Family of Nan Joyce pay tribute to efforts for Traveller rights

‘She helped a lot with the racism and helped young people to stand up for themselves’

Nan Joyce  co-founded the Committee for the Rights of Travellers in 1982 and she became the first member of the Traveller community to stand for election in  State’s history. Photograph: Paddy Whelan

Nan Joyce co-founded the Committee for the Rights of Travellers in 1982 and she became the first member of the Traveller community to stand for election in State’s history. Photograph: Paddy Whelan

 

The family of Nan Joyce has paid tribute to the “legend” of the Traveller community who died in Dublin this week aged 78.

Born in 1940 in Tipperary, Joyce (née O’Donoghue) was the second eldest in a family of 11 children and was brought up travelling the roads of Ireland with her family. She married John Joyce when she was 16 and gave birth to 11 children who grew up between Tallaght, Finglas, Coolock and Belfast.

Joyce’s daughter Elizabeth said everyone in the local community respected her mother for the time and effort she dedicated to raising public awareness of Traveller rights.

“There were no toilets back then [on the sites] and no clean water,” said Elizabeth. “She had to do it because nobody else was doing anything. It went to her heart the way people had to live in the dirt. She helped a lot with the racism and helped young people to stand up for themselves and believe they could be someone. Travellers are stronger now because of her. She made us stronger.”

Candidate

In 1982, Joyce co-founded the Committee for the Rights of Travellers and became the first member of the Traveller community to stand for election in the history of the State. She ran as a candidate in the November 1982 general election in the Dublin South-West constituency and polled 581 votes. Like most members of the Traveller community at the time, Joyce’s name was not registered and so she was unable to vote in the election.

“She fought for us every day. Every morning she got up and did what she needed to do for the Travellers. She was an icon.”

In 2010, she was awarded a lifetime achievement award by then president Mary McAleese for her campaigning work for the Traveller community over the previous three decades.

Lifetime achievement award

“She never spoke about what she did, she never wanted any praise for it,” said Elizabeth. “She just felt she had to do it and didn’t want any credit. Even when she won the lifetime achievement award we didn’t know about it. We only found out when we read it in the paper and we were totally shocked.”

Late last year, Joyce moved back to Dublin from Belfast where she had spent the previous decade. She became ill in recent months following a number of strokes and spent her final weeks in Beaumont Hospital.

Nan Joyce’s funeral will take place in the St Francis of Assisi Church in Priorswood, Clonshaugh, at 10am on Friday, August 10th