Older Travellers Need to get Bolder to Keep Active and Alive

Released to Media on 31 May 2011

Older Travellers Need to get Bolder to Keep Active and Alive

An event to celebrate older  Travellers’ contributions to the Traveller community and wider society today heard that life for older Travellers in Ireland has changed significantly. They have gone from travelling and living in tents on the roadsides throughout Ireland and earning a living off the land to living a ‘settled’ way of life with the majority (70%), living in houses and dependent on social welfare. Some of these changes have been forced and some are by choice. However what was clear to participants at the celebration is that they have challenged the traditional Traveller way of life. Some of the changes have been positive and some have had a negative impact.

The event, which was opened by Minister for Older People Kathleen Lynch TD, heard from a number of older Travellers on their experiences, and the role Older Travellers have had in the community.

“Years ago the local settled people welcomed us to their area. We brought the news, music and skills such as tinsmithing. We worked the fields for the farmers. We could travel anywhere in Ireland. Nowadays there is so much mistrust with the people you’d be afraid to travel even if the law allowed you to” said Molly Collins at the Travellers Celebrate Bealtaine Festival in Pavee Point today.

We witness increasing levels of mistrust between the Traveller and general population which in no small way can be attributed to the lack of contact between the communities and negative media stereotyping.

There is also a growing mistrust between younger and older Travellers. Many older Travellers feel they are not respected by younger Travellers because they had no formal education. Their skills are redundant and they feel isolated and lack confidence in engaging with initiatives that are available to older people in the general population. Pavee Point is fostering initiatives  to strengthen dialogue between young and older Travellers and build inter-generational solidarity  as well as working with mainstream services to make them inclusive and appropriate for Travellers.

“We want to get recognition in our own community for the lives we led and we want to age and die with dignity in Ireland. Many of us were forgotten about by society in our younger days and we don’t want this to happen in our old age” said Sheila Reilly at the celebration.  “We are calling on the Minister for Older People to take account of our culture and way of life in services that are available to older people and we want to have opportunities in our old age that were denied to us in our younger days” she continued.


Notes to editors:

  • There are only 8 Travellers over the age of 85 years out of a population of 40,000 Travellers on the island of Ireland.
  • Less than 3% of Travellers live to 65 years of age. (Findings from Our Geels-All Ireland Traveller Health Study, UCD, 2010).
  • The gap in life expectancy between Travellers and the general population is 13 years.