Friday, August 1, 2014

Irish Eyes

The Pecker's Daughter

On Saturday 19th July, in the Ballsbridge Hotel, Miss Cork, Jessica Hayes, was crowned Miss Ireland. Among her 35 co-finalists one was unique.
Miss Kilkenny, Sarah Jane Dunne, daughter of the famous troubadour Pecker Dunne is the first member of the Travelling community to compete in the Miss Ireland Pageant since its inception 67 years ago. She has an Honours Degree from Trinity College but I asked her where did it all start? What was her path to Miss Kilkenny?
“I took part in the Miss University Ireland pageant earlier this year where I represented Trinity College! After doing this I went on to enter 2fm’s Miss Personality competition. This competition was based solely on the entrant’s personality and nobody had a clue as to what we looked like! I was one of 8 finalists and we all used alternative names – mine was ‘Miss Trad’ – so as not to give our identities away, it was all very secretive! The winner of this competition went on to secure a place as a Miss Ireland finalist with the title of Miss Personality.

I didn’t win but I did very well in the competition and went on to compete in the Miss Ireland Semi-finals, where I was selected as ‘Miss Kilkenny’. I was absolutely thrilled to be selected, I really gave it my best shot this year at becoming a Miss Ireland finalist as it is my last year to enter due to age restrictions. I love the whole pageantry thing. I know that there are people out there who really dislike the whole thing but speaking from experience, participating in pageants has really helped give me confidence. I have made so many friends from participating in pageants and I have had so much fun along the way. If you have an interest in modelling, entering pageants like the Miss Ireland, is a great way of networking and gaining experience.”

She is also a talented musician (no surprise there. At what age did she start playing? “I was so young that I actually don't remember! I would say I was around 6 when I started playing the concertina. This was my first instrument and it wasn't until I was 15 that I took up the fiddle.”

Not many Travelers make it to third-level education. What was different here? “My dad always encouraged me to read, from a very young age he had me reading. He was a big reader himself so this had a huge influence on me. He also encouraged me to do well in school and instilled the importance of getting an education. He never pressured me, or any of my siblings, when it came to choosing college or doing exams, he always just encouraged us to do our best and work hard.“

pic shows Sarah Jane with her father

She didn’t feel like an outsider in Trinity but learned that ignorance is everywhere: “It was after finishing a lecture with a group of students from my class in Trinity one morning, and we went to grab a cup of coffee. We were all sitting around, in a group, discussing our teaching practice and how we were finding the course.

I must add that I didn’t really know this group as I had not spent much time with them. One of the girls who was sitting at the table across from me began a tirade about how it annoyed her that ‘traveller children get everything handed to them’. She began a discussion about a traveller girl that was in her class, and how this child was getting help from all angles, and she really seemed upset and disgusted at this.

She went on about the ‘special treatment’ that this child was receiving and how outraged she was at it for a few minutes and when she finished I spoke to her and said, ‘Wow, that is terrible, isn’t it?’, she nodded in agreement, and I went on to state that ‘I am a member of the travelling community and I can assure you that I have never had anything “handed to me”, in fact I have worked extremely hard to get where I am today’. I made my point and expressed my upset at her statement, the whole group sat in discomfort and what had just unfolded! This girls jaw had literally dropped and she made some redundant comment about how she just felt that ‘everyone should be treated equal’! At this point I just got up and left the table. I had made my point and I wasn’t going to sit there and entertain this ignorant girl.”

Sarah Jane at Trinity

And where does the Pecker’s daughter plan to go from here? “I plan to travel, I really want to see the world and now I finally have my degree I can make my plans. Since finishing secondary school I have been putting myself through college and only recently completed my Higher Diploma in Education where I secured an Honours Degree from Trinity College Dublin. I am now a qualified English and Religion secondary school teacher. I am hoping to secure some work so I can save up and go off on my journey.”

The Travelling community is fully behind her; delighted that one of their own has made it. “I have received really positive messages from those who have contacted me since I began receiving media attention. I met two lovely travelling women from Kilkenny on the train back from Dublin recently and they were so proud of me, they praised me for how well-spoken I was on ‘Saturday Night with Miriam’ and gave me some words of encouragement. I have received countless messages on Facebook from members of the Travelling community who have all expressed their happiness at my success. I couldn’t see anyone looking down on me for going to college, and if there are people out there who do then that saddens me, I am sad for them.”

I asked Sarah Jane what she thought of the fact that the trade of Tinsmith is almost dead. “It is sad really, we have a beautiful copper bucket at home in Clare that was given to my dad decades ago by a tinker man. It would be great to see something in place to revive this skill among young travellers.”
It was the first time I asked a Trinity Graduate “are you wide to the gammon?”
“I am of course! My dad was a fluent speaker of Cant and I picked up some of it from him. One of my biggest regrets is not learning to speak it like he could before he passed away. It is a lovely language and a huge part of Traveller culture.”

There’s only one way for the Pecker Dunne’s daughter to go, UP.

Click on Mattie Lennon for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.
Below: Sarah Jane Dunne

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