Season 5 Episode 6 ‘A Place to Call My Own’
What does it take to call a place your own, or for that place to let you own it? In this episode of Pantisocracy host Panti Bliss is with three people who answered that question.
Welcome to Pantisocracy and this is your host, Miss Panti Bliss.
Thank you for that non applause. Hi, welcome to Pantisocracy and welcome back to our second show here, in these surroundings in inner city Dublin, the splendid front room of Belvedere House where if the walls could speak. They might tell tales of little Jimmy Joyce, who went to school here, and listeners in radio and podcast land. You must go to Pantisocracy.ie to have a look at the historic opulence that we are surrounded by today.
And equally, I should mention, if you hear a few seagulls or or fire engines, you’ll know I’m not faking it as we have an eyeline on the city today. And that is kind of fitting, because today we’re going to explore this idea of a place to call my own and what it means to finally say this place is mine and it accepts me. So with me, we have three very interesting people. First up I want you to meet Roisin El Cherif
She’s a singer and filmmaker, came to Ireland when she was 16 years old and whose family is Palestinian and Irish, Palestinian dad and an Irish mum. She lives in County Galway, Oranmore. But her family says the place stretches from Morocco to Jordan via Oranmore. But more about that later. And Roisin has a beautiful and stunning voice. So she’s going to share some music with us later too. Welcome Roisin.
And next to Roisin is another Galwegian. Only six miles away from Roisin it’s Martin Beanz Warde. Comedian, performer and Martin has staged a One-Man show after my own heart called the Queen of the Travellers about growing up gay within the Traveller community in the West of Ireland.
And Martin’s even been known to have a good drag himself. And I’ll talk to you more about that later. Welcome Martin.
And finally, making up this trinity today is the woman who comes from a place that I have for ages thought I’d love to visit, it’s Montserrat in the Caribbean. The Caribbean Dub as she calls herself online. Santis O’Garro, Welcome Santis.
Santis came to Dublin when she was just 11 and today is very much a Dublin North Sider, raising her young family here, but also, like so many black Irish people trying to grapple with everyday racism and motivated today by things like the Black Lives Matter movement to share her experience.Lovely to have you here Santis.
But first, since it is the show with my name in the title, I’m going to keep the floor for a moment, if I may, to talk to you a little about a place I call my own.
I am a culchie from County Mayo, but Dublin has been my home for most of my life now and I live in a large kind of landmark building in Dublin City Centre.
You probably know it. And like a lot of people, you probably think it’s an office development and indeed it mostly is. But there is a small residential part to the complex. Just 16 apartments spread over four floors. The building was finished in 1980, and it was the first modern building of its kind in the city centre. And our apartments were among the first purpose built modern apartments in the city centre too. They were kind of famous for a while and seemed decidedly modern, even swanky.
There was a fountain and a kind of courtyard and tinted glass. It sits, however, in a part of town that is decidedly old Dublin. Working class, commercial, full of pizza slices and phone repairs, discount stores, first generation immigrants, bus stops and a visible drug problem. The kind of area that has a mosque above a betting shop like myself it’s seen better days, but it retains a hint of exotic glamour. That’s what I’d say anyway, if I were the estate agent.
When I moved in their first 12 years ago, there was a number of elderly residents who’d been in the building since it was new. But there are none left now. I got to know most of the other residents because of Penny. See when you have a dog, people like to interact. Mostly they want to pet her, but even those who don’t like dogs, get to know you. Then a few months ago, I needed a taxi, I was on my way to a gig, but I was dressed in my civvies and I’d left my big heavy suitcase full of costumes and makeup and all the smoke and mirrors that goes into making this seem effortless.
I’d left it in the hallway of my building rather than dragging it to the taxi rank. I knew that we’d be passing by on the way back and I told the driver I had to make a quick stop just to grab it. Sure it would only take a second. I put the suitcase in the boot got back into the taxi and as we took off again. The taxi man says to me, you know who lives in there? I said, I live in there, he said oh I know you live in there, but do you know who else lives in there?
