When We Were Kings and Queens of the Road: Nora Corcoran

Nora Corcoran. Image copyright of Joe O’Shaughnessy, Conacht Tribune.

My earliest memories as a child going to junior school was that we lived in the town, and my father used to drop us down in the morning. We had a Ford Escort van.  

I come from a Mincéir / Irish Traveller Family, and my father was a Tinsmith who made and mended pots and pans for the local non-Traveller community.

So, when I’d finish school, usually at 2pm I would look out to see if my father’s van was there to collect us. I’d be very disappointed to see my brother there to collect us, as that meant we had to walk home. 

Nora’s father would collect the children from school in a Ford Escort van.

Then in middle school, we moved to live in the country, and had to get the bus to school.  As I was from a Traveller family, there used to be a lot of name calling on the bus. The non-Traveller children used to call us names. I hated it. I wasn’t on my own though because I had my brothers and cousins on the bus. My older brothers would take up for us if anyone was calling us names. We moved to another part of the town out in the countryside again when I was in Second level education. 

A childhood photo of Nora.

And those memories were of getting on a bus. I was very, very shy teenager. Again, it is sad to say but because I came from a Traveller family, I always felt like that I was excluded. And maybe it was just my own mind. I didn’t mind school too much but once on the bus I’d sit on my own. My three were with me but eventually they all left school, and then it was just me. I’d sit on the bus on my own and couldn’t wait for the bus journey to be over, because I just hated it. Absolutely no one would say anything negative to me at that time. The students were a lot more understanding. I wasn’t discriminated against on the bus. It was just my own kind of conscious feelings coming from a Traveller family that I just felt conditioned to feel that I was not the same as my non-Traveller peers. And it’s sad because it shouldn’t have felt that way. I should have been able to enjoy my journey to school, but I didn’t. 

One memory though is from when I was in national school. Our bus driver lived up the hill from us from school. Everybody wanted to get the front seat near the bus driver. So after school was over, I’d run as fast as I could up the hill. By the time I got to the top of the hill, I felt as if my heart was  going to burst out of my chest, but I always got the front seat. As I got older later on as a teenager I would shy away from the front seat. I would just try and get the middle seat to sit on on my own. That’s the seat I grabbed. 

The schoolbus was unfortunately a difficult place for Nora as a child.

I can say that national school was not always a good time for me, but secondary school wasn’t so bad. But coming and going from school, wasn’t really good. 

I suppose these are memories I hold on to, my experience as a child travelling to school, and as a child from a Traveller family. I never ever liked going on the bus. I wish I hadn’t had to travel to school on the bus because it wasn’t a great experience for me. 

So yes-

My memories of how I travelled to school. 

Nora Corcoran is an author of Children’s literature on Mincéir heritage and culture, and an activist and advocate for the rights of the travelling community in Ireland. Nora is co-artistic director of the Misleór Festival of Nomadic Cultures 2023, and works with the Galway Traveller Movement. She has shared with us some bittersweet memories of travelling to school as a child, the support of her cousins and friends, and the difficulties she faced as a child from an Irish Traveller family.

On behalf of the Museum of Childhood Ireland and Robert Burns, we would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to all of our wonderful participants for their time and their stories. We are thrilled to be presenting this project and we hope you will enjoy following along with us in the coming weeks.

Have a story on this topic and want to get involved? Contact us on our social media sites, or email us at cbrowne@museumofchildhood.ie – we would love to hear from you!

By Chloe Browne

Chloe Browne is an Irish writer, curator and Art Historian, with a keen interest in objects and social history.