‘Get out the way!’ shouted Mr. Connor as he drove along.
‘Stinking tinkers’, added Mrs. Connor.
The Travelers’ caravan had to pull into the ditch as the Connors’ car sped along the narrow country lane. Mr Connor swerved into a puddle deliberately, he sent a wave of muddy water over the caravan.
Mr. Paul Connor was a tall and spare balding middle-aged man. Such hair as there was on the sides of his shining bonce was mousey brown. He wore a three-piece mid green tweed suit. He snorted regularly, he twitched his mouth from side to side, nervously. He evidently had sinus problems. He was a very uptight and worried person. His expression was deadly serious and he only boasted that he never smiled. He has glassy blue eyes and a sallow complexion and deep furrows ran across his troubled brow. His wife, Tracey, was a few years younger and wore a navy blue dress with a string of pearls thrown around her neck. The Connors’ three small daughters sat in the back of the Mercedes. Their names were April, May and June and they all wore party frocks and ribbons in their hair. April was the eldest and June was the littlest. They had driven to Mr Connor’s mother and spent a few hours with her. Now they were driving back. There were very few cars on the road. They had seen a dozen all day.
‘1950 – 1950 we’re in we still haven’t got rid of those people,’ said Mr. Connor, ‘They’re like something from a hundred years ago. They’re a national disgrace. They are the only thing that I regret about moving back to Ireland.’
‘Well darling we have the gypsies just the same in England.’ Said Mrs Connor.
‘Well Tracey this lot are worse – and there are more of them. The gypsies at least you can say they are not English and you’d be right. The Gypos are from Egypt or some bloody place. The tinkers here are Irish but of course they are not like us settled Irish, us respectable Irish. Then the tinkers go over to England and rob and steal and get drunk and fight and you English don’t realize that these tinkers are not normal Irishmen – we all get a bad name because of these damn people.’
‘People? They are not even people,’ said Mrs. Connor, ‘They are lower than animals – they are filth.’
‘Quite right!’ approved Mr. Connor.
‘Did you see how they were dressed in those dirty rags? I could catch the stench off them through the window,’ said Mrs Connor.
‘I am sorry dear, a refined Englishwoman like you has to see such sights but there is a good side to Ireland too. And you know those bloody tinkers they are so immoral – they breed like animals, the children are all born out of wedlock – they never go near a church of course. But which priest would ever let them in if they did go to a church? They never go to school – they cannot write their own names. No teacher would ever have them in the class.’
April piped up, ‘But daddy, you can’t blame the tinkers for not going to church if they are not allowed in.’
‘Yes I can April – they are too smelly and sinful to be let in.’
‘But we learnt at school that Jesus loves everyone – however poor or sinful. It doesn’t matter if they have no Sunday best to hear mass – we are all equal before God, that’s what reverend mother said.’
‘Now my dear you learn certain things at school and when you are ten years old like you – well, you don’t understand that they teach things to you more simply than they really are.’
‘But daddy, how about them not being able to read or write? It is not their fault if they are not allowed go to school.’
‘Well it is – they are too smelly and badly behaved to be let in. Can you imagine if a caravan load of those scum turned up at a school? There would be uproar. I heard that a few of them were let into a school once by one of these trendy type teachers – well the other parents withdrew their children. They would not stand for that. They would not let their children be educated beside tinkers. People complained to the Board of Education – that teacher was soon sacked and things got back to normal again. Served him right for letting those knackers in.’
‘Why are they called knackers’, asked May.
‘Because May, they haul a dead horse’s body off to the glue factory to have the old nag’s bones turned into glue. That’s how they make their money. The horse was probably stolen off someone else and killed by the knackers of course. Knackers, tinkers – the two words are for the same group of thieves.’
‘Why do you hate them so much daddy?’ inquired April.