He said it with the tone of someone who knows something interesting. I did a quick mental scan of my neighbors and couldn’t think of anyone that might warrant the tone of someone who knows something interesting. So I said no who. And he replies in the tone of someone revealing something interesting. Your man from Panti bar. I considered saying, oh does he, in the tone of someone who’s just heard something very interesting and seeing where this conversation was going, but he seemed like a nice guy and I didn’t sense that there was any malice in it. So I laughed and came clean and he was a little embarrassed, but he could also see the funny side of it.
And I imagine he tells other passengers about it now. He had driven Panti to a gig once before, and then he told me he grew up in a small terraced house, tiny workers cottages built around a little square that had been built for the workers of the Dublin Brush company, they made sweeping brushes and the like. And his family had lived there for generations. He grew up playing in that square with all the other kids, an assortment of mothers and aunts and grandfathers and neighbors, all keeping an eye on them through the kitchen window from every direction. They loved living there.
There were more than just neighbors, they were families, they were a community. And then out of the blue one day they were told they were going to have to leave, they’d all be rehoused in better newer houses or flats, but they had to go. The whole area was going to be leveled. And a swanky new modern complex of office buildings was going to be built. Office buildings and one small apartment block. He told me all about growing up there, about his Ma and his aunts, about his friends.
Well, what he knew about his friends, as promised, they were all rehoused, but the community wasn’t. They were all rehoused in different places. It took a few years to build the new offices and 16 one bedroom apartments, but it only took a moment to end a community. He got out his phone and a few taps and swipes later, I was watching a black and white news documentary from the RTE archives about the little square where my building’s courtyard is now. There were kids running around in shorts.
“One of them is probably me” and there were his stylish aunts being interviewed about it all. They didn’t want to go, but they weren’t given a say in it. They’ve both since died, but what hasn’t died is how his whole family remembers the whole thing with great sadness. I’m a culchie who adopted this city. The city adopted me. It feels like home, like my city. But I have only borrowed it. It was someone else’s before me and it’ll be someone else’s again after me.
I love living in the city’s heart and I love my apartment. But I can’t now help but also feel a little guilty for loving it. And sometimes when I look down at the courtyard, I think of that taxi man and his stylish aunts. Thank you.
Yeah it’s funny, isn’t it? I had never even considered what was, you know, there before my building until the taxi man told me. And I felt so bad about that. Suddenly. Anyway, Santis. I actually, this is weird because, I don’t know how many years ago I saw the Michael D Higgins presented documentary about Montserrat. I’m guessing it was maybe around the time of the volcano when everyone was talking about Monserrat and uh, and even though that documentary is from 1973, but anyway.
And I immediately became a little obsessed with it for a while, that’s the way I am I’ll obsess on things, because of its weird, funny little history and connections to Ireland and the fact that there are these, you know, total Caribbean looking people sitting there talking like they’re from West Cork. And it’s sort of amazing to look at. Tell us a little bit about that.
Um, well, I’m from Cork Hill Village, so West Cork in the house, maybe. I grew up, Montserrat is a really small island and sense of community. Just like what you were speaking about, was everything. Like I grew up pretty blissfully, you know. I moved here when I was 11, 10, going on 11 and it was that case of, we had a river, we have rivers that you could go down and fish and you’re getting guavas and mangoes and you had all that around you and you were allowed to just run off. Like sometimes I’d literally get up, get my brothers and probably have my PJs on and I’m gone. You know, my mam is out looking. We’re already gone. But no one was really worried.
Yeah. But, you know, and in a way, I could say the same about Mayo in the 1970s and all that. And I want to come back to you a little later, a bit more about Montserrat. But at the age of 11, you’re uprooted and brought to Ireland, which is obviously, if you’re coming from Montserrat, you’re aware of it, but that must have been a culture shock.
Yes, it was a proper culture shock. I was the only one out of my siblings that was like, I don’t want to go, I don’t want to and my mam was like, Why? Because my aunt told me oh there’s bombs over there. That’s what, that’s all they knew about Ireland as modern history.
And that’s why you didn’t want to go.
