Ronnie Fay – the Road Less Travelled

Today family, colleagues and friends of Ronnie Fay gathered at Farmleigh House in Dublin to pay heartfelt tribute to Ronnie’s work with Pavee Point Traveller & Roma Centre,  the wider community sector and to human rights and equality work generally in Ireland over almost 40 years. 

“The Road Less Travelled” Minister Roderic O Gorman, TD (centre) with members of Ronnie Fay’s family and Pavee Point personnel . ©Photo by Derek Speirs

In opening the tributes at the event entitled ‘The Road Less Travelled’, Martin Collins, Co Director Pavee Point said Ronnie Fay was synonymous with Pavee Point.  Martin spoke to a capacity crowd – in spite of the very frosty weather.

He highlighted Ronnie’s work for the recognition of Traveller ethnicity; in promoting the collection and analysis of data on ethnicity; in working for equal outcomes for Travellers in education; in working for a National Traveller & Roma Inclusion Strategy (NTRIS) with real potential and in working for the recently published National Traveller Health Action Plan. 

Representatives of Traveller groups and a range of sectors attended the event in Farmleigh.

Equality Minister Roderic O Gorman, TD recognised the immeasurable contribution  Ronnie made across these areas not only on a national level but an EU, Council of Europe and UN level. 

“Ronnie Fay was a passionate advocate for the most marginalised in Irish society, tackling injustice and speaking out against discrimination.

“The title “The Road less Travelled” is particularly apt for today’s event as Ronnie never hesitated going down that road, showing fierce courage and determination along the way, and to bring others with her,” said Minister O Gorman.

Playwright and poet Rosaleen McDonagh pays tribute to Ronnie Fay. ©Photo by Derek Speirs

Playwright and poet Rosaleen McDonagh spoke of how Ronnie was able to inspire and support people to reach their full potential and recited her poem “I’m the Woman.'”

Other Travellers and Pavee Point staff paid emotional personal tributes to Ronnie  – remembering her ability to bring people along with her, to challenge the status quo in a meaningful way,  her keen sense of humour, her fantastic work ethic, her ability to multi-task and her complete commitment to her work. 

Ronnie’s sister Oonagh Fay said Ronnie loved her work and loved her family and friends and worked so we could all be the best we can be. 

Hughie Friel of Donegal Traveller Project said it was a privilege to have known and worked with Ronnie.

Maria Joyce of the National Traveller Women’s Forum gave testament to Ronnie’s energy, commitment and clear analysis.  “We are all on the one road,” she said. 

Rachel Doyle of Community Work Ireland speaking at today’s event. ©Photo by Derek Speirs

Rachel Doyle of Community Work Ireland (CWI) praised Ronnie’s commitment to community development as an approach and her ability to help guide the work and especially her inputs during COVID-19. 

Gabi Muntean of Pavee Point’s Roma Programme recounted the early days working with Ronnie and celebrating the decision in 2012 to include ‘Roma’ in Pavee Point’s official name and reflect the work with the Roma community in Ireland.  

Looking Forward

Colleagues from a range of other sectors also attended and spoke fondly of their admiration for Ronnie and the work she did.  Concepta de Brun,  HSE also recounted how Ronnie was able to seize opportunities for progressing the work and to build connections with people.

Concepta de Brun, HSE speaking at today’s event. ©Photo by Derek Speirs

Martina Queally of the HSE said  Ronnie inspired people to find solutions to issues and that the courage and commitment she had left in all who knew her kept people going since her sad death in January 2022.   

Ronnie’s husband Philip Watt said that for Ronnie ‘the personal was political and the political was personal’  and recounted first hand experiences he and Ronnie had of the discrimination and racism that Travellers and Roma face.  

Philip Watt and Jonathan Fay Watt at today’s event. ©Photo by Derek Speirs

Ronnie’s son Jonathan Fay Watt paid tribute to his mother’s honesty and enthusiasm saying that Ronnie sought to empower and challenge.  He urged people to honour her legacy of working for social justice and equality. 

In looking forward, the gathering highlighted key opportunities  to continue Ronnie’s work to  combat racism and discrimination against Travellers and Roma – including the development and implementation of a new National Traveller & Roma Inclusion Strategy, new Hate Crime and Hate Speech legislation, the implementation of the new National Traveller Health Action plan and the awaited National Action Plan Against Racism.

Anastasia Crickley, Chairperson, Pavee Point chaired the tributes section  and managed to include also other voices not named on the programme. She  concluded with the wish that as Ronnie did, we would all have the continued courage to lead and challenge people to go the direction needed to bridge the gap between where we are and where we need to be for realisation of Traveller and Roma rights and equality.  

Traveller piper Mickey Dunne played at the event and Nancy Collins sang the song ‘The Tinker’s Poitin’. 

Traveller musician Mickey Dunne playing at today’s event.

Today’s event was supported by the Department of  An Taoiseach and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth.  

Pavee Point staff at today’s event to pay tribute to Ronnie Fay. ©Photo by Derek Speirs