James Connolly Festival – Irish Traveller History, Culture & Movements

Tuesday evening event included well known activists Margaret O’Leary (Southside Travellers Action Group), Mags Casey (Traveller Mental Health Network), Bernard Sweeney (Activist). Each speaker gave an account of their personal and professional experiences working within the Travelling community.

Bernard Sweeney spoke about the historical context of the division between Travellers and the settled community, and its roots in British colonialism. He gave a lively account of the obstacles faced by Travellers in mainstream education and the prejudice inherent in these structures, drawing from both a broad historical knowledge and personal experience.

Mags Casey spoke about the severe mental health issues faced by Travellers as a result of the racism prevalent Irish society. It was highlighted that the middle classes claim to oppose racism, but at best turn a blind eye towards the racism faced by Travellers in Ireland.

Margaret O’Leary spoke about the importance of culture within the Travelling community, and relayed her personal experiences of prejudice growing up in Ireland and Britain. The difficulties of working within an NGO sector dependent on state funding, which seeks to mould NGOs in the image of a state which remains hostile to Travellers at its core, was highlighted as a key challenge faced by the speakers and many of their colleagues. The event was followed by a Q&A with a number of interesting and productive questions from the audience.