I said, no I’m happy here. And they literally said, OK, my mam was like, basically you don’t have a choice. We’re only asking you to be nice. So we were brought over here and we lived, we grew up in Donnycarney and basically there’s one, two, three, five houses. And I thought, like, each house was a room. So I thought, oh my God, I’m going to take back the white door at the end, you know, going in. And she was like, no, you’re literally going to go up to the top and that little room there in the back, which was the box room, you couldn’t swing a cat in it.
And how many of you were there?
There was me and my two brothers at the time.
And they’re younger or older?
They’re younger. I’m the oldest. Yeah.
OK. Because I know at eleven it’s a very particular age isn’t it that, you know, it’s
Trying to fit in like instantly, instantly. Like Huckleberry Finn was gone and I was like,
What year was that?
It would have been 95. Literally just before the volcano. So we came and it was a different world.
And now I’m going to come over to you for a second now Roisin because you have a similar experience or one you can probably relate to that. Tell us your story there.
I mean, moving when you’re a kid is hard anyway because, like it’s great now you have you’re kind of like it’s an interesting story to tell, but when you’re a child, you’re just like, this is the worst thing in the world, moving. But I was definitely, I found it really hard I will have to say. My brother who was 11 or 12, found it easier, but maybe like boys and girls are, you know, he had a different experience as well.
But just for the listeners. You had come from
So my parents are just nomadic and unorthodox. They’re odd.
Your mum is Irish.
My mum’s Irish, from Leitrim.
OK, ok. Very not Morocco.
OK, and your dad is from Palestine.
Gaza. But you grew up in
We grew up in different countries so I was born in Saudi, which is you know, I went to an American school, lived in compounds. There was loads of expats in Saudi at the time. And we I don’t know exactly how we managed to move to Tasmania, Australia, but we did when I was eight. And so
Quite Irish Tasmania.
Sure why not, it’s beautiful. You know, but that didn’t really work out either for my parents. So then we went to Morocco when I was twelve. And, Morocco is definitely like our other home, because my dad, that’s just where he’s the most comfortable, let’s say.
How had your parents met?
They met in the Lebanon.
OK, because your mum’s a doctor.
And she was working there or?
She was. She’s a cool girl.
OK, so to you, Morocco is the other home is this?
Yeah. I mean, definitely I’m a lot older now so it’s, like when we first came in 2006, it was like a big culture shock because Morocco is a third world country. It has a lot of character, very loud, very spicy. But we had always come to Ireland for like we used to come on holidays here.
This is, our summer break was in Ireland. So it wasn’t completely foreign, but definitely like going to school and having, like, loads of Irish friends.
And where in Ireland was that when you first moved.
Galway. Yeah. Um, so it took a while, but I mean I would have to say now I feel very Irish, you know, it took like a couple of years to, because you’ve missed out on like you’ve had a completely different life compared to the people now you are associating yourself with.
So there are a lot of things that you miss out on. Like I remember someone telling about the toy show
The toy show, the late late toy show.
Yeah, and I was like, well what is this toy show that like everybody. You know, it’s like, oh no, we can’t go out that night we’ll miss the Toy Show. And I was just like, I don’t know what you’re talking about. So it was all like these little things that like with time you gather. But, you know, being Irish now is definitely the missing piece.
Yeah. And I’m now Martin because yours is, you know. Well it has similarities, but also totally different in the sense that you’re with the traveling community. These were forced to travel, you wanted to. But you actually have a show about being a non traveling Traveller kind of.
I know it’s,my heart is broken listening to the two ladies here talking about hating traveling. So for me again, actually, it was forced on me as well, of course, because I wasn’t driving the van, you know, so I didn’t have much of a choice. But I traveled all over the country, actually. Well, I didn’t as I said, I was a piece of luggage that was brought around Ireland and the UK.
And it came to a point in the early 1990s, 1991, that my parents wanted us to get a proper education. And that decision back then, it may seem like it was a normal decision for most people back then, but back then, travelers were far more traditional. So the idea of settling to make sure that your kids go to school was a new kind of phenomenon within the community. And I am, I’m actually the second out of all my cousins to have gone to third level education.
And thankfully, since myself and my other cousin went into third level education, we now have other cousins going now as well. So we stopped travelling in around 1991.
