January 6, 2012

      

SUZANNE CAMPBELL

A PROJECT in Co Laois is aiming to boost the morale and welfare of Traveller men and tackle mental-health issues through their passion for horses.

Laois Traveller Action Group, in an initiative funded by the Health Service Executive, began a men’s group in September bringing together Travellers to discuss horses and form links within the community.

As part of the project the men have published a calendar for 2012 with images of their families and horses they have owned through the years.

With funds raised from the calendar they hope to lease grazing land from Laois County Council to keep their horses from being impounded or posing a hazard.

“I had horses all my life since a child and my father before me; I was reared up with horses,” said Ger McInerney. “I had a few there in Mountrath in a field across from my home and they were impounded. The last lot, two ponies and two foals, I had to leave them as they wanted €2,000 to get them out.”

While the men want to continue keeping horses in the Traveller tradition, for the HSE the project is about mental health. The suicide rate among Travellers is six times higher than in the settled community, and a lot of the initiatives to tackle suicide involve intervention at a late stage, said Fergal Fox, Traveller health co-ordinator for the HSE in the midlands.

“This project is coming in much earlier and it’s really working; giving the men a sense of purpose.”

Lesley Jones, the education officer with the Irish Horse Welfare Trust, facilitates the discussions and liaises with the council. “The group has slowly grown and their confidence has grown. They enjoy coming into a place where they can meet together and of course other things come up that they can talk about.”

For more information on the project and the calendar contact Tullamore Traveller Movement or Lesley Jones on 087-1764112.

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