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Community and Voluntary, Health, News

Play examines suicide in the Traveller Community

A powerful play that examines the emotive issue of suicide within the Traveller community took centre stage in Glór, Ennis, County Clare on Thursday night (27th November) as part of Clare Traveller Focus Event 2014.  

A diverse audience made up of members of the Traveller community, Government agency and support group staff, community and voluntary organisation representatives and members of the wider public attended the once-off performance.

Written and performed by acclaimed actor and Traveller Michael Collins, ‘Magpies on the Pylon’ addressed the sensitive mental health issues surrounding substance misuse and suicide.

Michael Collins, a passionate advocate of Traveller rights for more than two decades, has performed on stage at prestigious venues across Ireland including the Abbey and Olympia Theatres. He also played Johnny ‘Blackie’ Connors in ‘Glenroe’ for more than a decade and has starred in numerous films including ‘Trojan Eddie’, ‘Man About Dog’ and ‘King of the Traveller’.

The play was brought to Ennis by Ennis Community Development Project (CDP) with the support of Clare County Council and the HSE. The performance was organised by the Ennis CDP Primary Health Care Programme for Travellers in Clare, a group of 7 Traveller Community Health Workers, an administrator and a co-ordinator, all working part-time, which was established specifically to address health issues within the Traveller community.

In ‘Magpies on the Pylon’, Collins addresses the issue of suicide through the eyes of a father who is trying to come to terms with the loss of his son and the many unanswered questions that haunt him. Following the performance there was a question and answer session to discuss issues arising from the play with Michael Collins, the National Traveller Suicide Prevention Programme, Pieta House (061 – 484444), Console (1800 247 247) and Clare Parents Unite for Suicide Awareness (CUSA).

Speaking on the night, Cllr. Tony O’Brien, Leas Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council commented: “The performance highlighted that there still exists a stark contrast between the quality of life within the general population and Traveller Community. This is reflected in a shorter life expectancy, estimated to be 10 to 15 years less, and a six times greater suicide rate.  This poor quality of life is also reflected in high unemployment and low education achievement.”

“These are clearly challenging areas of work that call on specific expertise and high-level inter-agency and inter-community collaboration. And, this is the backdrop within which the Clare Traveller Community and local agencies work together, so that members of the Clare Traveller Community will experience improved quality of life in the areas of education, accommodation, employment, and physical / mental well being,” stated the Cathaoirleach.

Dr. Siobhan O’Connor, Co-Ordinator/ Trainer, Ennis CDP Primary Health Care Programme for Travellers commented: “The All-Ireland Traveller Health Study (2010) revealed some glaring inequalities between the health of Travellers and that of the general population. There were some urgent statistics to do with mental health and suicide. For example two out of every five Travellers interviewed said their mental health was never good over the past 30 days whilst the study was taking place. The importance of these issues to Travellers was evident from the numbers who travelled in on the evening from as far as Shannon and Ennistymon as well as the significant number from Ennis who attended the event”.

According to Nicola Killeen, Coordinator of the Clare Traveller Plan: ” The Clare Traveller Focus Event forms part of an ongoing review by agencies involved in the Clare Traveller Plan into the implementation of the various aims and objectives, including accommodation, health, education, and work and enterprise.”

“Each year, we organise an event to showcase and celebrate some of the year’s successes but also to bring awareness to areas that still need our focus and attention.  For example, this night also marked the achievements of Travellers in County Clare and the positive stories coming from the community,” stated Ms. Killeen.

One such story was the “Our Heritage” project carried out by the Ennis CDP Traveller Education Peer Support worker and his group of young Travellers. David McCarthy – winner of the 2014 Traveller Pride Award in Sport – spoke about the project, which looked through the Traveller lens at Travellers’ lives, then and now. The young people interviewed older members of their community, visited heritage sites and built a model of an old Traveller camp as it was remembered.

The project will be on display in the foyer of the County Council Offices for one week beginning today (Monday, 1st December). The project was supported by Clare County Council, the Department of Justice and Equality, Cuímhneamh an Chláir, Ennis CDP and the Traveller community in Ennis with assistance from photographer Pat Galvin.

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