So what age were you then.
Six. And so I mean that’s very young, but do you have a sense of where you felt you belonged at that point?
I mean a lot of the two ladies stories here is about, you know, your sense of place as being, you know, changing and that can be dificult but that’s the culture.
Yeah. I suppose up until the point that we settled well, what would I have known, you know, an extended holiday, really. It’s I tell you what you’re quickly told about your place in society once you intermingle with other people in Irish society. And I didn’t know that I was different or would be treated differently until I was exposed to the rest of society. And that’s the point at which I found that, no, I don’t have a place in society.
When were you first aware of that? I mean,
I’d say, somebody mentioned about being 11. I distinctly remember 11 years of age as well. I suppose you’re just about to kind of go towards puberty and your hormones are beginning to race up a little bit. You think about things a little bit differently. And again, it is about fitting in. And I didn’t fit in. And I didn’t fit in with my own community either for other reasons.
I was a little bit more kind of standoffish. I wasn’t into the sports, the physical sports, the boxing and things like that. That never interested. I started writing poetry at the age of 11.
Oh my God, you were so gay.
I know. You can imagine my caravan it’s all decked.
Well, actually, now that we brought it up like if you had asked me to imagine how a Traveller family would react to a son telling them that they were gay or whatever, I would have thought that would be really, really tough. But your family have been very good.
Well, my family are fine with the whole idea of being gay. That’s grand. But I didn’t grow up in a household, and this may be something similar to yourself now actually, I come from the west of Ireland. We didn’t talk about who we had sex with.
You don’t. And you don’t bring somebody back so for our house it was no different for me than it was for my brothers talking about their girlfriends. Where it became different was when they did eventually get girlfriends and then they started on the road towards a long term relationship and kids and the talk of marriage and things like that. And I was actually in Manchester running a bar in Prestwich, and my mother called me up one night and I was, let’s say inebriated, is a mild way of putting it.
And she was kind of giving me some warnings. She was like, just remember now, you know, like, you know, if you go knocking around with the Traveller girls over there, they’ll expect you to go and ask them for marriage. I was like, would you shut up. And it’s like oh don’t tell me to shut up, how dare you tell me to shut up. And she said, are you going to eventually going to meet one of the girls?
That’s what always happens, because, of course, my mother and father were in Manchester years ago as well so they have family over there, they know how it works. I was like listen you don’t have to worry about that. What do you mean you don’t have to worry about that. You haven’t met someone, have you? I said no. I said I like guys. And then at that point,
Just as casual as that
As casual as that. It wouldn’t be that casual now if I didn’t have about fourteen litres of vodka inside me.
But I just blurted it out and I was like do you know what to hell with it. I’m running a bar ah you’re not the boss of me now, you know. And then I was expecting her to be kind of a little bit like, oh, OK, well, you sure she just turned around the first thing she said. And I swear, as God is my judge, who else in Tuam is gay?
That’s all she wanted, she wanted the gossip. And from then it was fine. My father then found out
What age are you sorry, by the way,
I’m thirty five now.
So my father only found out there three years ago actually when I came out, actually four years ago, came out publicly for the first time on stage for Galway Pride. And it was actually my friend, our friend actually Kathryn Lynch she was on stage with me and the reason why it was important for her to be on stage was the first ever LGBT friendly or gay bar as it was called back then was your bar was Panti and she was the first person to bring me there.
She brought me out to the George afterwards and then I ended up staying at her apartment and that was it that was the story. And then 10 years later, she was on stage with me. And then that’s when I decided, you know, maybe I can help my community by coming out.
You did it on the spur of the moment?
Which coming out?
Yeah on the stage
Yeah it was.Yeah, with Kathryn beside me. And I wanted to do it because, like, who am I worried about? Why haven’t I come out if I can help even one young.
Well I think people on the outside might say, well, you know, the traveling community that must be super hard and difficult.
It can be but I’ll tell you what wouldn’t it be worse now if you were 14 or 15 years of age, and you didn’t have somebody that you could look up to. Like if you don’t see an adult being comfortable coming out, what chances has a young 14 or 15 year old kid? They need to see it.