‘Well April – they have never done an honest day’s work. They steal as soon as they can walk. In over 20 years in accountancy I have never heard of a tinker with a job – and I deal with all sorts of businesses and firms. I am not talking about a tinker having an important job – just any job like a waiter or a factory worker. You have not been in Ireland long, it is only a couple of months since we moved back. In time you will come to see that I am right. When I was growing up in the tinkers moved into the fields at the edge of the town we soon knew about it – things would go missing, clothes stolen from the washing line. Farmers would notice sheep were gone. They knackers would throw their rubbish everywhere – they’d, well, excuse me, be caught short all over the town. Leaving their dung all over the place. It was revolting. They are a danger to public health. They would camp out on a farmers’ field without permission, they’d camp in a park or a sports field. We’d have to get together and move them on after a few days. They are always traveling that lot. You will soon see that I am right.’
‘Yes, April,’ said Mrs Connor, ‘now you listen to what your father says. We know better than you.’
‘Where are we now? Ah coming into Coachford’, said Mr Connor. ‘I knew Gard here – Gard FitzGerald.’
‘What is a Gard?’, said June.
‘ A Gard is what we call the police in Ireland. Have you not learnt that yet? Well I suppose we have only been back in Ireland for a short while yet. Anyway Gard FitzGerald – he was a fine strong man – any tinker going into a fight in a pub would be afraid of a lash off his baton. The poor fellow – he got cancer and died last year – in a matter of months. I remember one of the things he told me was that tinker women fight as much as the men – he was appalled by it – he had never seen the like of it. And the tinker women drink – they get as stocious drunk as the men. The women are all whores and they are having babies at twelve. Only good thing as they die pretty young – that’s because of their terrible knacker lifestyle.’
‘Are there any tinkers in the Gards?’ asked May.
‘No May, never a one,’ said Mr. Connor, ‘Why? would you like violent criminals into the police?’
‘But surely they are not all bad.’ said April.
‘They are – it is in their blood. The tinkers are bred to it. They also have their own language – they probably invented it so they cannot be understood by the Gards.’
‘Don’t they speak English too?’ said April.
‘Well they do – of a kind. But they cannot talk properly these tinkers. They only have enough English to beg off you – and a few fools are stupid enough to give them a penny. They cannot speak grammatically. They have their own language, their cant.’
‘They must be clever to invent a language.’ said April.
‘They are not. They are pig ignorant – as stupid as they come. They are craft at stealing though. They ought to all be put up against a wall and shot.’
‘Daddy isn’t that an unchristian thing to say?’ asked April.
‘Who are you to question me April?’ shouted Mr Connor. Hmm – what do you know at the age of ten? Why do you love these vermin? That’ll do. I have had just about enough of this speaking up for the damned tinkers. Would you like to be kidnapped by them?’
‘Where am I?’ said Mrs Connor woozily. She looked up from her pillow at the bare wooden ceiling and the unfamiliar furniture and oddments place around the small room.
‘You are in our little home’, said a kindly female voice.
Mrs. Connor looked over at where the voice had come from. An old woman with a headscarf on sat on a chair and smiled benignly. The old woman wore big round glasses and her grey hair was tied back in a bun.
‘Why am I here? What happened?’, said Mrs Connor.
‘We found you in your car. You were injured.’
Just then Mrs Connor became aware of a large bruise on her forehead – of welts on her arms.
‘You must have been attacked and robbed – beaten.’
‘Oh my God’, said Mrs Connor, she put her hand to her mouth and looked away. The memories came back to her. ‘Yes the cart across the road. And then they showed us the gun and told Paul to get out of the car – and then – and then they hit him and hit him and I jumped out to save him and – oh my God!’
‘Yes my dear it is terrible what these people have done.’
‘Who could have done such a thing?’
‘We think we know. There’s a family around here called the Fletchers and they are notorious criminals. We have been away since the winter – we just came back to these parts last week so I do not know what they have been doing these last few month.’
‘Tinkers are they?’ asked Mrs Connor.
‘I don’t think so,’ Answered the old lady.
‘Oh they must be.’
‘In fact I know the Fletchers are not.’
‘Why were you away – does your husband travel for work.’ Asked Mrs Connor.
‘Ah no – we travel all the time. We come back here from time to time.’
