PRESIDENT Michael D. Higgins performed the official opening of a new exhibition exploring Traveller life and traditions in the west of Ireland when he visited the National Museum of Ireland (NMI) - Country Life, Turlough Park, Castlebar, yesterday.
Travellers’ Journey is the NMI’s most significant exhibition to date focussed on Traveller culture and has been co-curated with Traveller organisations in the west of Ireland.
President Higgins has been a long-time advocate for Travellers’ rights and distinct ethnic minority status and has argued that the core values of our Republic include the commitment to treat all citizens equally, to enable the meaningful participation of all citizens, and to remove prejudices and practical obstacles to the realisation of everyone's rights.
In his address, President Higgins said the exhibition was a celebration of the unique culture of the Traveller community and the role that culture has played in the shared memory of a nation.
He commented: “On display here are so many objects that remind us of the vital role that Travellers traditionally played in an agrarian society and of the positive contribution their culture has made to Irish society. We see, all around us, material reminders of a time when travellers were welcomed into the homes of Ireland, their culture respected, their talents appreciated.
“This exhibition is a great celebration of Traveller heritage, but it is also a sobering reminder of how far we strayed from that time when members of the Travelling Community were distinct but equal members of Irish society.
“Today, as we honour and mark the Travelling Community’s journey let us resolve that it will, in future, be a shared journey for all Irish citizens during which we will ensure that none are excluded, denied a voice in society or access to vital services or exposed to unfair and ill-informed prejudice or discrimination.”
Travellers’ Journey features objects, images and films that explore various elements of Traveller life, including craft and skills, home and nomadism, faith, belief and language.
Some of the key objects on display include a jacket worn by boxer Francis Barrett at the 1996 Summer Olympics; a model barrel top wagon; a tie belonging to Martin Ward, Tuam’s first Traveller mayor; a tinsmith made ‘Emigrant’s Teapot’; beady pockets traditionally worn by Traveller women; Uilleann pipes made by the renowned musician Johnny Doran; and artworks by Leeane McDonagh.
The exhibition continues until May 2019.