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Friday 24 March 2017

Family swap the open road for their new open house

Nicola AndersonNicola Anderson

BRIGID McDonagh was reared on the open road, travelling the highways and byways of Ireland in a horse-drawn wooden caravan with a tiny pot-bellied stove.

Her parents died young and so she and her brother and sister were taken in by their grandparents.

There wasn't much money but Brigid never remembers being hungry. The little caravan was always warm and "very comfortable".

"We moved around all the time. It was lovely -- the sense of freedom," smiled Brigid, now a 72-year-old grandmother of 13 and great-grandmother of eight.

But times have changed.

The age-old halting spots used by Travellers like Brigid and her family down the centuries have been taken from them and boulders set roughly down to show that their presence is no longer required, or else housing estates have sprung up in their place.

"I've travelled to Cork without seeing a sign of a Traveller on the road," said Brigid.

Through a combination of force and freewill, Travellers have been made to adapt their lifestyle and nomadic traditions and, for the most part, settle down.

Halting sites have been the solution offered by most local authorities but Geraldine McDonagh, Brigid's daughter-in-law, explained that these are no places to rear a child.

Built with breeze blocks, they are bitterly cold in wintertime, are too cramped, have a strange layout and, in her experience, have dodgy and even dangerous, electrics.

"They were built in a way to show that they were different from the housing of settled people," she declared, adding that nobody thought to consult them.

Now Geraldine stoops with a baby wipe to clean away some muddy footprints from the floor of her dream home, immaculate with white-painted French-style furniture, cream leather sofas and cabinets displaying her collection of lavishly gilded china.

It is one of the seven houses in the Castlebrook project at Tay Lane in Newcastle, Co Dublin, that is home to four generations of the McDonagh family, built to their own specifications at their behest and in accordance with their Traveller traditions -- all the idea of Geraldine's husband, Tony.

As they shyly posed for photographs yesterday -- their family gathered around them -- Brigid McDonagh and her husband John agreed that life "couldn't be better".

The families pop in and out of each other's houses, which are built with no boundary walls to the front, giving more of a community feel.

The interior of each house is open plan and the windows are bigger, providing greater natural light to acknowledge the outdoor nature of the family's heritage.

Geraldine's husband, Tony, a care worker who helps people with Asperger's syndrome, approached South Dublin County Council with the idea and they put him in touch with Cluid, the organisation that provides social housing.

Irish Independent

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