Blog: Some Irish Traveller Memorials

Some Irish Traveller ‘Memorials’

This page is dedicated in a way to the O’Donohue Travelling family in Laois.

I speak below of how one of the things I know about Traveller’s is that my mother delivered a baby in a tent out near Donaghmore one night close to Christmas years ago.  I had gone to speak to a Traveller family about the fact that I was going to put this page up on the internet, when I said these words, the lady looked at me and said “That was my brother Joseph, 33 years ago.  Your Mam was always very good to my Mam, she used to bring us clothes and things.  Life was very hard for a family back then, walking along the road, living in tents, we had food today and none tomorrow.”   Settled people don’t know this.

I took a photograph the other day of the back of a barrel-topped caravan while taking one of the Hawaiian Island Tours (the old style that was used by Traveller’s). I’m showing you the photograph here, I used my car mirror to catch a shot of the back of the caravan as it wandered down the road behind me. Some conversation struck up then on  my Jane Lyons Facebook page where I put the photo and people talked about ‘Gypsies’. I said that we don’t have Gypsies in Ireland that we call these people “Traveller’s”. It dawned on me that the people who are interested in Irish history and culture know little or nothing about our Traveller’s.

Barrel top Caravan

Barrel top Caravan

I spoke with three different groups of friends about the idea of me writing about Traveller memorials yesterday – five people and for some of them, their notions/ideas were so very negative. One friend who did not view this negatively thought it would be a very interesting subject. Another friend, an historian, looked on it all like I do in an analytical way. We agreed that historically the way Irish law has treated Traveller’s is unfair. It impedes on their way of life and in a lot of ways tries to make them live as the settled people do.

I would not consider myself as someone who knows very much about the Traveller way of life. When I was a little girl in Longford, Traveller children would come to school as long as their family stayed in the area – they’d come and they’d go. We never got to know any of them because they were always there such a short while. I never remember Traveller children in the school in Rathdowney, Laois, but then I was only there for about two years. Traveller’s used to come to my mother who was a General Practitioner and I remember Mam telling me about how she delivered a baby in a tent out on the side of the road one Christmas.

To me, Traveller’s tend to live in caravans and they travel around the country going from place to place. For some reason they always have a horse. I’m not meaning to seem negative in that comment, the thing I don’t understand is that if they have caravans and cars then how on earth do they move along with a horse going from one place to another? I’ve been looking at two caravans close by these last few days and it was only yesterday that I spotted the horse up the road a wee bit from them.

My ex-husband was from Rathkeale in Limerick, and I will always remember one year on our way down, something like 6 big cars from England with consecutive registration numbers passed us out and my husband said they are going home for Christmas. Rathkeale was a very interesting place to go to as so many Traveller’s live in the town. It would have been at the Roman Catholic Church in Rathkeale that I first saw Traveller grave plots, and that was way before I ever got into transcribing the information on gravestones.

I decided the to go take a look at what there is available on the internet re Irish Traveller’s and what I found was very interesting.  I put a link to the Meath Traveller Heritage site on Facebook and I was very surprised that there were no comments in relation to that site.  It was when I saw the photographs on that Traveller Heritage website in Meath that I decided they have all this on the net, but their memorials, the way they treat these plots, that is part of their heritage, it is important to them, they have nothing on them

First of all, I am going to show you some of the memorials I have seen. I use the word memorial here because one of these sites is actually a memorial to a man and it lies close to a bog. Then, Roscommon town public cemetery has to be the place where I have seen the most numerous Traveller plots, I’ve also seen them in Newbridge but in numbers much, much smaller than in Roscommon. Templemore is another place. Athenry in Galway might be somewhere else. I’m not sure about the places, not unless I go and look at all my photographs.

I am going to write a little bit giving some of the information I have seen online about Irish Traveller’s and giving you links to the pages I have visited over the last few days.

Traveller Memorial to a young man.  This is NOT a grave plot.  It lies on the edge of a bog.  You’ve seen me mention that Travellers always have a horse with them and here, you can see the horses.

Now, let me move to Traveller grave plots.  I’ve named a few places that I have seen them and they always stand out.  I’m going to show you some general photographs of the non Traveller plots and then the Traveller plots so that you can see the difference.

Non Traveller grave plots

Traveller grave plots

Now, some individual plots. I have three child/baby plots in this set of photographs.

Finally, just one little older 1978 plot.  It is again a Traveller plot.  I have wondered how long it is that Traveller’s have these ornate plots.  The 1978 year gives me some idea.  Even though this plot is not decorated to the same extent as those above, you can still see that there are a number of memorial stones on the plot.  These will be from different members of the family.  That is what most of the ‘decorations’ above are, remembrances from Spouses, Parents, Siblings, Cousins, friends – each one separate and standing by by itself.  We have horses, images of Popes, Saints, Angels – clothes belonging to children, adults.  Holy water.  Rosary beads.

Traveller plot, 1978

Traveller plot, 1978