Tin smith Bernard Mongan at work in Galway, 1965.
Tin smith Bernard Mongan at work in Galway, 1965.
A special event was held in the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life to mark Traveller Pride Week 2014. Organised by the Mayo Traveller Interagency Group, in conjunction with the National Museum of Ireland and supported by Mayo County Council and the Department of Justice and Equality, this event was an ideal showcase of traditional and modern traveller culture.
The event was attended by members of the Traveller community in Mayo as well as representatives of the general public and staff from the various interagency groups working with traveller groups around the county.
A striking barrel-top wagon, which has been renovated by Terry Maughan was on-site and Terry was on-hand to explain life on the road. Visitors had an opportunity to hear Terry explain its construction and design including its beautiful painted motifs. Terry has previously been involved in the making of a barrel top and is currently making his own cart.
Museum Curator, Rosa Meehan provided a very interesting talk and tour of the Traveller Culture material in the Museum’s reserve collection with a particular emphasis on the tin-smith collection. Attendees also had an opportunity to explore the permanent exhibition of the craft of the tin-smith and traveller material culture which is on display on Level C of the exhibition galleries.
The morning ended with a visit to a photographic exhibition of a series of photographs of the late tin-smith Bernard Mongan in 1965. The series show Mr Mongan making a tin can at his encampment in Co Galway.
It is hoped to further develop this event in 2015.
The National Museum of Ireland – Country Life, Turlough Park, Castlebar has a striking Tin Smith collection featuring a range of objects, tools, and archive of photographs and film footage of tin smith Bernard Mongan at work in 1965. The collection also includes items which were sold door to door including paper flowers and tinker’s tables (three-legged tables made of found wood).
Travellers were, at one time, also associated with the making and selling of ‘God in a Bottle’. These were used-bottles inside which miniature Christian symbols were inserted. The symbols of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, generally made of wood, were particularly popular.
The barrel-top wagon has come to be a symbol of the travelling way of life. The wagons began to seen on Irish roads after World War 1, but not in any numbers until after the 1930s. It is believed to have been introduced to Irish travellers from Britain post World War 1. However, few families could afford them, and in time families began to build their own.
Inside the barrel top you find a curved ceiling usually lined with patterned cotton fabric. Underneath a back window is a press bed – this is a cupboard whose doors open out and a bed can be pulled out. The stove is generally near the entrance on the right as you sit inside. The wagon is usually decorated with painted motifs. These are often scrolls, horse shoe shapes or other curving designs. Barrel tops are painted in a variety of colours. Traditionally, a yellow undercarriage, and a red or dark green body with a green canvas top was found. From the 1970s motor drawn caravans were replacing barrel tops.
Since its major engagement with the Traveller Community in 2007, the Museum has been conscious of the need to reflect the role and position of that Community in Irish rural and traditional life to a greater extent than it had previously. To that degree, it has enlarged and enhanced its display about the Traveller Community. In February this year (2014) the National Museum became aware of a model of a Travellers' barrel top wagon for sale in a Dublin antique shop and, after seeing it, bought it for the Museum's collection. This model was made by a Traveller in Thurles, Co. Tipperary, in the 1960s or 1970s, and is a replica in miniature of the wagon he travelled in when he was younger. It is a superbly executed and beautifully crafted work. Because if its fragile condition, it is still being treated in the National Museum's Conservation Laboratory in Dublin and it will be brought to the Museum of Country Life in Turlough Park as soon as it is fit to travel. When it does arrive here, it will be put on display for all to see in its stunning glory.
Traveller Pride Week & Mayo Traveller Inter-Agency Forum
Traveller Pride week took place all over the country with numerous initiatives taking place to promote Traveller culture in a positive way with the local community. A diverse range of events were planned for the week long celebration of Traveller Culture, including concerts featuring Music, workshops and various seminars. Traveller Pride week is about highlighting celebrating and showcasing Travellers contribution to Irish Society.
Mayo Traveller Inter-Agency Forum has been in existence since 2002 and has worked on a number of Education, training and Cultural initiatives that have sought to benefit the lives of Travellers in county Mayo.