Helen Twomey

Bridget's Brood
Public Story
Bridget's Brood
Credits: helen twomey
Updated: 10/31/10

Cream-coloured camper caravans fill the tight space along both sides of the dead-end street. 20 allocated bays in 200 metres of hard grey gravel, devoid of grass, trees, flowers, lamp posts, footpaths; it begins by the gates of the scrap yard, and ends abruptly with a high fence, no room to turn cars.

This street is hidden under the Westway motorway in central London, and is home to the multi-generational families of an Irish Traveller community. Bridget’s Brood is a documentary project that portrays the lives and traditional milestones of these close-knit families who live side by side, interdependently, with little interaction beyond their street—by desire as much as by design.

Historically nomadic, Travellers moved from town to town following the festivals. Over the centuries, the mobile way of life created a tight community, made stronger by exclusion and marginalisation from mainstream society. Today, the practicalities of the itinerant lifestyle have largely given way to the reality of the modern world; however, the desire to live together with the extended family remains, and the longing to wander, if not exercised, is deeply rooted.

Among the challenges facing Travellers are poverty and racism and poor living conditions. They are undereducated and underemployed, with a life expectancy lower than the national average in UK and Ireland. Traveller families are often large, with fewer older members. Many couples marry and start their own familes when they are teenagers.

This project came about because I am interested in the strength of the family ties within this community, and how their traditional way of life has survived over the centuries despite modernisation and the potential impact of integration with surrounding communities. There’s a sense of ancestral clannishness for Irish Travellers, and a strong sisterhood feel, where gender roles are defined by traditional values. And, as with any community, there are hierarchies, both within the community, and in relation to other communities. The cultural identity is deeply rooted. A Traveller will recognise another.

Long established traditions and strong catholic beliefs weave their way into daily life. Weddings, christenings and funerals bring the more distant family members together like old friends, often taking them back and forth to Ireland. The importance of these customs and celebrations unite families in a 21st century world, where there is a tendency towards a smaller, more fractured family life.