University of Galway explores Irish Travellers’ experience of the State

Preparing for the Cahirmee Horse Fair, Buttevant, 1954. Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland, colourised by Dr John Breslin and the Old Ireland in Colour Project.
Sep 14 2022 Posted: 11:05 IST

Two-day event led by Travellers as part of the Decade of Centenaries  

Organisers urge Government to use conference to consider policy reform and leave a lasting legacy

A special conference is taking place at University of Galway to examine the experience of Irish Travellers/Mincéirs and the State from 1922 to 2022, the impacts of that experience and the lessons to be learned.

The event runs on campus over two days - Friday and Saturday September 16-17, 2022.

Part of the Decade of Centenaries Programme, the conference was proposed by Patrick Nevin and Elaine Martin and will be run in conjunction with the Irish Centre for the Histories of Labour and Class at the University of Galway.

It will examine Irish Travellers’ experience of discrimination since the foundation of the state, paying particular attention to the state’s role in perpetuating disadvantage.

Minister Catherine Martin said: “I am pleased to support this important conference reflecting on the experiences of Irish Travellers/Mincéirs since the foundation of the independent Irish State. Events such as this, grounded in original research and scholarship, have been welcomed by the Expert Advisory Group on Centenary Commemorations. The ethos of the Decade of Centenaries Programme is inclusive, authentic, meaningful and respectful commemoration and this provides a timely opportunity to include a community, often historically overlooked in the commemorative narrative.”

The conference agenda is multi-disciplinary and participative. It features 70 speakers, a play, a living exhibition, two further exhibitions and a number of performances, with presentations in a variety of formats and featuring local, national, and international perspectives. There will be contributions from Traveller/Mincéir activists and advocates, historians, folklorists, psychologists, sociologists, artists, cultural theorists and others.

Contributors include Patrick Nevin, Elaine Martin, Rosaleen McDonagh, Mags Casey, Dr Sindy Joyce, Dr Aoife Bhreatnach, Vincent Browne, Owen Patrick Ward.  

The conference will also involve the participation of members of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Experts on Roma and Traveller Issues, which is being hosted on campus to discuss policy issues around inclusion, women’s rights and education among other topics.

Psychologist Elaine Martin said: “There is a blind spot in the Irish psyche about Travellers. We denigrate Irish Travellers in the same way as Irish people were ‘Othered’ throughout history; the shoe is merely on the other foot.”

Helen Maher, Vice President for Equality Diversity and Inclusion at University of Galway, said: “Hosting such important engagement on the issues affecting the daily lives of Traveller and Roma communities today is hugely significant and symbolic for our University. It is also key that we are endeavouring to learn from the past and it show our commitment on the unfinished journey of embedding equality, diversity and inclusion in education and society.” 

Owen Patrick Ward, University of Galway’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager – Race Equality, stated: “This conference highlights the many social, economic, and cultural contributions made by Irish Travellers since the foundation of the Irish State; contributions, that for so long has been ignored and erased from public discourse. I want to commend all involved in this conference including the guest speakers and panellists but particularly to the University of Galway for continuing to play a leadership role in this area.” 

The Conference and is supported by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media. 

The Conference Steering Group acknowledge the participation of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Experts on Roma and Travellers and the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, and the Galway Council of Trades.

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