Travellers hit back at 'unruly in Mass' claims
TRAVELLERS accused of disrupting church services in their local town have hit back at settled people, saying they're "better Catholics" than their neighbours.
Last month, the choir of St Mary's in Rathkeale, Co Limerick, walked out in protest over noisy and unruly behaviour by Travellers at Mass. The move followed a Valentine's Day service when a woman stood up and spoke out against the behaviour of some in the congregation. The choir then walked out in solidarity with her and have refused to return.
But yesterday, Travellers at the 11.30am Mass dismissed claims that they were disrupting services by traipsing in and out and denied charges that their girls were not dressed properly.
As Mass proceeded in the church, Jimmy O'Brien and a group of men chatted outside. They were taking a break from the service, they said, and catching up on the news. Mr O'Brien dismissed accusations that Traveller youngsters in skimpy outfits were not showing the proper respect. "Isn't it better that they are going to Mass?" he asked.
"Travelling people always go to Mass. Watch the settled people when they come out -- they're all old people. You won't see any of their youngsters here because they don't go to Mass."
Half of Rathkeale's 1,800 residents are Travellers and the father-of-three believes the claims by settled people have more to do with jealousy than anything else.
"They're giving out about the outfits but those girls are wearing fancy rig-outs costing five or six hundred euro -- it's just jealousy."
A young Traveller woman looked puzzled by all the fuss. "These are all respectable girls," she said.
Settled people at St Mary's were more reluctant to talk and refused to give their names. Two women leaving Mass agreed that churchgoers feel frustrated by noisy behaviour with people coming and going.
One said: "It can be annoying and it's disrespectful to the priest."
Eric McNamara, from Rathkeale, defended local Travellers. "I've never heard that there was a bit of trouble with them," he said.
Parish priest Canon Joseph Dempsey has refused to take sides in the row. "I am not going to get involved in this controversy," he said. "It is blown out of all proportion."
Members of the church choir have also refused to comment.