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Insight into another world

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A scene from last week’s play, which was staged in Castlebar.
ART IMITATING LIFE A scene from last week’s play, which was staged in Castlebar. 

Insight into another world

Áine Ryan

“JUST because you’re a traveller, doesn’t mean you’re trouble” said Bridget Lawrence.
She was putting on a white uniform in preparation for going on stage at last week’s Castlebar production of a play about traveller life. It was ‘a unique and challenging look’ at bullying, discrimination and alcohol abuse, which, in turn, cause mental health problems that exact a high toll on quality of life, peace of mind, aspirations and life expectancy. 
Bridget’s red hair was propped in a neat bun. Her face was flushed. No wonder. It’s not easy keeping a rein on small children while making your stage debut. 
The small function room in the Traveller’s Friend was chaotic. There were children running in every direction, with as many exasperated mothers and frustrated older sisters chasing them. Still in school uniforms, they were high on the opportunity of getting a half day from school. 
“We’re not all trouble, you know,” repeated the 40-year-old mother-of-six. She says things have got easier. There isn’t as much bullying in the schools these days. Three of her six attend Breaffy NS, while the older three attend St Joseph’s Secondary School and Davitt College. 
Bridget and her family lived for 15 years in a caravan on the side of the Ballyvary Road. That’s when she used to cry a lot.
“No accommodation is even worse than discrimination. I used to get so depressed,” she confides. “We still haven’t got a Council house. We are on the list for six, or is it seven, years. But we are very happy now renting a private house,” said Bridget. She says they have very nice neighbours.
Martina Collins agrees. She feels lucky to have had a Council house for the past decade. She has four children, aged between five and 12.
“I lived on the road all my life, there’s great comfort in having a house,” says Martina, whose mind is pre-occupied with thoughts of how she’ll get around her five-year-old son, James’ request for a quad from Santa.
While discrimination may be disappearing in schools, with the country’s next generation of travellers benefiting from a more equitable educational system, Bridget Ward finds it easy to relate anecdotes of its insidiousness in other public fora.
“One day I phoned the hairdresser for an appointment. She said she was too busy. I guessed she wasn’t and went down the town and asked her what the problem was. Why had she refused to cut my hair. I was upset. She called the guards. I was crying, all I wanted was a haircut,” said Bridget.
Women from traveller groups in Roscommon, Galway and Mayo worked, under the auspices of the Western Regional Health Network, and in association with Voices Production, on the interactive drama, which was funded by the Traveller Health Unit.
Over a seven-week period they developed three scenes, with alternate endings, ‘uniquely looking’ at issues around bullying, discrimination and alcohol abuse.
Producer, Catherine McFadden explained that the crucial element of the drama was the real possibility of two outcomes emerging from each situation.
In each confrontational climax - Traveller and Publican, Traveller and Work Colleague and Traveller and Family Member - the traveller has the choice of responding constructively to the discrimination, the bullying, the drug abuse.
Instead of getting angry with the publican who refuses to serve a second drink by ‘breaking a glass’ or ‘shouting abusive language’, the traveller has recourse to her legal rights, to complaining to the Gardaí, a Community Health Worker, a local Support Worker, the Equality Tribunal.
The play, however, also explores the co-responsibility of the so-called settled people, both professional and lay, in the interaction. One example given was the difference a Community Welfare Officer made by offering ‘financial control’ to a woman who was ‘at the end of her tether’ financially and emotionally from alcohol abuse among the family.
According to the Co-Ordinator of the Western Regional Traveller Health Network, Mr David Collins, there has been a very positive response from the various agencies and Mental Health providers who attended the production. 
He thanked Mayo Traveller Support Group, particularly Ms Louise O’Malley, and said he hopes the production will return to County Mayo in early 2007.