By Louise Walsh
76 acres of land bequeathed to the Travelling community by a Meath bachelor is to be used to tackle some of the problems that put young Travellers at risk.
Meath Travellers Workshop is set to start a pilot project in August to improve the mental and physical health of Young Travellers and teach them life-skills and better self-esteem.
The new project will take place on farmland at Carnaross, Kells, which was valued at €1.6m when it was bequeathed in 2006 by 80-year old Barney Kearney, who died in recent years.
The health statistics for Travellers show that there is a higher than average risk of death by suicide among Travellers and this programme will address many of the issues that affect them.
The initiative has been funded by the Quality and Capacity Building Initiative by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, TUSLA Child and Family Agency and the Dormant Accounts Fund.
The workshop is in the process of installing polytunnels for the new project which will teach Travellers between 18-25 years old the art of horticulture and gardening both on site and through the Louth/Meath Educational and Training Board.
It is hoped that the project will expand to allotments and the development of a Traveller community farm, where Travellers will have the responsibility of their own animals to look after and connect with to help improve mental health.
"We're just about to interview for a supervisor for the project which will start from August to December, " said Development Officer Marina Cunningham.
"The whole ethos behind the initiative is to address the mental health problems among young Travellers where the suicide rate is six times higher than those of the settled community.
"By teaching young Travellers the skills of horticulture and agriculture in the outdoors, it's keeping their minds active and actively giving them something to do, to nurture and watch grow.
"Similarly, down the road we hope to introduce some animals so that young Travellers can learn how to look after and it will give them a sense of responsibility and connection," she said.
Barney Kearney caused a stir back in 2006 when he gave the no-strings 1.6million euro donation to the Travellers, saying: "I don't need money and I don't need land.
"The only bit of land I need is six by three."
At that stage, the Navan Travellers Workshop said: "We were surprised and delighted when Mr Kearney came into our building and told us he wanted to bequeath us some of his land as he had no descendents and didn't want the state to get it.
"He told us he had fond memories of the Travellers working on his farmland. He had seen the kind of work we do and he wanted the land to be used for the benefit of Travellers.
"A long drawn out legal process followed but once the land was finally signed over, we began making plans to develop the land eventually into a proposed National Traveller Heritage Site.
"In the times of austerity, it proved difficult raising the necessary funds to progress our plans to meet this vision.
"We are delighted that since the recognition of Traveller ethnicity in March last year, as well as the launch of the National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy, there has been a renewed support by the Government to address Traveller and Roma issues across all departments.
Anyone wishing for further information on the new project can contact Marina on 046 9027801 or firstname.lastname@example.org