Yeah. And of course well the gays they find a way, don’t they, in everything. I know. Because it’s interesting to me that, you know, the two ladies here had to, you know, combine these two parts to kind of create something new in a way, you’re not the same as your parents. You’re this combination in a way and in a way Martin had to sort of, well, discover that you had to introduce yourself to the country that was around you all the time.
I’ve come out twice, by the way.
Yes, well so now Santis you’re also different because you are the one who is, you know, passing on the street everyone will have an oh, can see that you don’t look like everybody else.
But a lot of listeners will have heard you on Ryan Tubridy’s show. And you told that story so powerfully. Tell us a little about why you decided to start to talk about everyday racism.
Well, basically, I have two young children, they’re 3 and 2, and they’re of mixed race. And I wouldn’t wish that on them. And normally I would be quiet. I’m almost, not ashamed to say anything, but almost oh I can’t say anything, because people are going to think I’m making a situation about me or I’m pulling the black card or the race card, and you’re just always so conscious of that because you’ve been made to feel that way, in a sense.
And I think with the George Floyd, just something just got unhinged in me seeing that, seeing a man calling for his mom. And being a mam I couldn’t imagine my son, my nephews, anybody going through that for whatever reason. And I guess it’s this time in our generation in my generation when I’ve looked and said, OK, you know what? I have to say something. And I was going on the Ryan Tubridy show for a different reason.
And I said, look, we need to I need to talk about this, please. I need to. I need to, I can’t not be on a platform like this and not address this, you know?
And we call it casually, we call it everyday racism. Is it every day?
It is every day. People don’t realize it. And I’ve had to adapt to that everyday racism in a sense, where I’m not going to lie, It doesn’t hurt me or affect me the way it shocked me at the start. You know.
Even that’s a bad sign.
It is a bad idea when you think about it. But when someone says if something happens and someone’s left out of a group and someone would turn around and go, what am I black? And straight away, people don’t realize.
And it’s like first, I was like, what is wrong with being black? Why would you even go down that road saying that? And it’s not me being sensitive, it’s me literally asking what is in your mind to go there? And it’s so casual that they’re grandparents said it.
And there’s nothing in their mind that’s just what they say.
It’s just a casual thing, but it is systematic that you don’t even realize you’re part of a system that’s oppressing somebody by just pointing out something as simple as that.
And people will constantly try and diminish it and say, oh can you not take a joke, yeah, whatever, all that stuff. But if you’re hearing that every single day.
Yeah. And to come here and then to adapt, to be trying to adapt. I don’t know about you. I lost my accent like I was trying to lose that Caribbean accent.
You mean you lost your West Cork accent.
Yeah. When I go to Cork I amp it up a little bit now.
No Roisin you, I think did something similar, did you. You felt you needed to assimilate and modulated your accent, is that right?
Yeah. It’s kind of just happened. I don’t know, how do you feel?
I just tried to fit in. I was just trying to fit in. Like everybody will just think I’m normal. I’m just one of them. So
As a teenager, I went to school in county Meath and they used to slag me for my Mayo accent, and I consciously stopped saying ye.
Because that was the word that I always got picked on and I wasn’t consciously changing anything else but I ended up with a very flat weird mid Atlantic accent or whatever. Without consciously doing it except for the ye, I was very conscious of that because that every time it triggered
It gave you away kind of thing.
Yeah. So yours was unconscious?
I actually my accent kind of changes depending on who I’m talking to, which I think is because like I went to American schools nearly my whole life, so the teachers were American, everybody was from all over the world. There was like a pseudo American accent. And then you go to Morocco and their English is like real, it’s not American. It’s got its own accent, definitely I have an Irish accent now but some words will come out completely different.
Or if I’m talking to any of my Arabic friends who don’t have an Irish accent and are talking to me in their, like Arabic English accents automatically is like, “no, what,” it’s just different. And I can hear myself on the phone, but I have no like, you know, off button.
My mother has her telephone voice, you know. Roisin, this is probably a good time to hear a song from you because you’re going to do a couple of songs for us today. So tell us about the first one.
