The Changing Life of Irish Nomads
Researchers are still arguing about the origin of this ethnic group. Some think that the first Travellers were forced to leave their lands during the British expansion; others claim they inhabited Ireland as far back as the Middle Ages. Now the country is home to about 23 thousand Mincéirs. With the support of the state, many of them acquired a permanent home, while others continue to travel along the roads of their ancestors. In any case, they are subject to systematic discrimination and humiliation. Photographer Joseph-Philippe Bevillard created a whole photo book about nomadic families amd their lifestyle.
Photographer from Boston. Studied photography at the Art Institute of Boston. His work has been exhibited in galleries in England, France, and the USA. Winner of Moscow International Foto Awards, International Photography Awards, Art Institute of Boston Portfolio Competition, and more.
– It’s my 11th year documenting the Travellers. It was challenging during the first few years. It takes time to build up trust and to learn more about their unique culture. On my first visit to a Traveller’s site, I arrived at a bad time. It turned out that a young girl committed suicide the night before, and her boyfriend killed himself the next day. I was told to come back another time. I was very shocked and felt sad for the families. Only later did I realize that such tragic events are not uncommon among Pavees.
I earned their trust by showing them respect and gave them photos from time to time, which they treasure. My lifetime goal is to continue documenting this community, especially watching the children growing up. My main concern is the children’s future: will they follow their parent’s traditional values or lose their identity in fast-changing modern society?
The Irish travel community is very close-knit. Because most Pavees face discrimination, they find it difficult to gain employment, so they are usually self-employed or on social welfare. The mothers and older daughters take care of the younger children, do housework, and sometimes go shopping for food and clothes. Since they are very religious, girls are not allowed to drink, smoke, and have sex before marriage. The girls like to dress up and use makeup, play hopscotch and trampoline, listen to music, and dance. The male Pavees work as painters, builders, mechanics, and roofers. They also work with scrap metals; fathers train their sons to work with horses. In their free time, the boys and men ride their horses in sulkies (chariots). They like swimming, fishing, boxing, playing handball, visiting relatives, and singing around the campfire.
Holidays occupy a special place in their culture: the Travellers like to celebrate weddings, holy communions, birthdays, festive days, anniversaries, and christenings. And every time, they spare no expense for dressing in a showy manner. This concerns every single family member, including the youngest. Each outing is a chance to display their finest.
Each outing is a chance to display their finest.
Yes, there are many kids, as most families tend to have 8 to 12 children. Looking at the photographs, you may see them as joyful and mischievous, but in fact, their life is rather difficult. They are often mistreated and bullied in school and public places. In some campsites, there is no running water, electricity, and proper sewage. Sleep deprivation is common as they all live in a caravan with one, two, or three berths. I know some families with 8 to 12 kids living in 2 or 3 bedrooms. They spend a lot of time outdoors.
The suicide rate among the Travellers is about 12 times higher than the settled population. Some as young as nine years old committed suicide due to racism, mental health and bullying, lack of employment, overcrowded accommodation, alcoholism, and drugs.
I know some families with 12 kids living in 3 bedrooms.
The media are to blame for their stigmatization. These people are usually painted with one brush, like most marginalized societies. In my 11 years of documenting the community, I have not seen a single Mincéir committing a crime. The vast majority of offenses in Ireland are committed by settled people. And yet, a violation becomes more highlighted in the media if it involves a member of the Travellers, who make up less than 1 percent of the population in Ireland.
I have learned so many things in the Travellers’ community. They have many skills. On my last trip, I met a father and son covered with blue paint after painting their horse transport trailer. They used butter to remove the paint from their skin! I have become friends with many of them. We support each other, and one of them gave me a gypsy ring as a gesture of our friendship. This is a great honor for me.
Translated by Lubov Borshevsky