Phone: 01568 760333
1 August 1995
Mathias Oppersdorff tells me that you would like some further information about his proposed book on the Irish Tinkers (Travellers). We have been discussing this, by letter and by telephone, and this is what we have in mind;
My introduction (4,500 words) will be an overview, introducing the two texts and Mathias’s photo essay. I will briefly discuss the origins, secret cant, and the slow shift away from horses and tents into the cities, of the Tinker Gypsies. I will invite a sympathetic attitude towards the hardships they must constantly overcome; harsh winters, prejudice, limited choices in life. I will also outline the great richness of their culture.
I will also be speaking of the three large camps of Irish Travellers in the American South, in South Carolina, Memphis Tennessee, and Fort Worth Texas. These Gypsies came to America in the 1850s, still speak the secret cant and only marry each other. I have very good information on these and could also mention the large body of Irish Travellers who come to England to seek employment, and another large tribe of Gypsies in San Francisco.
To highlight the particularly Irish flavour of my introduction, Mathias has suggested that he and I meet in Ireland early this Fall. The purpose would be to refresh my experience of the Travelling People there and also to meet some remarkable individuals among them, friends of Mathias, including Ellen Mongan and Michael McDonagh (the first Tinker to graduate from a University). They are both using their positions to help their fellow Travellers. I would hope also to meet some of the better known Gypsy musicians such as The Pecker Dunne and the Furey Brothers. Then there is Gypsy Sean Maher (the only Tinker who ever wrote a book. It’s his autobiography and is called The Road to God Knows Where, 1972). We would also hope to attend one of the big horse fairs, like Ballinasloe, where many Travellers gather. I feel that this personal journey will add aliveness to the introduction.
I will sum it all up by putting the Travellers in Ireland in a larger context: as part of the largest and most neglected minority in the British Isles, of the estimated 6 million in Europe and estimated 11 million world wide.
The Tinker Gypsy Johnny ‘Pops’ Connors’ text Seven Weeks of Childhood (33,000 words) will be our lead text. I own the copyright on this beautiful piece, and in collaboration with the author plan to edit the text only in a few places that are repetitious and where he digresses from the main theme. This ‘tightening up’ of the text should make it a bit smoother, but I’ll be sure not to spoil his earthiness or raw energy.
Mathias’s photo essay, an equally outstanding ingredient in the book, will span 25 years of his experience among the Tinkers, from life in the country with horses to housing projects on the fringes of big cities. The excellence of his pictures speaks for itself.
The Epilogue by Ellen Mongan (5-10,000 words). To balance the Connors piece, which is of the old days with caravans, tents, and horses, we will have this contribution from Ellen who, a Tinker Gypsy herself, has very intimate knowledge of the present state of Irish Tinkers, living in council flats or modern caravans drawn by motor vehicles. A friend of Mathias, she was born in a tent and is the first Irish Tinker ever to hold public office. She is a feminist, a public speaker and a spokesperson for the Irish Gypsy people. She has much to say about assimilation, education, discrimination, loss of their culture, welfare and crime among the Gypsy community in Ireland and indeed world-wide.
I feel very qualified for this project. In 1971 I published a book called Gypsies which has become something of a standard text in Britain. For many years I was a member of the National Gypsy Council in Britain and am now a member of the Herefordshire Traveller Support Group. I was for a while editor of the Gypsy newspaper ‘Romano Drom’. I am widely known in this country as a writer on many subjects (please see attached C.V.) and have won a number of awards and prizes for my work. I currently act as agent and back up musician for two British Gyspy singers with whom I have put on some ten, so far, in an on-going series of concerts.
I shall in the next 2 or 3 months be publishing a book and cassette, both with the title ‘Songs from the Roadside, 100 years of Gypsy Music in the West Midlands.’
It will be a pleasure indeed if you feel able to help us translate this vision, about which we are all very enthusiastic, into reality.
With best wishes
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