This song is called Cinnamon Eyes, and it’s actually a new song I’ve written. I wrote it a month ago when I kind of, most of the songs I write are like, you know, sad and about feelings. And I kind of, this one I was just looking at the stuff on the news and I kind of wanted a nod to my heritage. And it’s just, you know, definitely the Black Lives Matter movement happened and I was like, that’s so amazing.
You’re going to be accompanied on the song by my good friend. Nice to see you Alma. And so let’s hear it Roisin.
Roisin El Cherif performs Cinnamon Eyes
Beautiful, really gorgeous.
That’s amazing honestly.
Mark, one of the things that amazed me when I came to Dublin first was when I slowly sort of came to the understanding that many people don’t know Travellers. Like, they didn’t grow up with travelers. They didn’t sit beside them in school. You know, I’m from the west of Ireland, a small town until a family built a house between us in sometime in the 80s, you know, all of our neighbors were the travelers. And so I know tons of travelers.
We went to school together and we lived on the same road. My dad visits, you know, Margaret on Christmas Day. They come and I like, you know, I grew up with travelers. They’re nothing unusual to me. And then Dublin people think they’re another species. And that came as a shock to me because I just thought all Irish people had the same relationship to the travelling community that we did. So you settled. Was it in, Tuam?
Uh, yeah, it was in Tuam yeah when we actually moved to a house. I think that the term settled would, it’s I suppose it’s not seen in the best of lights. And it’s not seen a derogatory way, but it’s also seen as a disempowering word because it would suggest that we were unsettled. We weren’t we were nomadic. But I think one of the worst things you can say to a Traveller that has moved to a house is to call them a settled traveler. Because it’s, I don’t know.
Well I can see that. Yeah.
Yeah. It takes away from the travelling community.
It suggests that in some way they’re, either they’re not a Traveller or that they’re,
But you’re dumped into school then, you know, after, you know, travelling around Britain and Ireland and you’re suddenly in a room with these kids and they’ve decided that you’re different somehow.
Actually it was the teacher who decided I was different.This is well documented, as I’m sure it’s documented for everyone else here, if you’ve gone through the Irish school system. We were segregated, even myself as recent as 2000, the year 2000, 2001, I was put into remedial English. Now, I’ve always had a fantastic grasp of the English vernacular and all that, you know, and it’s funny, we were talking about how we change our accents and our dialect because I study a lot around sociolinguistics, which is exactly that, because it comes from a place of hurt for me.
The way that I change, I learned to speak. I didn’t get elocution or any of those fancy things. You didn’t have the money for it. So I started to mimic and mirror those that were successful around me. And I always found that the ones that always spoke well were the ones that came from certain elements of privilege, and they were the ones who will always succeed. So from a very early age, when I was in school, I started to learn the lingo of the Masters, which is essentially what it is when you look at a hierarchical system that we’re in.
And if you look at the, I suppose the way that the political system is geared, very few people from the working classes, back then especially, from the working classes or especially from Travellers, were involved in politics. We had no political capital until Senator Eileen Flynn went up and kicked a load of those arses that were her
Oh, absolutely. And it was a moment of history and clarity for me because I always go with this mantra and I borrowed it it’s actually a campaign that’s out there for young girls. It’s called see it, hashtag see it, be it. And the message behind it is so simple, it’s a young girl cannot aspire to be something if she cannot see it. If she cannot see female singers, female actors, female politicians, she cannot be it So I’ve kind of robbed it.
I mean, pure stereotypical of a Traveller we’ve robbed it. But it’s OK. You’ve robbed our culture so it’s grand.
But I find that the whole ethos and mentality behind that campaignit’s so great because it’s the exact same thing for young Travellers. If we cannot see it, if we cannot see Travellers in the media, politics is where change is happening. You cannot have a conversation around policy change until you get there. And going back to sociolinguistics, I always found that if you cannot speak the language of those at that higher table, you’re going to be pushed aside as a token. And I don’t want to be on this earth to be a token.
