Friday 18 October 2019

Talented Willie keeps those wagons rolling

IN HIS workshop, Willie Connors is putting the finishing touches to a barrel top wagon which will soon be displayed at the front of his house for all to see.

Now retired, Willie – from The Irishtown in New Ross – worked in a dizzying number of jobs throughout his life, all in craft-related industries.

Today he is one of a select few Travellers from his generation continuing the age old tradition of wagon making.

Willie said: 'The Traveller culture and way of life is dying out but I want to keep its traditions going. It's important for the children coming up and for Irish culture to be reminded of the past. Today children don't know about wagons but they were an important part of Traveller life and were used at the fares and as homes.'

He said young Travellers will be interested to see the finished wagon.

'It will let them see where they came from. There were often large families reared in wagons like this; it put manners on everyone living so close together!'

A skilled craftsman who was hired as a contractor by companies across Ireland, including at Bemico moulding factory in New Ross, Willie is a self confessed 'Jack of all trades' and has worked in numerous jobs in the UK and Ireland.

He made wagons for members of the Travelling community from across the country in the 1970s such was the quality of his work.

'You don't want to forget the past so I always liked making them and I get enjoyment from making them.'

He said: 'As a young man I repaired little bits of everything and taught myself as I went along. I worked in steel factories, with tin, in scrap yards wherever there was work.'

Working on old items like an animal trough, which he fully restored for New Ross Town Council, gave him a great sense of satisfaction. The trough is currently back in its original location in Irishtown.

'My father's people were horse people and there was a tradition of horse fairs in New Ross so it was nice to restore the trough. It was around in my father's time and in his father's time before him. It was made in Scotland and was in pieces when Victor Furness asked me to repair it. It's nice to see it out on the roadside again.'

His wife Elizabeth points out that the trough has a mini trough which was used by dogs, sheep and animals, adding that it forms part of the landscape of the area.

Willie also worked on the boars head which adorns the pinnacle of The Tholsel and built a wagon which is on permanent display at Johnstown Castle.

Willie, Elizabeth and their young family lived in a caravan when they first moved into Irishtown but it wasn't long before he had built a house on the site.

He said it is encouraging to see young Travellers around the country building wagons again as it reminds them where they come from at a time when most Travellers are settled.

'Years ago it was a home but it was the craft of it also. For me it's a hobby; when you retire you have time to do things you wouldn't have had time to do beforehand.'

Showing his collection of handmade and restored milk buckets, kettles, wheels, coal bunkers and more in his packed workshop it's clear that Willie likes to keep himself busy.

The father-of-five has been working on the barrel top wagon for a few months now and is hoping to paint it in bright colours and complete it over the coming weeks.

'I was never idle and I never plan to be,' he says with a smile.

Enniscorthy Guardian