Tuesday 17 September 2019

Jody Corcoran: 'Would you like to live beside a middle-class bigot?'

As somebody who lived beside Travellers throughout his youth, Jody Corcoran takes issue with Peter Casey and his supporters

Peter Casey. Photo: Damien Eagers / INM
Peter Casey. Photo: Damien Eagers / INM
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

As somebody who had Travellers live beside me throughout most of my formative years, I would like to answer the question that Peter Casey (and his supporters) have repeatedly asked to defend their singling out of Travellers for criticism during the presidential election and its aftermath.

In asking the question, as Casey did of other candidates during a debate, and as his supporters have since asked, it only tends to confirm their prejudice.

Apparently unaware of this, they still ask the question, in a 'slam dunk' way - "Would you like to have Travellers live beside you?", as if to anticipate a negative answer or dilemma with an 'ah ha, got you there'.

Then they ready themselves to follow up with an accusation of hypocrisy against whomever is asked the question, while preparing to take a bow as the only honest and straight-talking person in the room.

All the while, though, in singling out Travellers, they are blissfully unaware, or unconcerned, that they are really exposing what could be said to be their own borderline rahoonery.

So, let me answer the question as honestly as I can, and then put that answer in context: No, I would not necessarily like to live beside Travellers, no more than I would like to live in a Dublin inner city area rife with gangland crime, or for that matter, in a gated community wherein, say, a bunch of middle-class racists reside.

What Casey and his supporters are still missing, though, is that in singling out Travellers, they are actually exposing themselves - to which the question follows: which other minority or class of people would you not like to live beside - blacks, Jews, middle-class bigots?

Take it from me: there are good and bad Travellers to live beside, just as there are good and bad inner city areas in which to reside, and good and bad middle-class neighbours alongside whom to pitch up.

In my youth, we lived in the last of a row of 10 houses on a road out of town, alongside the Grand Canal. For a period of many years, without fail, different families of Travellers would set up camp on the banks of the canal opposite or close to our home.

Mostly, these Travellers were fine. Indeed, I became friendly with a young lad my own age. He fished the canal and would regularly show me a perch or bream, once an eel he had caught and kept for a while in a metal bucket - always offering to sell it to me, both of us fascinated at the sight of it all the same.

We had an outdoor water tap in our back yard and one or other Traveller would come over and ask if they could fill a kettle or drum, to the point that, as summer went on, my mother said there was no need to ask permission - just take the water.

As I write now, I remember the first record player I ever had was bought from the sister of the chap referred to earlier, complete with her record collection, the two tracks, as evident from scratch marks, most played by her being Oh! Carol by Neil Sedaka and Blanket on the Ground by Philomena Begley.

At summer's end, having thanked my father for access to the water, they moved on, leaving nothing behind, not a scrap of paper, in fact, no evidence at all that they had been there for months, only the flattened grass on the canal bank.

It was not always so: one year a Traveller family parked close by, were coming and going at all hours, used the canal and grassy knoll as an outdoor toilet (they had no toilet), didn't interact directly, or only did so sullenly, and left a mess behind when they moved on.

As the years went by, the local authority put in place large boulders on the canal bank to prevent caravans pulling up, in or around the same time, a halting site was also opened in Tullamore, and that, basically, was the end of that.

I am unsure what if anything has changed these days in the Traveller culture and lifestyle, but the point is, unlike Peter Casey (I would wager) and many of his supporters, I have had experience of living close to Travellers over a prolonged period, going back to when green, barrel-top caravans were common place on the roads, and by and large, did not find it to be a uniformly negative experience.

Similarly, I also have experience of living close to and socialising in the north inner city, not far from where many gangland murders have taken place, and have found that to be similar, both good and bad; no more or less than in the comfortable middle-class areas where I have also lived, where the day-to-day lives of neighbours may have been outwardly grand, but with their foibles, irritations and brute prejudices, and consequent behaviour, never far from the surface.

Sunday Independent

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