“Are Traveller people homeless?”a curious young boy asks in Michael Collins’s thoughtful new play for The New Theatre. Historically, the group hasn’t been; from the wagon to the trailer to the mobile home, Irish Travellers have always brought their homes with them. But in this portrayal of events following a tragic fire on a Dublin halting site last year, Collins puts into context how the Traveller people, for the first time since the formation of the state, have been made homeless.
The play, earnestly directed by Anthony Fox, communicates an important view on Traveller histories and how the community has been affected by industrialisation and unemployment across the decades. The shift from tin to plastic in the 1960s brought widespread poverty, and a fixed address for social welfare brought a halt to routes throughout the country. Nowadays, Irish Travellers are often marooned at outmoded campsites on the periphery of towns and cities, unmaintained by local authorities.
Collins is resolute, passionate and well aided by his son Johnny. He stands firm amongst the various objects imported from a halting site and used in Lisa Krugel’s set design. Some of the points he makes are subversive (the etymology of the slur ‘knacker’) and contrary to the viewpoints of the Irish media (For instance, did you know that County Councils built barriers at the entrances of halting sites that weren’t fit for access by emergency vehicles?).
There may have been nationwide sympathy last year after the fire at the Carrickmines site in Dublin, but Collins’s play suggests that the shared grief quickly dissipated. In the aftermath, settled people in the vicinity objected to planning permission for safer buildings on site. Even funerals for the dead were treated with suspicion.
It may be an important piece of social testimony but the form of Collins’s play is disappointingly fusty. Further dramaturgical development would likely sharpen its edges and make better use of the inclusion of Traveller song and Christian prayer.
Still, it draws an urgent picture. Due to red-tape measures after the Carrickmines tragedy, the community has been hit by a wave of evictions. You might expect them to accept settled people’s accommodation but Collins presents the grim case of ethnic-centric violence that intimidated a Traveller family out of their house.
It’s a dark state of affairs when Ireland’s Traveller people have nowhere left to go.
Ireland Shed A Tear? is on at The New Theatre in Dublin until 9th October 2016. Click here for more details.