After we'd been to the farmers market this morning I went to the library to see if they had any decent books...which they did...much better than our apology for a public library...they also had an exhibition of photos of various Traveller families as part of Traveller Week. It's intended to help house-dwellers and Travellers to understand each others customs and way of life.
One of the photos was of a 'hoop tent' just like the picture above...made from strong willow branches with a tarpaulin over the top, they were a common sight years ago alongside the old bow-topped vans. The photo in the exhibition was of a family who lived on common ground in Dublin in the late 1970's...several children and a rather haggard looking elderly woman who was actually the childrens Mother rather than the Granny she appeared to be.
Charlies Mother lived next door to Tina and Charlie and I remember seeing her weeding the driveway of her cottage while sitting on a little stool swathed in a long black shawl. I'd thought her to be a very old lady but when she died and I'd said something of the kind to Charlie he was so surprised to think I'd thought her old...she was sixty years, he told me.
Traveller women have a much shorter life expectancy than settled people...about sixty years is considered a good age, though there are always exceptions of course. Endless child-bearing and living in cramped conditions, along with a diet rich in fats, means that most of the Traveller women are seriously overweight and suffering from diabetes, water retention and high blood pressure. I met with Tina in the Doctors waiting room one day and by the time she'd finished telling me everything that was wrong with her my head was reeling...
Her poor ankles are so terribly swollen and yet she's as cheerful as can be and never complains...when she was telling me all about her ailments, it wasn't in a whiny way...just matter-of-fact. Because Tina is quite plump it isn't always easy to tell if she's pregnant again,
so now I say nothing until the time I see her out with a new baby...then one needs to be careful in case it isn't hers at all but one of her daughters babys...!
The way other people live their lives has always held a real fascination for me...and those of the so-called minorities more than the lives of the very rich and famous which tend to bore me to tears...but the thought of rearing a family while living in a hoop tent fills me with horror. But they did...and did so with a skill and care that I'm certain I'd be incapable of.
Traveller men rarely lose their looks...if they are handsome while young they tend to remain so and don't run to fat nor do they appear to develop 'beer bellies' in spite of most being heavy drinkers. They play no part in the running of the household other than handing over the weekly money for the housekeeping which they've earned through buying and selling horses and hunting dogs. Some deal in scrap metal and cars but generally they tend to veer towards the rougher side of Travellers society...
It is the wives and children of those men who blatently shoplift and fight in the street and the women wear down at heel mens shoes and have hard lined faces...the children run riot in town and dive in and out of shops snatching whatever they can steal and they never attend school...they have runny noses and spotty skin and the teenage lads invite brawls outside 'pubs and carry knives and the occasional machete.
One of the self-styled King of the Travellers died some years back and was buried in the same graveyard as his kin-folk. There was a running fight between the two rival clans in the graveyard itself which finally ended when one man shot himself in the foot while trying to get away...the Guards had frisked everybody beforehand...or so they thought...and the weapons the clans had brought with them were lined up outside the graveyard wall...rows of machetes and small arms and hurley sticks and wooden staves. The Travellers got them all back when the priest had finished the burial ceremony.
If there is going to be a funeral or a remembrance Mass, the Travellers involved will let the Guards know well in advance so that they can provide some cover in case of trouble by the rival clan...we've only once been caught up in such an occasion and it was just a little alarming to see crowds of men dressed all alike in black overcoats talking in huddled groups all over the road while waiting for the arrival of the hearse...the women do attend funerals but they keep to the rear and don't mix with their men.
It isn't a way of life I can easily imagine myself living but I can't ever visulise being seriously wealthy either...