Irish Travellers: Tinkers No More

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New England College Press, 2007 - Photography - 113 pages
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In 1965, Alen MacWeeney came upon an encampment of itinerants in a waste ground by the Cherry Orchard Fever Hospital outside Dublin. Then called tinkers and later formally styled Travellers by the Irish Government, they were living in beatup caravans, ramshackle sheds, and time-worn tents. MacWeeney was captivated by their independence, individuality, and en durance, despite their bleak circumstances.

Clearly impoverished, Travellers were alienated--partly by choice--from greater Irish society. They lived catch-as-catch-can. Traditionally, tinkers had been tinsmiths and pot menders; always, they had been horse traders, and they continued to keep some piebald horses. They worked now and again as turf-cutters or chimney sweeps. The women begged in the streets of Dublin and large towns; some told fortunes. They were not welcomed in the country towns of Ireland, where they set up their encampments in lay-bys and cul-de-sacs, littering the roadsides with their waste, hanging their washing on bushes. To Alen MacWeeney, they recalled the migrant farmers of the great American Depression--poor, white, and dispossessed--as the government attempted to get them off the roads of Ireland and gather them in settlements. Although they had been eligible for the dole since 1963, the tinkers--become--Travellers cherished their wayward, ancestral lifestyle.

Already noted in the United States as a photographer of great sensitivity, MacWeeney became accepted by the Travellers and began to photograph them. In a moving essay in the book, he writes: "Theirs was a bigger way of life than mine, with its daily struggle for survival, compared to my struggle to find images symbolic and representative of that life." Over five years, he spent countless evenings in the Travellers' caravans and by their campfires, drinking tea and listening to their tales, songs, and music - "rarely shared or exposed to camera and tape recorder."

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Irish Travelers

User Review  - elmano -

A fascinating look in pictures and prose into a part of Irish society that I had never seen. And the music CD included with the book was a great added bonus.This is one book that you will keep and look at over and over. Read full review

Irish Travellers, tinkers no more

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

From 1965 to 1970, the Travellers of Ireland, a people thought to be "descendents of a mixture of nomadic craftsmen and those who had literally taken to the roads... for a variety of reasons ... Read full review


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About the author (2007)

ALEN MACWEENEY was born in Dublin and came to the United States at age 21 to become assistant to renowned photographer Richard Avedon. He soon established himself as a contributor to such journals as the New Yorker, Life, Esquire, and the New York Times Magazine. He has produced seven books, including Bloomsbury Reflections, Irish Stone Walls and Fabled Landscapes, and Spaces for Silences (2002). The feature length documentary film Traveller, inspired by MacWeeney's photographs, and which he co-directed, was broadcast on RTE in Ireland in 2002 and by the BBC in 2003.

BAIRBRE NI FHLOINN of the Department of Irish Folklore at University College Dublin contributes an introduction to Irish Travellers and transcribes from MacWeeney's tapes five remarkable stories told by Traveller Johnny Cassidy, providing notes to the stories, as well as to the songs on the CD included with the book.

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