Traveller students share stories as role models for Traveller Ethnicity Day

Documentary filming on NUI Galway campus with Anna Keane, Jason Sherlock, Owen Ward and Anne Marie Ward. Credit: Wild Island Pictures.
Mar 01 2021 Posted: 11:59 GMT

NUI Galway hosts series of online events and special documentary launch

‘Travellers in Higher Education – Building a Sense of Belonging’ charts ambitions and experiences of students


Traveller students at NUI Galway have taken to the screen to share their experience of studying at university and to encourage others in the community to aim high in education.

The short documentary ‘Travellers in Higher Education – Building a Sense of Belonging’ has been produced as part of the efforts by the University's Access Office to support Travellers as role models and their participation in education.

The film was released as part of today's events to mark Traveller Ethnicity Day, which was launched by Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris, T.D., and attended by President of NUI Galway Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh. 

The documentary features compelling interviews with students as they reflect on their experiences and pursuing goals.

Anna Keane
was an early school leaver who always felt education was for other people.

“It was very daunting, being honest. It was kind of that imposter syndrome. Do I belong here? Am I able to do this?

“I don’t feel I am a role model but if I am that’s a nice thing to feel. I just hope our stories inspire anybody out there watching.”

Jason Sherlock, from Galway, is a final year BA Arts and Economics at NUI Galway.

“I was kind of hiding my identity through secondary school. I felt it was the only way for me to get through it. I wasn’t sure would people be comfortable with me if I said who I was, my identity,” Mr Sherlock said.

Emma Ward is 18, from Athenry, and the first in her family to go on to third level education.

“I just want to do something with my life, even though I’m in a wheelchair. I don’t want to let it define me. I’ve never let it define me,” she said. 
Ann Marie Ward works with Glionndar Community Group in Athenry and studied a Bachelor of Community, Youth and Family Studies.

“We got other education that you could not buy at university. Our parents instilled in us the ability to see other people for being themselves and to not be judgmental.”

The documentary was filmed and edited by Dawid Piotr Szlaga of Wild Island Pictures and part-funded by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth in support of Traveller Pride Week.

Within the EU, Ireland has one of the highest participation rates for third-level education. However, a Government report from 2019 cited recent studies that found there are only 61 Travellers in higher education. Approximately 1% of Travellers have a third-level education.

Owen Ward, programme coordinator in NUI Galway’s Access Centre, last year became the first Traveller to sit on a university governing authority in Ireland.

“Traveller students in third level are pioneers. We don’t have to give up our cultural identity for academic achievement. It is an asset. Younger students need to see the value in that and use it,” Mr Ward said.

"Understanding and providing for the particular needs of Travellers as they seek to access and progress in higher education is critical to ensuring that the Traveller community can fulfil their potential through education especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“At NUI Galway we work hard to make this a reality. However, I believe that within a national context, a whole education approach is important for enabling participation by Travellers in higher education. That is why we need a National Traveller Education Plan.”

Imelda Byrne, Head of the Access Centre at NUI Galway, said: “NUI Galway has a proven track record of widening participation of Travellers in higher education. In 2018, there were 61 Travellers in higher education with approximately 20 of them studying at NUI Galway. In the same year, the Mincéirs Whiden society, the first Traveller student society was established and NUI Galway is the only university to include Travellers for the University of Sanctuary scholarships.”

The documentary can be viewed at


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