This is a tale of someone who lived as a new age traveller in Co. Leitrim from 1988 to 1992, a totally undocumented subject of local history. I feel it fits the Guide perfectly for this reason and has a location you can also visit. I edited down our conversation (with someone who would prefer to remain anonymous) into the piece below.
“I’m originally from Birmingham and studied horticulture. I suppose in the early 1980s work was hard to come by and rather than live with my folks I decided to become a bit of a traveller and see the country and look for work that way. I met real travellers through going to the free Stonehenge festivals and many others and joined up with a group of young people my own age and we put our money together to buy a bus. We had about only 2 years travelling in the UK and I became very politicized during that period, anti Thatcher, anti nuclear, anti capitalist; anti globalist you would call it now. I was also pro a lot of postive things as well however. My group got caught up the Battle of the Beanfield in 1985 and the unprovoked Police brutality what went on there was truly shocking to all of us. We lost whatever we had and England didn’t feel safe to us anymore and I and a few others from that group came to Ireland and moved to west Cork to stay with other friends from the UK. We came just before the winter and I remember it was tough but I liked the people and the land very much. What really clicked for me there though was getting into horses. I bought an old cob from a farmer and managed to get my hands on an old gypsy type caravan and did it up. Now I was horse drawn and after a few years there I wanted to see more of the country. I almost got into a serious accident on the road there though and I decided I wanted to find somewhere with more quiet roads. I don’t know why I picked Leitrim, I didn’t really until I got there and just fell in love with the place. In 1988, when I got here, it was really like going back in time which many of us wanted to do I suppose. It was easy to be horse drawn there as well as there were so few cars on the back roads. The first permanent site I lived in was when I joined up with a few others who also would have left as a result of Beanfield. When I got there they had been staying for just a short while in the most amazing old quarry on the edge of Keshkerrigan in the south of the county. The ownership of it was in a bit of a legal limbo I think and it was no longer worked so it had become waste ground really. We were kind of invisible in there too, although the locals knew all about us but we brought business to the village and were liked at the start. Many of us did gardening and other jobs in the region. This was before the negative stories of travellers though.
We found this crazy multi part echo in one part of the quarry that we used for a drum ceremony that went on for 3 days. I don’t know how we didn’t bring the walls down on us but that event is one thing I will never forget from that time. I know it sounds totally hippy but I and many of the 30 or so people from the original group who took part in it had an experience during it that didn’t go away. Something very deep in our minds shifted, we began seeing everything much clearer than we had before. I can’t really explain it but for all of us that place became very sacred and we could totally understand how people from so called primitive cultures could feel at one with their environment after that.
After Beanfield many of those travellers had been kind of taken in by Michael Eavis who ran the Glastonbury festival. Some of us would still travel to the UK to visit family or whatever and also go to the festival. I don’t know why but maybe because of high unemployment or whatever there was now a lot more travellers than and a bad element of criminality and hard drugs had begun to enter it, albeit small but it would have a big impact on how we were perceived from then on. In 1990 there was a riot between the travelers and security at Glastonbury and they were not welcome there anymore and Ireland was I would say the number one choice for many of these people to come to. West Cork again was popular, so was Mayo and other places on the West coast but Leitrim was very popular too. The new comers gravitated to the north of the county but a number of groups came to stay with us on their way and some settled. This brought major problems to our site, which we had now been at for two years and was already beginning to feel like home, especially since the drum thing. There were now too many of us living there which brought its own problems as far as just going about daily life. These travellers were also somehow scruffier than we had ever been, were more angry and with a chip on their shoulder, perhaps rightly so considering how they were had been victimised in the UK. Some of them were using harder drugs than we were too. Now some were fine as well but many of them had become the clichéd dog on a string brigade who thought the world owed them a living and just drank and fought. It was very much like the punks who wore bin-liners because the tabloids said that’s what punks did, I’m old enough to remember that. There was a uniform now, a sign that it had become assimilated by the culture. Again many of those people eventually grew up as well and got sense but at this time they were very in your face. They had every right to be but there are other ways and this was not the country that had made them that way so it was confusing for them. People want to lash out at the oppressor, it’s normal but it makes problems. If you feel oppressed you become oppressed, I can’t explain it, I know that there are other ways to experience freedom now. To a huge degree you make your own reality. Their main issue at that time was that they wanted to stage parties in the quarry with a sound system they had brought. Looking back now it was a way to have fun but also of testing how free they really were. In the middle of nowhere that might work but we lived too close to the villagers who have freedoms too, like the freedom to experience peace and quiet. We wanted that ourselves and understood this but were quickly outnumbered and they had their way but the locals were soon not happy and friction with the Guards very quickly began happening after the first big party there and just general mischief which also began, some petty thefts and agro amongst ourselves and locals. By then Irish people knew the reputation of travellers as well so that didn’t help.
By then I had a partner and we had 2 children in the middle of all of this and wanted to get out of that life for their sakes and our own. We managed to buy some land in Co. Roscommon and gradually did up an old cottage there. It was very hard, especially the winters. I think it was the Irish winters that eventually drove a lot of the UK travellers away but that still took years to happen. New ones would replace the ones that drifted back to the UK or the continent but the ones that survived and stayed would eventually have either gotten council houses or got some money together to do up a place. By 2000 or a bit later that had really got too expensive and travellers just stopped coming here and there were less of them anyway, things change. I heard the site at Keshkerrigan was cleared by the council with the help of the Guards in 1992 and the entrance was blocked up and there was no other way to get vehicles in there anymore. I don’t know why they didn’t barricade themselves in but they didn’t as it could have been such a stronghold for them. I know it did work very well for those first few years, it’s just such a shame it didn’t last but those were the times.”
I actually already knew this quarry quite well from my own explorations (all the images are from the quarry as it is today) and had noticed the remains of a rusting caravan base and other junk that made me wonder who else had been there in the past. 20 years have since gone by and I’m told the quarry was briefly reopened during the building boom but since I moved to the area in 2005 it has been closed with the gates again securely barricaded. People now unofficially use it for target practice, gun cartridges litter the ground. I think I found the place where the echo effect works. If you clap at one particular spot close to a semi circle shaped quarry wall it works very well. I must admit I have also found it to be a very special and now forgotten place. (Stephen Rennicks)