‘You travel on business do you?’
‘We could say that.’
‘How long have I been here. We found you last night. It is morning now. You must have been here about ten hours.’
‘The children! The children – where are my children?’ Mrs Connor started to get out of bed.
‘Don’t you worry they are in the house next door. There is only one bed here. My sister is looking after them. They are awful wounded too.’
‘I must see them!’
‘Ah no no, you have been concussed. You must rest.’
Mrs Connor felt the pain in her head attack her and she laid back down.
‘Oh me head – and Paul – where is my husband?’
‘He’s, he’s, well, not here.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well I don’t think I should say, er, he’s, er, not well.’
‘What he’s not dead?’
The old woman put out her hand and held Mrs Connor’s hand. ‘Ah… he’s… he’s dead.’
‘What , dead? No he’s not?’
‘I didn’t want to tell you now. But he was dead when we arrived.’
‘He’s not dead – no, no – he’s alive.’
‘I am very sorry dear, but he is dead.’ The old lady gave Mrs Connor a hug.
Mrs. Connor broke down in floods of tears. She sobbed bitterly into then old woman’s chest. It took many minutes for Mrs Connor to compose herself. When she pulled herself together she looked up with tears still in her eyes.
‘We sent word to the Gards. My son rode to the doctor last night but he was out. He went again at dawn so the doctor should be coming for you shortly.’
‘It must have been the knackers who warned the Fletchers.’
‘No it was not’ said the old woman. ‘The Fletchers will have seen your grand car coming into the village in the morning and laid a trap for you as you were going out.’
‘But it must have been tinkers – they are all thieves. I can smell them a mile off – unholy, stupid people.’
‘Please don’t say that in our caravan’ said the old woman looking hurt.
‘Why don’t you like me saying that.?’
‘Because we are travelers.’
It took a moment for Mrs Connor to register what had been said. Then her heart redoubled its pace and she looked very worried.
‘Yes dear, we are the tinkers you are talking about and we found you on the road. Please don’t say all those horrible things.’
‘But but – you speak so well. I thought travelers are not educated.’
‘It is hard for us because they will not let us into a school.’
‘And you – you are so clean.’
‘We try to be but it is difficult living in a caravan. We do not have bathrooms. All the settled people are getting proper bathrooms now.’
‘But they say you are all robbers.’
‘sadly a few of us do steal and then people say that all of us thieves. The thieves among us say that they cannot get a job and have no other choice.’
‘But why don’t you go to church?’
‘I don’t like to say it but some of the priests lead people against us.’
‘Is it true that you have children when you are not married?’
‘No – we get married as young as we can. The families arrange this. We believe very strongly in marriage. We just have to get married in a registry office.’
‘Why do they call you tinkers?’
‘We worked making things from tin. But like all our trades you have little need of it now and people have turned against us now. When I was a child it was different. People still valued our skills as horse traders, fortune tellers, magicians and wandering musicians. Things have changed and ordinary people don’t like us now.’
‘Well, well, thank you. Thank you – you saved us. Oh my God – I never thought I would say it but I have been saved by a tinker.’
‘Oh that’s all right dear. But please don’t say that we are all bad.’
Just then a young woman led June in.
‘Mummy, my head hurts’ she said.
‘Oh June!’ gasped Mrs Connor. ‘Come here, come here!’
Little June ran to her mother and buried her head in her mother’s chest. ‘We’ll get you to a hospital. May we make a phone call?’
‘Do you think people like us can afford phones?’ said the old woman. ‘Only rich folk like ye can afford them. My son is already walking to the doctor’s house to call him.’
‘Oh I see. Thank you, thank you so much. You saved us. I never thought I would be rescued by tink… by well, you people.’
‘By Tinkers is i? Please call us the Travelling people.’
‘Why do you always travel around?’
‘ We were normal Irish people till Cromwell’s time and then we were thrown out of our homes and three hundred years later we have still not settled down.’
‘I am sorry – I am so sorry I judged you people before I knew you. You rescued us. I know I was wrong about you.’