By Rosaleen McDonagh

“Because love is an act of courage, not of fear, love is a commitment to others. No matter where the oppressed are found, the act of love is commitment to their cause–the cause of liberation.” – Paulo Freire

Ronnie Fay worked tirelessly from 1985 in building an infrastructure around Traveller rights.  In areas of health, women’s rights, employment, and accommodation she challenged government policy. She devoted her life, not just her career, to Traveller politics and the wider anti-racist movement. Ronnie originally started out as my employer, but soon became my mentor and dear friend. She demanded excellency in work. Her insistence was that of Travellers who worked in Traveller organisations were not just there in a symbolic representative role.  Ronnie was consistent and persistent with her values on equality and diversity.  She had an incredible intellect and memory.

Here Rosaleen McDonagh and Ronnie Fay at a conference on Traveller and Roma Women’s Rights, 2014. ©Photo by Derek Speirs

We met when I was twenty-two. My life seemed stuck. Choices and opportunities were out of my reach. Ronnie opened the door of freedom to me. As an employer she was hard on me. Her challenge and expectation were of a very high standard.  Ronnie spent many hours mentoring and supporting me to put a shape on Traveller feminism. Respect and truth were Ronnie’s essences. Loyalty was her gift. Regardless of the size of my many misdemeanours she gave love, forgiveness, understanding and wisdom in abundance.  Our friendship was enriching and nourishing.  Her generosity at building confidence in people was endless. She understood the vulnerabilities of racism, shame, and awkwardness of difference. Her encouragement about my writing was fearless. She was a faithful critic. We had our own book club. Ronnie’s choice of book was always historical. We had many trips to the theatre together.  Her company and conversation were second to none. Sometime during the early nineties, we went to a Tracy Chapman concert here in Dublin. She made the personal political. We laugh, argued, and cried many times. Her commitment, energy, enthusiasm, and dynamic way of working or just being was infectious. I loved her very much. She changed my life in so many ways.

We texted every day. Our friendship went both ways. Sometimes she was the giver, other times, she was the receiver. Ronnie you touched my life and the lives of others in a unique way. Thank you for being our friend and ally and your 40 year commitment to Traveller human rights.