Traveller men of various ages, employment statuses and circumstances spoke to researchers in Donegal about their experiences on accommodation, education, employment and sudden bereavement, and how these experiences affected their mental health.
The study on Traveller men’s mental health was conducted by Traveller men and it paints a picture of the daily lives of Travellers living in Donegal.
The report, entitled Our Lives Our Voices Our Future, makes for sobering reading. Of the 12 men who were interviewed for the study, seven had experienced suicidal ideation, or had attempted suicide in the past.
The research was carried out in conjunction with Connecting for Life Donegal, the National Traveller Partnership, and the Traveller Men’s Advisory Group.
Here we publish stories and comments from seven of the 12 men:
TEACHERS: The teachers didn’t like me, and I didn’t like them, so I just left. I didn’t finish my Leaving Cert. I think that being a Traveller made them dislike me. Travellers stayed in groups and were placed in classes as groups. When the teachers are like that, it makes you feel like not going in.
GOING OUT: If you want to go for a pint or two there’s a big chance you will not get served in any pubs for being a Traveller. You go into shops; I just look at the screens. You can see the cameras looking at you, following every step you take like. It’s shaming, to be honest. It makes me not want to go out, I just avoid any of these situations.
ANGRY OVER NO HEATING: I’m in a house and have been there for the last ten years. There are no flushing toilets or working showers. Only one tap is working in the sink. Now we reported this two years ago to the council. We have no heating or anything. To be honest, it makes me feel angry because I’m ten years out pushing them [council] to help us and nothing is getting done…it is one of the things that worries me the most.
NO GYMS: I can’t get a gym or swimming pool membership anywhere. All I get is that: ‘We’re fully booked’. There was one time I rang the hotel and they were not taking on new members. I got a settled friend to ring, they got a membership no problem. They cop your last name and know you’re a Traveller.
I NEVER COMPLAIN: Where we live affects every part of our lives, especially my children in school. I never complain to the school. My kids are called knackers, gypsies and stuff like that. This is going on since I was at school, you’re chatting 25 years ago. It will never change. I complained as a child and was told to stop causing trouble.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: My second name puts me in the spotlight, I am tarred with a heavy brush. They will try everything in their power to do [criminalise] you. I was wrongly accused by the Garda for a serious crime I didn’t commit, I could give you a number of examples where cases have been dismissed.
COUSINS: I have cousins that completed suicide due to whatever reasons and its mostly my male cousins. You walk into a graveyard now and you are not seeing Travellers dying at 40,50 or 60. It’s 20, 30 and 40.
MY ACCENT: I am never going to get from 9 to 5 or whatever. I haven’t got an education and when I use my accent, especially in England, they simply listen and say no way. When we did maintenance work people thought we were scammers or cold callers because of my accent.
A lot of men are pushed into poverty. Travellers can get work in certain places, but most of the time Travelling men haven’t got the education. I hated not working…it makes you feel down man, like worthless.
SOME ADVICE: Traveller men have too much to unpack because we are told to suppress it from day one. Don’t let anything get you down; keep your head up and keep walking. I think that is where the high rate of suicide comes from in our community.
HUMAN RIGHTS: Where did they march for Travellers’ rights? Travellers that are dying younger, are killed in fires because of poor facilities and the children leaving school not being able to write their own names.
HIDDEN SEXUALITY: Traveller boys who are gay live nothing but a life of a dog inside and outside of the community. They have to hide that they are gay, they have to deal with discrimination from country people and deal with the expectation that Traveller men are strong and emotionless.
FAMILY: After walking away from my marriage because I was gay and experiencing domestic violence, I am homeless. Having no place to call home makes my anxiety and panic attacks worse. You are in a constant state of worry because you don’t have space of your own. You feel like a burden on your family… everyone really.
TRAGEDIES: I have lost three children. Two in tragic circumstances and one to suicide. It never gets easier. It’s hard to think that you have outlived your children…the death of my family has led to my depression. I was going to take my life a few times, I have lost so many people and have experienced difficult situations since I came to Donegal. Settled people don’t know what’s going on in your life, they just want you gone.