Celebrating pride in Traveller culture

An exhibition of photographs celebrating Traveller culture is on display in County Hall this week to mark Traveller Pride Week.

An exhibition of photographs celebrating Traveller culture is on display in County Hall this week to mark Traveller Pride Week.

Young people are the focus of the images, with photographs of siblings and friends, and children and teenagers enjoying their hobbies and celebrating special occasions. Taken by local photographer Gypsy Ray, they are on display in County Hall’s link corridor throughout this week.

Some of those involved in the Kilkenny Traveller Community Movement gathered to see the exhibition on Monday, and school groups are also visiting during the week.

Among those in attendance on Monday was Winifer McDonogh, co-ordinator of Kilkenny Traveller Community Movement, herself a Traveller who has lived much of her life alongside the settled community as well.

For her, as with much of the work she does, the exhibition is a way to promote education and understanding.

It is a reminder of the importance of appreciating people from different backgrounds, of seeing other points of view, and of noting what various groups have in common and what makes them unique.

“My culture is very important to me,” said Winifer, whose family lived in various parts of Ireland throughout her childhood before moving to Kilkenny when she was 12.

She attended Kilkenny School Project and then Presentation Secondary School, and because of this integration with members of the settled community, she says she hasn’t experienced discrimination in pubs or shops.

In fact, she says, “I thought that had all gone away.”

Unfortunately, since taking up her current job with the Kilkenny Leader Partnership-funded Kilkenny Traveller Community Movement, she says she has learned the sad truth that such things are still a reality for Travellers.

“I have come across people who have been followed in shops or can’t get a place for their wedding,” she says. “I think it’s down to lack of education.”

This is where events such as Traveller Pride Week come in.

And when Winifer talks of education, she says means for both the settled and the Travelling communities. “People have to give them a chance, but they have to give settled people a chance too,” she says.

The main thing, she said, is that “everyone should be treated fairly. Diversity is the key word.”

She is also very positive about changes that have taken place in recent years within her culture, in particular the increase in education and employment opportunities for girls.

“I would like girls to have more of a choice to go out and work and get more education, going forwards instead of backwards, but that is changing a lot already,” she says. “There are plenty like me who are willing to get an education and go to work.”

Asked what she is most proud of about being a Traveller, she says that one of the main things is the fact that the culture is family-oriented and has a strong religious foundation, even if as in many cultures the ties with religion are changing with the times.

As part of celebrating Travellers’ cultural differences, she hopes they will one day be recognised as an ethnic group.

The images in the current exhibition were taken at St Catherine’s halting site in Kilkenny, and other photographs from the project were displayed at an event as part of Culture Night last year.

Gypsy has also been photographing other Traveller communities around the area, and her hope is to be able to work with some of the young people in the Traveller communities to train them how to take photographs themselves. It would be a way for young Travellers to tell their stories from their own points of view.

As Winifer says: “You have to be true to your culture. There are bits I don’t agree with, but it is still my culture and I am proud of it.”