Tuesday 17 October 2017

Year after Carrickmines tragedy, 'Travellers are still marginalised'

The scene of the tragic fire at Glenmaluck Road, Carrickmines. Photo: David Conachy
The scene of the tragic fire at Glenmaluck Road, Carrickmines. Photo: David Conachy
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

'Glenroe' actor and writer Michael Collins has described the Carrickmines tragedy as "an Irish shame" - and says there are still divides between settled and Travelling communities.

He has just finished a run of his play 'Ireland Shed a Tear?', which fictionalises the aftermath of the fire.

Michael Collins with his son Johnny (11) in 'Ireland Shed a Tear?'. Photo: Al Craig
Michael Collins with his son Johnny (11) in 'Ireland Shed a Tear?'. Photo: Al Craig

The play draws on music and songs from Traveller culture, which he says are still "frighteningly" relevant today - showing that Ireland still has a long way to go to address the conflicts between settled people and the Travelling community.

"These people shouldn't be forgotten and the way they were treated by Irish society and the Government is an Irish shame. I would call it an Irish shame," he told the Irish Independent.

Fire victims Tara Gilbert and Willy Lynch.
Fire victims Tara Gilbert and Willy Lynch.

Collins, who played Johnny Connors in the RTÉ series, recalled hearing the news that a fire had ripped through a temporary halting site in south Dublin, killing five children and five adults, including a pregnant mother.

The victims included Thomas Connors (27), his wife Sylvia (30) and their three children, Jim (5) Christy (3), and six-month-old baby Mary. Sylvia's brother, Willy Lynch (25), his partner Tara Gilbert (27), who was pregnant at the time of the fire, her daughter Jodie Gilbert (9), and their daughter Kelsey (4) also died in the fire. Willy and Sylvia's brother Jimmy Lynch (39) also died.

The outpouring of grief in the immediate aftermath felt like the country was on the cusp of turning a corner, Collins said.

But this hope was dashed just days later when residents protested against a site which was selected to house the homeless survivors of the blaze.

"When I heard the news and everyone was so saddened, the flags were flying at half mast, our politicians came out...I actually believed there was a turning point and three days after, the turning point just collapsed and the underbelly of racism raised its ugly head.

"I felt so saddened about that, the social media was terrible, the radio programmes allowing people to come on and say things about Travellers which they didn't have to and then to go to Wexford town (for the funeral) and feeling like we didn't belong."

Businesses and pubs in Wexford town closed down on the day of the funeral, which drew criticism. Members of the Lynch and Gilbert families had been laid to rest days earlier in Bray.

"I never felt so alien, alien in my own country and now the rejection. I never felt so angry in my life coming out of Wexford. I don't know what sort of animals those people think we are that we would come down and disrespect our own dead - children, three white coffins and a mother and father.

"I don't know how people see us, it's frightening."

The blaze shocked the nation and the narrative quickly turned to the lack of investment in Traveller accommodation.

But for Collins, the tragedy was one which could have occurred at any time.

"What happened in Carrickmines was a tragedy waiting to happen for 50 years," he said.

His latest play focuses on a fictional family who meet with council executives to have their site audited for fire safety - they are hopeful that the problems on their site will be addressed. Instead, they are evicted.

Irish Independent

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