Chelsea McDonagh

“I think there are a thousand ways to be a Traveller…but, you know, I’d ride or die for my family. That’s it.”

“Caused a stir.”

There’s part of me that still shudders at this.

“Earlier this year, Jimmy Carr caused a stir…”

My words.

If you’ve been paying attention at all these last few months, you’ll know how the rest of this sentence runs. I could have used any other term:

an uproar,

an outrage,

a tidal wave of disgust.

Instead, I went with “stir.”

It seems so weak, such a mild word for the offence he caused in the name of edge and shock. An offence made even more acute by the fact that Carr himself is an educated man of Irish heritage, from an age where he would have grown up more than aware of the thick Mick gag and the punching down of late-night, frilly-shirted comics in clubs across the country.

And still I chose “stir”.

And still I stick with “stir”, despite the shuddering.

Because for all the headlines and condemnation, for all the opinion pieces and government statements, for all the demands and promises that something be done, nothing happened.

Or as Chelsea might put it: “Yeah, right.”

I’m not usually this self-critical. Perhaps I’d be more successful if I were. But interviewing Chelsea McDonagh, then editing and reviewing that interview, has given me cause for pause.

I’m neither being falsely modest nor insulting when I say that Chelsea McDonagh has one of the most thrilling and daunting intellects I have met. It’s not simply her academic genius, as impressive as it is – I’ve met many in my time possessed of that. Nor is it her sense of humour, her modesty, her devotion to her relatives nor her keenly-honed nose for hogwash.

Basically it’s her will. The way that intellect powers her determination to do the right thing not just for herself and her family but also for complete strangers.

Those Travellers that will follow her into education. Those that will feel they have allies and a chance because of the work both she and Chrissie Browne undertook in creating RomBelong. She’ll never meet them, nor they her – but she’ll have changed their lives. That’s impressive.

And yet Chelsea remains pessimistic of what the future holds for Gypsies, Roma, Travellers in this country. She sees bleak prospects, as the country turns towards legislation reminiscent of the Thatcherite 80s. She sees nothing more than mealy-mouthed cant in the concerns of government. She sees institutionalised bigotry in what should be a home country.

And yet still she continues: educating and engaging and pressurising and helping and caring, because in the end that’s who she is. Faithful to herself. Riding or dying.

So Jimmy Carr caused a stir. Nothing more than that. But no one should be surprised or disheartened that nothing more came of it. That’s the way it is. Instead, the only thing we can do is check our own words and actions as individuals. If enough of us do it, surely the rest of the world must follow suit.

There are indeed a thousand ways to be.

As long as it’s ourselves, we should be fine.

That’s it.


TPP Interview with Chelsea McDonagh

Article on RomBelong

The Traveller Times

Leeds GATE

“Gypsy Boy” by Mikey Walsh

Warren Reilly Designs (Insta)

Mixed Museum (BTCOC Project)

Published by dougdevaney

Doug Devaney is a writer, performer and journalist. He is the presenter of The Plastic Podcasts. The Plastic Podcasts have been supported using public funding by Arts Council, England

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