Member of the Month April 2019
The Irish Travellers who No Longer Travel
For many years I have been traveling and documenting a wide variety of ethnic groups, often in out-of-the-way places around the world, photographing people with strong ties to their distinctive cultures. But there are ethnic groups closer to my world, who belong to a culture that could be disappearing, the Irish Travellers is one such group. After generations of them travelling around the country, seldom remaining in one place for more than a couple of weeks, the Travellers are no longer “nomads” the vast majority of them living in houses or caravans on official “halting” sites. This change in lifestyles did not come easy, particularly for the men who found themselves with very little to do as the unemployment rate is fairly high in the Travellers community. Although there are still approximately 30,000 living in Ireland they are clearly at the bottom of Ireland’s social and economic ladder. Nevertheless, this photo essay shows that the young Travellers still identify with their culture even though they now live in an environment made of concrete slabs.
The Travellers are religious and large families are the norms. Gender roles are clearly defined even for the youngest of children. When being photographed, the young boys always show their tight fists and take a fighting position. Boxing is their favorite sport, punching bags and trampoline available on most halting sites. The girls, on the other hand, quickly take a provocative pose, putting their hands on their hips and pouting their lips.
But perhaps the stronger link to the culture is the connection to animals. Most Irish Travellers are raising dogs, especially greyhounds, with lots of puppies around. Horses are especially important for the Travellers. Though keeping a horse in a halting site can be challenging and costly, the Travellers dearly want to maintain that part of their culture, and want to share this passion with their sons.
As Ned, the father of nine beautiful children told me, “We are not travelling anymore, but we are still Travellers and we need our horses. It gives us something to do.” And it gives a meaning to their lives.
France Leclerc, born in Quebec, Canada, is an independent photographer who currently lives in Chicago. Her early career was in academia, teaching at MIT and the University of Chicago, but in 2005 she decided to make a change to pursue her true passion for documentary photography. But the curiosity and hunger for learning that had motivated her academic research career did not vanish. France now uses photography as vehicle to understand and help depict issues that puzzle her, and satisfy her passion for learning. Among her most prominent themes are culture (especially disappearing ones), religion and social inequality. Her images have now been shown in curated exhibitions and have won numerous awards.