By Marc Morrison
Traveller community halting sites aren’t somewhere a lot of settled Irish people would have had the opportunity to spend time in, and are usually the reserve of only the travelling community who live there. So when Belgian photographer Sebastian Franco ended up on a halting site on the northside of Dublin, you can imagine his shock.
Franco spent two years photographing the travelling community who live in an area just off Dunsink Road in Finglas, the pictures are put together in his new book called Anásha.
Having spent time in Ireland as a child while accompanying his father who drove a truck, Sebastian had a memory of seeing travellers parked up on the sides of roads around the country.
“Back then you still had a few Traveller families that would live life on the road and we’d see those camps driving through rural areas. I never really knew what it was, nor did my father since the whole culture was completely unknown to us.”
Sebastian’s interest was piqued when he was looking for a new project and began researching Ireland when he stumbled across the tragic Carrickmines fire where ten travellers lost their life including a six-month-old baby.
In his research, Sebastian got speaking to a social worker based in Finglas: “I met up with her one day and the next day she dropped me off in Finglas near Dunsink Lane and that’s where I met some of the Keenans who lived there at the time.
“I had a few drinks with them, stayed way too long and ended up having to sleep on the site in somebody’s trailer, needless to say that was the perfect introduction,” Sebastian adds.
Sebastian says he instantly took a liking to Paddy Keenan: “He was by far one of the nicest men I’ve ever met. Never asks for anything and always wants people to feel at home in his trailer so I did feel kind of a connection there.”
The first day Sebastian arrived at the halting site, Paddy Keenan and some other men we’re having drinks and offered him a glass of cider: “One drink turned into two and some more and before I was well aware of what was going on we were up all night singing songs and having a good time.
“In my mind that was what laid the foundations for them to trust me later on. I always felt like I could trust Paddy and his brother Thomas so I just went with it,” said Sebastian.
Sebastian says he became really good friends of Paddy Keenan and others who lived on the site. I ask him how they learned to trust the Belgian guy who was suddenly walking around where they live with a camera: “It was a long process seeing as they let me into their personal space so I think they took a long time trying to figure out who this guy with the camera was.”
Not wanting the project to be just a photo documentary of the travelling community, Sebastian say’s Anásha is becoming a part of a secluded community and finding a new family. But Sebastian said life on the site is a “completely different world with its own rules and social decorum.
“The inner workings of a site are actually pretty complex since everything happening there is always a family matter as well,” he adds.
In 2017, former Taoiseach Enda Kenny made a statement to recognise the Travelling community as an ethnic minority but they still face racism and isolation from wider society.
Sebastian saw the racism that the community faces firsthand and says often when they went to pubs or restaurants they would be refused.
“When a Traveller does something bad it gets projected onto the whole community.”