Irish Travellers in Mid 20th-Century Ireland

castle gillian picture excerptJournalist, Justin Frew, has suggested that:

“As recently as the mid-twentieth century, Travellers played an important role in rural Ireland where they were important participants in seasonal agricultural work. Traveller families would journey around the country, helping out on farms where they would stay on a yearly basis. Travellers also earned their keep by engaging in horse-trading, scrap dealing and craftwork, while also being a valued source of news and lively entertainment. However, despite their acknowledged role in Ireland, Travellers were often made feel unwelcome in the communities where they stayed, to which Irish folklore sadly pays testament.”

The role of the Lane family in Castle Gillian is a binding thread around the actions – and the consequences of those actions – to most of the protagonists in Maurice Walsh’s remarkable novel.

That the centrality of importance of collectively Tyzack and Jacus Lane; Tyzack’s wife, Oonagh Blake (note she doesn’t take his surname) to say nothing of young ‘Dinny’ Lane is deliberately kept to the margins of the story’s ‘big print’ is one of the author’s greatest achievements.

For Walsh, who was well acquainted with the life of Ireland’s itinerant, traveling, population through his own acquaintances, he has evoked a reality of the real-life situation of Ireland’s travellers without mythologizing or romancing the difficult lives they led – and continue to lead in contemporary society.

An RTE short documentary from 1965 makes compelling viewing.  Keep in mind, this is only 17 years after the time of the novel’s setting.

Also this documentary from 2012 is similarly worth watching: