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Traveller Focus Week - Paul Harrison Photographer "Traveller Friends"

Monday, 30 November 2009

Traveller Focus Week is an annual event and the 2009 theme is Traveller Pride.

Traveller Focus Week starts on the 30th November and is running all the way through to 11th December.

The aim of the week is to celebrate the contribution Travellers make both within their own communities and to Irish society as a whole, through their culture, enterprise, and sporting excellence, professional expertise across every area and unique history and tradition. National and local events around the country will innovatively focus on the theme, and the week will feature the inaugural Traveller Pride Awards, which it is hoped will become an annual event honouring the achievements and contributions of Travellers across Ireland.

The objectives of Traveller Focus Week are:

. To develop Traveller pride in their Irish identity and cultural background
. To develop awareness and promote an understanding of the position of Travellers in Irish society
. To highlight Travellers' contribution to Irish society
. To promote Traveller participation in public life and policy development.

Paul Harrison
English Man Paul Harrison has been taking photos since the sixties. He is also a writer and film maker. He has worked in the film and TV business most of his life, mainly producing documentaries and TV news in places like Iraq, Somalia and Ethiopia.

What got you interested in the Irish travelling community?

The first time I ever saw lads driving along the road in their little chariots and doing the 'Ben Hur' I wondered what they were doing. And people - settled people - told me to stay away and have nothing to do with them. So of course I just went up and chatted with them and found they were the finest, ever so Irish ... and they were initially suspicious of me!

I became more interested in the travelling community when I realised the way the nation is discreetly divided. Irish friends in England had frequently mentioned the class system in England and when I came to live in Ireland I was surprised to learn that a class system also exists over here.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

The idea from the book came from Dr Michael Hayes at limerick university. He saw the photos at an exhibition in Tipperary county museum and thought that it would be a good idea to publish them. He then asked me to do captions. the captions got lost at the publishers somehow and I saw a lovely photo exhibition in kildare, it was about multi ethnics, people of different colours and cultures from different places with longer captions with the photos, so I thought 'perhaps I should write a bit more'

Do you think Irish travellers are unfairly portrayed?

I find that a tricky question to answer. The odd thing is that they are portrayed as different at all. They are all Irish, yet they are treated as if they are from another place altogether. I mean, there are good travelleres - and good buffers (settled people) - who are not portrayed at all. They seem invisible to the media. Then there are travs who do hurtful things and they well reported, so it seems that the portrayal of travs is not so much unfair as unbalanced.

There is no escaping the fact that there is prejudice out there against travellers. Has it, in your view, lessened at all in recent years?

Yes, the prejudice against travellers has in my view decreased since I have been in Ireland over the last ten years. Travellers are less easily differentiated among the community and many more now live in houses. The prejudice appears to have changed as Ireland has itself evolved.

Is it a case of a few bad apples spoiling the barrel?

I think that's a very fair statement. There are many travellers who would agree with you, but they are sadly not often heard. It's as if they don't have access to mainstream media unless they are naughty. They are no different to the rest of us.

As a non-Irish person, in your view, why are the settled Irish community so suspicious of the travelling community?

Hah! Well I guess it's partly because some travellers are 'bold' and they get the publicity! It's the 'other' and the 'unknown' that we are suspicious of... whether they are foreigners or whatever. If more people would see travellers as Irish the same as themselves and their own families, the suspicion would diminish.

I have more traveller friends in Ireland than non-traveller friends, which I know may sound funny but that's the way it has worked out. i find them an open and wonderfully friendly people, many of whom, through inability to read or write, are somehow caught in a time warp.

As this is traveller week, maybe some buffers will take the opportunity to try out traveller hospitality... do what you'd do with your own friends... take along a bit of cake or biscuits and go visit a site. They don't bite! Just mind the dogs don't nip your backside!

Prices/Stockists/Relevant Information
Traveller Friends is available online at Amazon, or Cambridge Scholars Publishing, at £39 stg

Available (to order, it's not on the shelf) in Eason's 51eu and Reids 51eu

It may be available at a discounted price from members of the ITM (Irish Traveller Movement).

Additional / Misc' Info:

There are an estimated 25,000 Travellers in Ireland, making up more than 4,485 Traveller families. This constitutes approximately 0.5% of the total national population. It is estimated that an additional 15,000 Irish Travellers live in Britain, with a further 10,000 Travellers of Irish descent living in the United States of America.

Source: Irish Traveller Movement