The word 'Traveller' carries a lot with it - history, culture, pride and for some, stigma. So too do those who identify with it.
Reports of poor mental health among Traveller men is over 38% higher than in the general population. This year First Fortnight have partnered with the Eastern Region Traveller Health Network and Geoff Finan (AKA The Poet Geoff) to explore issues around identity and mental health in communities of Traveller men culminating in a special festival event presenting the creative outcome.
Geoff Finan on Gloke
Earlier this year I met Andy O'Hara and some of the members of Pavee Point. When we met, Andy told me how the group had used different art forms as a way on discussing Mental Health issues. We spoke at length about the importance of creativity and an idea started to form about us working on a project together. With the help of First Fortnight we were given the means to create a series of workshops that aimed to question why the rates of suicide were much higher in the Travelling Community than the General Population.
The workshops ran over two months. Each week I met with a group of men from the Eastern Region Traveller Health Network and we discussed what it meant to be a Traveller in today's world. We explored the great traditions of Travellers; discussed their history in Ireland and across Europe; spoke at length about the pride that's associated with being a Traveller and finally, delved into the difficulties that come with being a Traveller and how the effect that has on one's Mental Health.
During the workshops I was invited out to one of the Halting Sites to see first hand how the Travelling Community live. I saw the beauty and closeness of their community, but I also saw the horrid conditions in which some Travelers are expected to survive. I saw the visible segregation between the area where Travelers reside and where the General Population live, and it was very stark. It made me angry that our society could treat any community like this.
When I approached the poem I knew that I had to be very careful. I was writing for a community that had trusted me with their intimate thoughts and feelings. We had shared so much joy, but we had also unlocked years of hurt and segregation. We hadn't come up with any single definitive reason for the high rates of suicide in the Travelling Community, nor had we come up with any solutions on how to change the current trend. All we had was a shared experience, a journey that we took together... and so I wrote 'Gloke'.
'Gloke' is a Cant word that means 'Traveller man'. With it comes years of history; years of pride and an immense sense of belonging.
Geoff will perform 'Gloke' at the Therapy Sessions Dublin on Jan 10th. See here for more info on the Therapy Sessions.