By: Ana Novais
Travellers’ unique status as an ethnic group within Irish Society was recognised by the Irish Government in 2017.
In 2018, the Traveller History and Culture Bill, was passed by the Seanad, encouraging schools to teach Traveller History and Culture and include it in the curriculum.
Senator Colette Kelleher, Chair of the Joint Oireachtas Committee, was one of the people involved in the process of getting this Bill through the Seanad.
Speaking to TheCity.ie, she recounted one of the individuals who gave a testament about why this is an important element of Irish history.
“Young historian and traveller, Patrick McDonagh, during a briefing for this bill told us how nomadic groups have lived in Ireland for centuries. They are part of Ireland, part of its history and part of its culture, but travellers already know this. It is the wider population that need to be taught the importance and richness of traveller history and culture”.
Travellers have a deep and rich culture. They have a long musical history, a language, a deep love of animals and a strong tradition of metal and tin smithing.
Persistent discrimination is still, sadly, the reality for Irish travellers.
According to the higher education seminary report issued by Maynooth University, Irish Travellers are a distinct ethnic group.
Patrick McDonagh is an Irish traveller from Omagh Co. Tyrone, a neighbourhood in Northern Ireland. He is currently undertaking a PhD in Trinity College.
“I did a history and economics degree, and I’m currently doing a PhD in medieval history, essentially about late medieval imperialism in Britain and Ireland.
“I would never have the opportunity of studying medieval history if I hadn’t gone through the education system and even the way I see the world is quite shaped by what I read and by what I study,” he added.
According to the 2017 Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) report: “A Social Portrait of Irish Travellers and the educational disadvantage experienced by Travellers means that specific additional supports will be required in order for them to participate in mainstream education on equal terms with their settled peers.”
Jim O’Brien, manager of Bray Travellers Community Development group said: “Our education at the minute is not really positive, but we are starting to make changes.”
“Education is now just as important for our community as it is for any community because what else is it for them when they become an adult or late in their teens if they don’t have certificates in their back pockets what hope have we got?” he added.
According to the Irish Census 2016, the level of education among travellers remained well below that of the general population, showed in Figure 2.1.
Only 13.3% of traveller females were educated to upper secondary compared with 69.1% of the general population.
O’Brien said: “change comes from everyone, anyone who stays fixed to one spot falls behind, change won’t destroy the community.”
Jim describes his experience in education through mainstream school as bleak or non-existent. He recalls that he could never understand why in a class of 30 plus students, he was put behind the teacher instead of in front of the teacher, all the time.
“From a traveller perspective a good change for the traveller community would be a better focus and appreciation of education but change also has to come from the other side, and one of the issues is racism.”
“If we have children coming back from school saying someone called me a gipsy or a knacker, we are going to be less keen to send them to school. Sometimes children don’t feel welcomed, they feel like an outsider,” he continued.
According to the National Traveller Survey funded by The Community Foundation for Ireland, 4 out of 10 travellers have experienced bullying in school while, many have been put on reduced hour timetables. There is also an 80% drop out rate before the Leaving Cert.
Senator Colette Kelleher finished up by saying: “I have recently begun saying pushed out rather than drop out, as it more accurately reflects the situation. Schools should be open places for all, and everyone has a right to an education.”