The travelling communities in Ireland are accepted as part of their history and in places where they are integrated, where possible, into the community, schools and of course the church. I went to school with some itinerant children as they were referred to. But inclusion and respect was always shown in our small town. The Ward family were the local family who lived in town in a caravan on the outskirts of town. Due to traditions, it was custom if a death occurred, the mobile home of the deceased family member was burned to remove any mi adh (bad luck) irrespective of the distress or circumstance. On this occasion the father of the family died leaving his pregnant wife and multiple children in a very harsh winter. The community immediately pooled funds to buy a new caravan to save the family from further distress. And they were rehoused instantly.
In the same family, the only daughter Rose Ward came to my mum aged 18 to say she was ‘paired’ and therefore getting married, but she had no dress. My mum rallied her friends and ensured Rose had a day to remember. She wore mums’ friend Margot Kenny’s wedding dress and also got bridesmaid dresses donated. The mums of the town rallied to ensure Rose had her special day. The day before the wedding, Rose came in a panic to mum saying she had no shoes and mum asked her what size shoe she was….. her answer was 3,4,5 or 6 – she didn’t care, she’d squeeze into anything as long as they were white wedding shoes. So funny. Years later I met Rose and she told me how her family never forgot the kindness shown by the community and especially my mum. It was a stretch too far that she thought Rosie was named after her, but I did laugh.
This is a beautiful story of kindness, compassion, inclusion and a community coming together. It also demonstrates the important role textiles play in our lives, on a religious and social level. The wedding dress operates as signifier and is imbued with iconography, tradition, nostalgia and cultural values.