VIDEO: 'Travellers are not aliens' - John Connors tells Tipperary crowd

Cahir Drive for Hope and Change

Sian Moloughney

Reporter:

Sian Moloughney


Suicide in the Travelling community is seven times higher than in the settled community - 11% of Travellers die by suicide.

John Connors, actor and writer of Love/Hate fame, told a crowd of united Travellers and settled people in Cahir last Sunday how his own father was one of those men who died by suicide.

A Horse Drive for Hope and Change was held in the town in conjunction with Pieta House to raise awareness of the issue. They chose a horse event to highlight how important horses are to Traveller culture and how they represent the only leisure outlet for many Travellers.

Speaking to The Nationalist John Connors said that having horses was a "life and death issue" for Traveller men that the settled community don't get the seriousness of.

Watch our interview with John above.

Click here to see our photo gallery of the event.

More than 20 horse-drawn sulkies took part in the Drive for Hope and Change through Cahir - much to the delight of onlookers. They were lead past Cahir Castle and into the Inch Field by piper Michael Egan.

Speaking to the crowd gathered in the Inch Field on Sunday, John Connors said a lot of Traveller customs and traditions are native Irish customs. "We're not aliens. We are a modern day Tuath De Dannan."

He called on society to start looking at Traveller culture as Irish culture. Ordinary Travellers don't care much about their new 'ethnic group' status, he went on to say, they want to be respected as equal, Irish citizens.

Addressing the tragically high level of suicide in the Traveller community, John Connors said that a lot of Traveller men won't go to therapy, but horses are their therapy.

"My father wasn't a horse man but he was one of the 11% who killed himself, I wish he had something like a horse," John said.

Obviously pleasantly surprised at the positive turnout for the event, he said it was a "beautiful thing" that so many people were supporting them and said "we should do it more often!"

Also speaking at the event, Mags Casey of the Tipperary Rural Travellers Project, praised the men of Travelling community for taking part in the horse drive in such a professional manner.

"I am delighted to see Traveller men standing up for themselves. It's high time Traveller men took their place in society and say what matters to ye," she said. Ms Casey said she is delighted they have founded a Horse Owners Association and encouraged more Travellers to join.

Mags spoke about her own father. In many ways a typical Irish man of a certain generation, he didn't speak about his problems. But if he was upset or was worried he went out to his horses. Horses gave my father peace of mind, Mags said.

Pieta House was represented at the event by Cindy O'Connor. She said that the atmosphere of hope and enthusiastic turnout reminded her of the very first Darkness into Light event. That had 300 people, this year more than 140,000 took part - and she predicted the Drive for Hope and Change now has that same potential to reach people.

Cindy said the event was sending out a powerful message, especially to all the children present, that there can be change.

The moving event finished with the release of balloons in memory of those who have died by suicide.