Listen to the Oral History
Irish Travellers are an indigenous ethnic group with a unique culture and proud nomadic past.
“Our grandparents, great grandparents and great grandparents before them [travelled] the Cork and Kerry region, that was their go-to from Kerry back to up to Spring Lane and by Sun Valley Drive”
“Our family .. lived all through Blackpool, Bird’s Quay, Corcoran’s Quay, all around the lanes, by the old Antrim Flats, Hammond Lane, up Spring Lane. It was all one area with different little pockets in it”
“My family ..lived on the road that directly leads up to Spring Lane. It was called Spring Water at the time… That would have been back in the 1950s.”
Families lived in barreltop wagons, tents and small self-made huts known as ‘accommodations’.
Over the years Travellers have had traditional camps in different areas near the present day Spring Lane halting site, including in the lane ways and on the sites of the present day Northside Business Park and on Ellis’s Yard.
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Traveller families camped in the old Ellis’s gravel quarry on the site of what is now the Northside Business Park. Families in the area call this the “Old Spring Lane”.
“It was originally a quarry, where Travellers camped [by] the bushes with tents. …long before the hardstands and huts that were built on Spring Lane.”
Based on government polices (which aimed to assimilate and settle Travellers away from a traditional nomadic life), Cork Corporation built eight tigíns for Travellers on the site of the current Northside Business Park in 1973. This site was chosen because it was a traditional area for Travellers to camp. A tigín was like a small prefab with three small rooms and basic facilities. Traveller families could park a wagon or a caravan alongside the tigín. This site also had a training centre.
“Our family would be originally from Spring Lane, so my grandparents lived in the very first little tigíns that were provided by the local authorities. And that’s ..opposite where the fire station is now in Ballyvolane.”
Memories of this site are of a homely, welcoming place. A place where traditional culture was cherished, and the fire was the centre point of the community, where songs and stories were shared.
“It was grand in the morning time, you’d hear the birds whistling in the morning, you’d hear the rain outside. Oh, I’d love the rain when I was in bed. I’d sleep my brains away. Then you get up in the morning. It was hard getting up in the morning. You know getting up in the cold in the morning. My husband would get up then and light the fire to warm up the trailer for the children before school”.
“The place (Old Spring Lane) was lovely, it was homely, it was relaxed. That was our life. That was our culture. I really loved it. I really, really loved it. To move off that and to move into new Spring Lane [halting] ..was like a prison.”
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The Tigíns were temporary and were out of use within ten years. Traveller families continued to camp nearby and on Ellis’s Yard, living in caravans supporting each other in extended family groups.
Traveller families were nomadic and classed these areas as traditional safe places to stop, where camp fires were lit in the evening and songs and stories shared.
“We were where the factories are when we first came to Cork because there was other caravans there when we moved in. We just moved because it was a campsite. We ..were there for a while and the council used to send constant letters to get off the premises. My sister was living in the next site (Ellis’s Yard). The City Council brought us to court and they told me to move off the bottom part (old Spring Lane), so we moved into Ellis’s Yard. That was a come and go site, people would come and go and stay for a while and move off again”.
Ellis’s Yard is the site between the current Northside Business Park and current Spring Lane halting site.
This whole area was used as a traditional camping place for Travellers. This large, concreted yard allowed for families to be close enough to support each other as extended families, but not so close that overcrowding was an issue.
“There used to be a good crowd down there (Ellis’s Yard). There was about thirty trailers if not more…but they closed it down completely in 1994.”
“We had generators for electricity, I had a battery telly, and when he (husband) was gone off I couldn’t use the television, because it was strapped into the bonnet of the car, you’d lift up the bonnet of the car put the two lead into it and bring the leads in through the window and connect to the battery television with a wire hanger for an aerial, it did the job”
Regardless the very basic living conditions, routine daily life on the site carried on. Days began with heating the trailers, getting the children ready for school, women preparing food and washing clothes and men heading out to work. Family members would check on older relatives, dropping off a cake bread or a hot apple tart. In the evenings, with all the jobs completed and the children looked after, the men and women would head to their campfires and see out the day with chat.
“There were often good times … Like the fires. We’d sit around the fire and tell stories. Like women have their fire and the men would have their own fire and they have their own chat and where the men and have their chat about horses and the women were talking about their childer. And about, if you’re having a child or something like that, that’s the way women used to talk. And there used to be a sing song as well, like where the women would sing and one of the men would sing another”.
Families who lived with basic facilities used milk churns to store water and keep food fresh.
“…the churns, you’d clean them with a Brillo pad, I still have my one. We’d use them for storing water, everyone had a churn. You’d fill it in a garage or anywhere with a hose. You’ spare your water like.”
“No one had a fridge back in the day, we used a steel churn full of water to keep the milk and butter fresh. We still have our churn and would use it going to fairs for water. My husband got that churn off his father. It must be over 50 years old ”
In 1989, Cork Corporation developed a 10 bay halting site in part of Ellis’s Yard as a new temporary facility – the current Spring Lane halting site.
Traveller families, who were camped in the surrounding areas were moved off the traditional camps and into the site, which became overcrowded from the start.
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“I will always remember it. I was there the first time when we moved into the new Spring Lane [halting site]. The emotion of all the Travellers that day. The Council just came and said go and get your bay. So, I remember my husband got the trailer, got the van. We moved fast up the hill. They never gave us notice. It was just so fast. Whoever will get it, will get it. So, the emotion that day was so unbelievable. Everyone was running for their bays…. A lot of a lot of confusion”.
The new halting site was built at a cost of £400,000 (around one million euros today) for ten bays. Each bay had a concreted yard to park a caravan and a small two-roomed concrete shed (which are still there to this day). The sheds had a small bathroom with steel toilets and bath, and another slightly larger room with a countertop, sink and space for a washing machine. The door was made of heavy steel and difficult to open. Concrete walls with exposed breeze blocks divided the bays.
The aim of halting sites was to move Travellers off the roadside permanently. Nomadism and camping in traditional areas were also restricted by the local authorities at this time.
With the new halting site only providing ten bays, and the old Spring Lane and Ellis’s Yard housing up to thirty trailers, overcrowding was an issue from the beginning, leading to some families needing to ‘double up’ in their newly allocated bays.
“We were actually doubled up with another family because there wasn’t enough space. So, there was two families in our Bay, and then the rest of the bays were filled as well. Which led to tensions afterwards as well…they still had only one toilet.”
“We didn’t have our own electricity supply; we were connected up to a shed that the caretaker ran. And you paid for electricity cards every week and he put them in and then you had your electric. But at any time, day or night that could run out. So, if it ran out on a Friday evening, you’d no electricity until Monday. And .. if you had electric heater on and you put on your electric kettle on the whole thing went down”.
This is still the same system for electricity on Spring Lane halting site to this day.
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Throughout the 1990s, overcrowding in Spring Lane became a more pressing issue. The decade saw a further crackdown on nomadism and the eviction and closure of unofficial sites like Ellis’s Yard.
The families of Spring Lane site are campaigning for better conditions to this day.