Throughout January, the First Fortnight festival presents than 70 events online, as they mark 10 years of challenging mental health stigma.

Below, Geoff Finan (AKA The Poet Geoff) writes for Culture about a fascinating project that explores issues around identity and mental health in communities of Traveller men...

Like so many good ideas, the idea for the 'Gloke' project came from a chance meeting. I was giving a workshop on presentation skills in The Axis Theatre when I met Andy O’Hara and Michael Collins. Both men work for Pavee Point and as we spoke after the presentation, the conversation quickly began to focus on Mental Health in the Traveller community. I proposed using Creative Writing as a means of exploring these issues within the community and so the project began.

First Fortnight believed in the project from the word ‘go’ and gave us carte blanche to develop it in a truly organic way, and that’s exactly what happened. In the workshops, the men explored identity, racism, discrimination and the impacts these can have on the mental health of Travellers.

We delved into their history, their memories and the challenges they had faced throughout their lives. We looked at the statistics around suicide in Travelers (7 times higher in men and 5 times higher in women than the general population) and what impact government policies had had on the lives of Travelers. Together, we wrote the Spoken Word piece Gloke which is a story of the lived experiences of these men, from child to man. The word 'Gloke' is translated as male Traveller in the language Cant. 

Empowered Voices will give the audience a chance to hear about the journey of these men, as they've explored their lives through the medium of art.

Last year I performed Gloke at the festival and even though it was well-received, there was something about it that didn’t quite fit. So we sat down with the men again to see how the project could advance. The men agreed that a poem about Travellers, which was written with Travellers, should be performed by a Traveller. And so the Empowered Voices project began. The role of this project was to allow the men to gain confidence and build the skills to perform the poem and take on a leadership role as activists for positive change for their whole community.

Empowered Voices will give the audience a chance to hear about the journey of these men, as they’ve explored their lives through the medium of art. We will hear of the challenges they faced and the impact that the project has had on their community, as well their plans for the future. There will also be the first reciting of Gloke by a Traveller to the public.

Empowered Voices takes place online on Sunday January 17th at 2 pm - this is a free event, but registration is essential at 

Pics: Glen Bollard, Al Higgins, Mark Doyle