In the introduction Oein DeBhairduin describes the heart of the Traveller community as ‘a bonfire of remembrance and connection’. I can think of no more eloquent or fitting phrase with which to introduce this, the first collection of folk tales about Travellers written and illustrated by Travellers. Here are the bones of the work: twenty folk stories from the Mincéir community, interspersed with glimpses of a love-soaked childhood. Black and white illustrations accompany. There is an introduction to the collection that manages to be at once inviting, informal and endlessly informative. There is a glossary at the back. DeBhairduin is a born storyteller.
The stories here are both ancient and contemporary, always rooted in a closer relationship with the natural world. Many are origin stories; of dandelions, stars, spiders and more. All are love stories, to some extent. The old man of the mountain – A kris féin tom glit – is a beautiful tale, reminding us that romantic love can find us at any stage of life if we make room for it. The women who gather – A beoir thú mala aswuirt – tells of a larger love, that of one generation for the next. This is a story I have since told a few times, once to my son who remembers it now when he sees a spider. Leanne McDonagh provides atmospheric illustrations that invoke the supernatural alongside the natural with skill and ease. Of particular note are her illustrations of people, which communicate great depth of character.
This is a book that stays with you. I find myself talking about it often, mainly about the stories but also about what the book means as an object in itself. Here is a book that extends its hands generously across a boundary. A gift to the settled community, it belongs in every school and household.