Suicide is a huge issue in the Travelling Community in Co. Wexford. The All Ireland Traveller Health Study co-ordinated by UCD in 2010 reported that a Traveller man is six times more likely than his settled counterpart to die by suicide. As a result of large family networks, for each Traveller who dies by suicide, there are many family members who are affected as a result. It also affects women and there are many young suicides.
In Wexford the Traveller Community Health Projects, delivered by Wexford Local Development (WLD) and funded by the Health Service Executive, collaboratively hosted a performance of the play Magpies on the Pylon’ as a tool to raise awareness of the issue of suicide amongst Travellers.
The play, an emotional and poignant one-man show by actor and playwright Michael Collins, centres on the aftermath of the suicide of a young Traveller man, from his father’s perspective. The play took to the stage in Wexford Arts Centre on Thursday evening last, November 10th with a packed house of over 80 in attendance, predominantly Travellers together with local service providers, medical professionals, members of the Gardaí and community based organisations. The play highlighted the universal impact of suicide on families and communities, regardless of whether they be from the settled or Traveller communities.
The play has been performed in a number of areas around the country and was co-ordinated by a team, to ensure that supports and information about local mental health services were available on the night, through speakers, question and answer sessions as well as service provider stands prior to the show. At a recent WLD consultation with Traveller women from across Co. Wexford, it was articulated that the health and safety of their families is the priority issue amongst the Travelling community.
The National Travellers Mental Health Service based in Exchange House in Dublin is involved in the coordination of this initiative in Wexford. Patricia McKeever is the Team Lead there and facilitated an audience discussion after the performance. The HSE Traveller Health Unit Strategic Plan 2015-2020 named this initiative in its annual plans and sees this as a starting point for more long-term work to address the issue of suicide amongst Travellers. It also provides the opportunity for service providers in Co. Wexford to work together to address suicide and mental health difficulties at grass-roots level focusing on areas where there are high concentrations of Traveller populations. Wexford is home to the highest number of Traveller families in the South East Region and the fifth highest number of families in the state, with 703 families in total recorded by Wexford County Council in November 2015.
Wexford Local Development delivers community based actions on an ongoing basis in these areas and already has strong working links with many individuals, Traveller groups and families through nine Traveller Community Health staff who are themselves members of the Traveller community. The Community Health staff have received specialised training in the run-up to this event and provide information and referrals within local communities on an ongoing basis. Through the Social Inclusion & Community Activation Programme (SICAP), WLD’s Community Development team works to address many of the other social detriments that contribute to mental health problems amongst Travellers, such as supporting access to education, training and employment opportunities and by addressing inequalities. During September 2016 over 60 members of WLD staff received Traveller Cultural Awareness training, supporting them in the delivery of a quality service to members of the Travelling community.
The Wexford Traveller Community Health Programme can be contacted through Wexford Local Development’s Enniscorthy office at Mill Park Road or by phoning 053 9155864.
Michael Collins is a member of the Irish Traveller community who has been an advocate of Traveller human rights for over 20 years. He is an actor, writer and performer and has acted on stage in the Abbey and Olympia Theatres.
Michael played Johnny Connors in RTE’s Glenroe for over 10 years and has been in numerous films including Trojan Eddie and Man About Dog, and most recently King Of The Travellers and Stalker.
Magpies on the Pylon is Michaels most recent play and looks at the topical issue of suicide; he has performed this play north and south to great response from the audience. Like most of Michael’s plays Magpies looks at issues facing the Traveller community. He continues to write and perform his own plays while actively engaging in mainstream theatre, television and films.
For More Information Please Contact: Laura Myles, North Wexford Traveller Community Health Programme, Wexford Local Development, Mill Park Road, Enniscorthy – 053 9155864
Phone: 087-1311855 or email Laura Myles