Irish man recounts horrors of six years of servitude
Westmeath man kept captive by Irish Travellers in UK
George Boland photographed in Dublin while on tour with the Irish Elderly Advice Network as part of The Gathering. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times
George Boland sat in his hotel off Dublin’s O’Connell Street yesterday and savoured a pint of Guinness. After six years kept captive by a group of Irish Travellers in Britain and forced to work for no wages, he never thought he’d see Ireland again.
Instead, he was back with a group of more than 30 older Irish emigrants, looking forward to see Dublin’s attractions as part of The Gathering.
Originally from Kinnegad, Co Westmeath, he is now a volunteer with Irish Elderly Advice Network at the London Irish Centre in Camden Square, which organised the trip. He says the network saved him after two men from Lithuania and the Netherlands helped him to escape in 2011.
While some Travellers have been jailed for keeping people captive and making them work for free, Mr Boland said the group that kept him had not been brought to justice. “I had a very bad experience,” the 65-year-old recalled. “I never saw a penny of wages in six years.”
It all started when a van pulled up alongside him in London one morning in 2005 and asked if he was looking for work. “I was, so I got in,” he said. “But they drove 180 miles to Gloucester. I had left everything I owned behind me. I had no money to get away from them.”
He said he worked seven days a week for the gang “cutting hedges, cutting grass, sowing daffodil bulbs. I planted thousands of daffodils”.
He lived in a caravan that was so cold the water in the kettle was often frozen solid during the winter. Seven or eight people were kept captive, mostly from eastern Europe. He was the only Irish man.
He finally escaped in 2011 and was living on the street when someone told him about the Irish Elderly Advice Network. “I remember the day he walked into us. He was like someone that had walked from Belsen,” recalled Sally Mulready, network co-ordinator.
But thanks to help from Margaret Geiger and colleagues from the network, Mr Boland said he was never happier than he is today. “I’m getting my pension credits. I have a nice little bedsit with my television, my phone, my fridge and my shower. I was never as well off as I am now. And this is my first pint of Guinness since last October. It’s very nice too.”