As you were saying yourself, what do you need a trailer for, if you’ve somewhere to stay anyway.

If I was travelling somewhere, I wouldn’t mind staying in a trailer. It wouldn’t bother me. It’s not as if I didn’t do it before, I’d know – the works of it,

S: Yeah, that’s it. It’s different – just to cope, to be tidy in that small space

Yeah. My sister was staying in Dublin, in a trailer, there, for a long time, and I’d often go up to her, stay with her, in her trailer.

S: Where is she in Dublin?


S: Ah! Me too! Where in Clondalkin?

Do you know the Mill? Shopping Centre? Not far from there. There are new houses, and apartments. She moved into an apartment. A few weeks ago I was up there for a few days, and we walked to the Mill. It’s walking distance,

S: Right. She’s not on the site.

No. But she was on the site.

S: That was actually, that was in the paper two days ago, they showed a picture of that site in Bawnogue and it said there’s four hundred Traveller families in Clondalkin that need better places to stop. Because that place is choc-a-bloc! People are in on top of one another.

Yeah, that’s what happened. It was overcrowded, so she left it. But she got a place, then, nearby.

S: Yeah… I asked you about the fairs – so you grew up mostly around Kerry, and England, sorry! you grew up here in Cork, it was your parents travelled.

No, I travelled with them,

S: But you had a base.

Oh, yeah.

S: You’re based in Cork your whole life. – What kind of work would the Quilligans have done, what did they mostly do? Your father, and your uncles and that?

Well, my uncles now mostly deal in horses, they’d mostly be gathering scrap and that kind of thing. Now most of them is into the boot sales, and they’re buying and selling things. It’s kind of changed.

S: Do they do markets as well, or just boot sales?

Boot sales, now. Second hand tools, and second-hand stuff like that. That’s it, basically.

S: And – how do they get the stuff that they sell in the boot sales?

They go out collecting them, if people didn’t want it, or…

S: Do they put their little cards through the doors, collecting?

They would sometimes, yeah. Or else if they were in a boot sale, they’d buy something off of someone –

S: Sell it on?

Get a profit out of it.

S: And did they ever do tinsmithng?

I don’t think – I don’t know if my grandparents and that generation. But, not my uncles, now. My aunts, now, used to make flowers a few years ago, and my mother, out of nylon tights.

S: Did she dye the nylon tights? What colour would they be?

Probably would dye them, yeah, I don’t know. And she’d make paper flowers as well. Sell them off, you know? They’d all be going begging, all the women, years ago, as well. Door to door.

S: Yeah. And is your mother the only fortune-teller in the family?

No. A few of my aunts tell them too.

S: And did you say scrap? Some scrap?

Mmm. They collect scrap as well, and burn it and clean it and sell it off, you know?

S: Oh! Do you know at the fairs? The amusements at the fairs, the different, like, games, and –


S: – the roulette wheel, and – does any of your family do any of that? – Until I ask questions, I don’t even know what questions to ask! Until I start getting answers, and then I see, well, I’m barking up the wrong tree, there, it’s getting me nowhere, or, yeah, there is something here. Whatever. You know? – What else was I going to say? My brain is completely gone.

Years ago, if there was a match on and still today, a lot of people would make headbands. Say Cork and kerry were playing, you would make headbands out of wool. You’d sell them. And you might have a table with loads of minerals, and chocolate and crisps and whatnot. You’d sell that. Or you’d get the cartons of ice-cream. You’d sell the ice-cream around the town, as well. Still today, now, a lot of people do that. I would do it years ago. Or on St Patrick’s Day Parade you’d sell flags, and hats, and things like that. All them kind of occasions you’d sell things, Christmas time come, you’d sell the Christmas trees and the holly. That’s still going on!

S: Mmm. But not you. You’re here! [= in fulltime waged employment]

I didn’t do it much but my father, now, used to do it up to a couple of years ago! He used stand on the side of the road with a few Christmas trees and holly. He’ go picking the holly, or whatever. St Patrick’s Day, then, come: he’d buy the flags first, go around selling, and the balloons and things like that. And if a match would be coming up, he’d give us the wool and we’d make headbands. We’d sell them through the crowd. That’s still going on today, The children often does it, you know? There’s all different ways of making money, Different occasions.

S: I remember what I meant to ask you! Quilligan, to me, is a name I would associate with Rathkeale in Co. Limerick. Do you have connections there?

There’s a lot of Quilligans there, alright.

S: Are they anything to you?

I’d say so. I’m not sure, now. But, like, my father’s aunt is living in Newcastle West, and they might have connections there.

S: Your father’s aunt? What’s her surname?


S: She’s another Quilligan, alright. On the father’s side.

But they’d probably mix with them, more than we would They probably are related in some way, like, but you wouldn’t know.

S: Okay. You’re not close to them I really thought Quilligan was Rathkeale, but I’m wrong – again! I’m learning things all the time.

But I think there’s a lot of settled people, Quilligans, in Cork. I didn’t know until a few years ago. There’s Quilligans, there – fishermen. They’re from Churchfield. And the minute you say your name is Quilligan, it’s “Are you related to Quilligans the fishermen?”, automatically. You’d say you’re not. But they’re country people, And then there’s Quilligans up in Togher, as well.

S: Togher is in Cork as well, is it?

Yes. This is the North Side, and Togher is the South Side.

S: Okay. City of Cork.

Yeah. And there’s Quilligans there, too. I never knew until a few years ago that there were settled people called Quilligan.

S: There’s very few Traveller names that you wouldn’t come across with country people as well. Maybe none. Connors is probably the only one I’ve come across, that you wouldn’t get in country people.

You would get it in country people, but they’d be O’Connor.

S: They’d be O’Connor, and not Connors. As far as I know, Connors is a pure Traveller name But other names that I thought were pure Traveller, like – Coffee might be a Traveller name! Cawley I thought was a pure Traveller name, but it’s not; apparently in Mayo there’s quite a lot of them.

I’d say Reilly is a Travellers’ name.

S: But not only. There are a lot of Travellers called Reilly. And Carthy. Carthy’s quite a big Cork name – a big name. Sure, Carthys used to own the Rock of Cashel.

But they might not be related anyway!

S: … And Coffee. Is Coffee not a Cork name?

I don’t think so. No. Be around the Kerry area, as far as I know. So that kind of links in, do you know?

S: Well, that kind of explains how they came into it, as well. Lots and lots of pieces of the puzzle, here. Okay, thank you very much, Elizabeth!