The magazine of the photo-essay
April 2020 issue
Growing Up Travelling Between freedom and ostracism: The world of the Irish Traveller Children
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American photographer Jamie Johnson has been traveling around the world for twenty years and is best known for her touching portraits of children. When she came to Ireland for the first time in 2014, she immediately felt connected to the cosmos of the Irish Travellers and would visit and photograph them time and again for five years. Fascinated by the resilience and optimism of the children, who are proud of the culture and traditions of the Irish Travellers, Johnson’s portraits aim to promote the perception and respect of children as such, far removed from the common prejudices of society. The photographs have been taken in Galway, Limerick, Cork and Tipperary, Ireland. “Travellers are members of a historically nomadic and non-literate ethnic minority that has existed on Ireland’s margins for centuries. As a result of decades of
by Jamie Johnson
pressure from the Irish authorities, Travellers today tend to live in houses in Irish towns and cities, though some still ‘halt’ (settle seasonally, either legally or illegally) in caravans or other mobile structures for some or most of the year in both serviced and unserviced sites on the urban periphery. Nevertheless, and because of the distinct cultural practices the tradition of travelling accreted over many generations, the term ‘Traveller’ is applicable even when the nomadic way of life has effectively been abandoned. The 2016 Census for the Republic of Ireland documents a population of 30,987 Irish Travellers, representing 0.7 per cent of the general population. For many generations, Travellers provided seasonal farm labour, horse-trading, hawking, entertainment and smithing services to both urban and rural populations. These functions held a good degree of value in an earlier Ireland in which rural communities were isolated and in which the uses that might be made of urban space were less restricted. “Contemporary Travellers share common descent and history and possess discrete cultural practices: boundary rules against outsiders, strict gender roles, an aspiration to be mobile, an adaptive tradition of self-employment and involvement in marginal trades, a preference for flexibility of occupation over job security, a pattern of providing short- term labour in accordance with market demands, adherence to Catholicism involving public displays of religiosity, early school-leaving, early marriage and substantial dowry payments when the families are affluent, unique material and oral cultures, a tradition of meeting with other Travellers at certain major annual festivals, and distinct rituals of death and cleansing.” –from the text by Mary M. Burke
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