A week-long series of celebrations to mark Traveller Ethnicity Day at NUI Galway was opened by President of Ireland Michael D Higgins on February 28.
President Higgins gave a keynote address focusing on rights and other issues for the Traveller community at a ceremony hosted in the Quadrangle.
Traveller Ethnicity Day takes place each year on March 1 to mark the anniversary of the Government formally recognising Irish Travellers as a distinct ethnicity in 2016.
It serves as a celebration of Irish Traveller culture including unique music, crafts, traditions and language.
“I am delighted to be opening today’s Traveller Ethnicity Day Celebrations hosted again this year by the National University of Ireland, Galway,” said President Higgins.
“Today is a day to celebrate the rich and ancient history of Ireland’s Traveller community who constitute Ireland’s only indigenous minority. Today is a day to take stock on how far we have come as a society that recognises and value the Traveller traditions and culture, but it is also a day to consider the road still ahead to full participation and equality.”
President Higgins spoke about the importance of community, openness and the vital role education can play in disadvantaged people getting out of circumstances of “scarcity”.
His address also looked to the future of progress for the Traveller community as he insisted the work towards a Republic in which there is equality for all is “something that’s only half begun.”
President of NUI Galway Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh also spoke at the event and said a diverse university community benefits all of us.
“Our university community has defined respect and openness as two of our core values, and through collective efforts across many different initiatives, we are meeting the challenge of making our community a more equal, inclusive and diverse place in which to work and study.
“We will continue our determined work to welcome, support and vindicate the Traveller community as a part of a valuable and value part of the life of our university.
“I am delighted that our Traveller ethnicity festival will celebrate this sense of openness and highlight many more opportunities for further positive impact and inclusion,” Professor Ó hÓgartaigh added.
NUI Galway’s Irish Traveller Education Officer Owen Patrick Ward was also in attendance and thanked the University and its Access Centre for its support for the Traveller community.
“Four years ago I had an idea about celebrating Traveller Ethnicity Day here at NUI Galway…at that time to me it was going to be a difficult task to bring the Traveller community on campus but it’s something I wanted to do.
“One thing that is true from my heart as a Traveller man, the good will and support for the Traveller community is phenomenal. I’ve never ever got a ‘no’ [from NUI Galway].”
He said the creation of his role has allowed him to help create a vision for how the University works alongside the Traveller community.
The ceremony also saw the presentation of a number of awards including the Michael McDonagh Award for Traveller Ally Excellency, named for the Irish Traveller and rights campaigner.
NUI Galway lecturers Dr Deirdre Hardiman and Dr Helen Casey both received the award.
NUI Galway graduate Jason Sherlock was also honoured with lifetime membership of the Mincéirs Whiden (Cant for ‘Travellers talking’) Society.
Jason helped found the society in the 2018/19 academic year and it remains the only Traveller society in a third-level institute.
Annual celebrations of Traveller Ethnicity Day are organised by the University’s Mincéirs Misl’d in Education (MMIE) project.
MMIE aims to empower Irish Travellers to transition to and gain a sense of belonging in higher education.