This article was written by Jason Harley. Being from Donegal, I am an advocate for rural life and living. I enjoy farming, gardening and landscaping and I enjoy ‘digging’ into my family history!
It’s been a journey well-travelled for Senator Eileen Flynn, from being reared on a halting site in Ballyfermot to raising issues in her seat in Seanad Eireann. Eileen Flynn has faced many challenges growing up within the Traveller community, but now, as the first Senator with a Traveller background, she has pledged to raise these issues facing marginalised communities around Ireland. A community worker and Travellers rights activist, Eileen has grown up hearing ‘Travellers will never be anything’ (i); she has spent many years trying to reverse that negative statement by actively raising these issues faced by Travellers and marginalised communities and has fought for their rights for years to now becoming a representative of the Traveller community in Seanad Eireann – ‘from being a nobody to a somebody.’ (ii)
Born in Ballyfermot in Dublin, Eileen Flynn and her family lived in Labre Park which was the first local authority accommodation site in Ireland built for Travellers. A person who loves life and all that comes with it, Eileen learned about the barriers within and outside her own community and also experienced being made to feel ashamed about being a part of the Traveller community. Eileen has faced many obstacles growing up, particularly when her mother, Mary, died at the age of 48 in 2000. Eileen’s main role model, she lost her mother at the age of 10 years old. Eileen’s decisions in life have been influenced by her mother and that she often looks to her for advice in situations throughout her life. (iii)
A person who has faced many firsts in life, Eileen and her twin sister were one of the first residents of Labre Park to access third-level education. Initially, she had hoped to train as a nurse, Eileen graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Community Development from Maynooth University and later studying at Trinity College. Being a student in secondary school, she found the first three years leading to her Junior Certificate very challenging – often being a victim of racist slurs from her student peers. Eileen believes that education is very important within the Traveller community – many Travellers holding important roles within the educational sector and health sector to name a few, but unfortunately due to challenges being faced they choose to hide their Traveller identity. At a young age, she learned that ‘it wasn’t about Traveller’s not being good enough for society but rather society wasn’t good enough for Travellers’.(iv) Eileen doesn’t want the next generation, including her daughter, to ‘experience the same thing she has experienced throughout her life – discrimination, not feeling worthy or going into a packed room feeling less important than anyone else’. (v)
As a volunteer in the community and later a qualified community worker, Eileen’s working life has been rooted in her involvement in the Ballyfermot Traveller Action programme, Irish Traveller Movement and the National Traveller Women’s Forum. The involvement in these organisations gave her the voice and confidence to campaign on numerous topics such as equal rights, abortion rights, housing and anti-racism.
The BBC has described Eileen as being one of the ‘most inspiring and influential people of 2020 from around the globe’(vi) – being a down-to-earth person she doesn’t allow awards or positions to get in the way of what truly matters – representing her family, friends, neighbours and all the Traveller community in Ireland. Since being elected to Seanad Eireann, Eileen has used the platform and position of Senator to tackle issues facing marginalised communities in Ireland. She is the Chair of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Key Issues affecting the Traveller Community. After being elected senator it took a few months to sink in, Eileen often had to pinch herself to realise what she has achieved in her 30 young years. Eileen hopes that this will allow Travellers to realise that they can be ‘a somebody’ and that everyone in this world, regardless of their background, culture or race that they can make a difference and make the world a better place for all – equality of opportunity.
(i) Irish Times (2020) [Accessed 15th March 2021]
(ii) The Big Interview by Ciara Doherty with Senator Eileen Flynn [Accessed 16th March 2021]
(iii) Independent (2020) [Accessed 16th March 2021]
(iv) The Big Interview by Ciara Doherty with Senator Eileen Flynn [Accessed 16th March 2021]
(v) The Big Interview by Ciara Doherty with Senator Eileen Flynn [Accessed 16th March 2021]
(vi) The Big Interview by Ciara Doherty with Senator Eileen Flynn [Accessed 16th March 2021]
Irish Times (2020) Eileen Flynn: Traveller’s are anything but stupid https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/people/eileen-flynn-travellers-are-anything-but-stupid-1.4371627 [Accessed 15th March 2021]
Independent (2020) Senator Eileen Flynn: 'I was taught my whole life that I'd never be anything only a Traveller'
https://www.independent.ie/life/family/senator-eileen-flynn-i-was-taught-my-whole-life-that-id-never-be-anything-only-a-traveller-39608567.html [Accessed 16th March 2021]
‘The Big Interview by Ciara Doherty with Senator Eileen Flynn’ https://www.virginmediatelevision.ie/player/show/1984/179838/0/Senator-Eileen-Flynn%3A-The-Big-Interview [Accessed 16th March 2021]