Yeah. Well, I think, you know, when I was a kid there was no gays to model myself on. I didn’t know what they were, they weren’t on the telly because there’s no Graham Norton and all that. And I was desperate for that. So I totally grasp that. Now there are no Travellers on the TV, there’s no Travellers presenting, you know, radio shows. And Santis you came in 1995 to a country where
Nothing. I was literally out on my own. Literally you go on the bus, in the supermarket. I remember my friend’s mam, they had a baby and I pushed, I was pushing the buggy, now I was only a kid myself and whatever way I was pushing I remember this woman turning around and going, sure they don’t even know how to push a buggy. And I looked around and I went oh my God. But for me, I was just like, who’s they?
Because I was fighting so hard to be we. That was my natural take. If you go to the Caribbean now, any island, it’s good morning. You know, so it’s the old school thing that it’s like being, going down to the countryside. When I go down to the country, it feels like that, people are like good morning, how are you? And when I came here, I felt like I was doing everything to adapt in some way and it would just take those little moments when someone would say, oh they don’t even know. And I was like, I’m a child. I don’t have a child.
And people, of course, just assuming that you’re African
I’m from Africa. And that’s a, it’s not an insult, but for me, I’m very in touch with my Caribbean roots. And I know about Africa through the African people that I’ve met in Ireland. The Caribbean is close to America, you know. There was a lot of pain to get us there. And we’ve made a life for ourselves there in a sense. And I’m very in touch with Mama Africa. I really am. But in a sense, you can’t just take who I am away from me because it suits you. You know, it fits into your mold. And that’s what I’ve always thought.
Well, you see, because now Martin touched on something and, you know, I used to, it used to annoy me too as a queer person. If you are a singer or you are a comedian or you’re, you know, a financial guru, and then you speak as, you know, your experience, you are representing you. But of course, everyone projects onto you, that you are representing all people, you know, like you or similar to you or the same color as you.
And that’s yes, it’s a huge thing. And it used to drive me mad
It’s something you don’t ask for, you know, that.
But at the same time, you feel a responsibility.
You have to. You’ve got a platform.
Like Martin, you alluded to that. Do you feel that people, that anything you say is going to be taken as, you know, how Travellers feel about it.
The gospel according to Pavee Point or something like that. That’s usually what happens when a Traveller speaks. I have a privilege. Today I’ve a privilege and I’m privileged to be here, not just the fact that I’m a massive fan of Panti, but the fact that I’m given a chance within the media. My communities don’t get that that often. So it’s important that even if I give 30 seconds to mention somebody else who’s doing really well that, for all the travelers that listen and for all the settled people that listen or all the Non-Irish people who listen, that it just gets our story out there more.
And Roisin you, I guess, particularly here in Ireland, but also for historical reasons, there’s an interest in Palestine and Palestinian culture and all that. And I guess if I was you, I think I would probably get tired sometimes of constantly being associated with that. And especially when in your case, you know, it’s not Palestine you think of, it’s Morocco or
It’s more Jordan now, I think basically I did. Last year I went to Jordan and lived there for three months to improve my Arabic.
Yes cause you speak Arabic and all, right.
But like Moroccan Arabic and Jordanian Arabic, like completely two different dialects, they’re all like united by culture, but like
Divided by culture also.
But so I went and I think that had been a sore spot for me for a long time. The fact that we had lived in so many different countries that like, you know, when people would ask me where I’m from, I felt like, well, you know, from eight to twelve, I was here, you know, because I felt a connection to every place you live. But I wasn’t really connected apart from, you know, the history of Palestine and the suffering to really know much about the fun parts of the culture.
And, you know, the accents like, you know, I love my dad and he speaks to us in Arabic. But like, there’s only so many conversations you can have with your dad. You want to meet people your own age and like have your, the same avenues or whatever. So I went to Jordan. I’ve always been interested in that. I did a couple of jobs there. And then I went back last year and.
And you have family there.
That were on your dad’s side. Also from, Palestinian refugees or?
Palestinian refugees yeah. Yeah the refugee camps became concrete. And so like anytime anyone has ever asked me, I’m always like, I’m Irish Palestinian. Because like, I’ve just always kind of like, shown it all, you know, so there’s no confusion or whatever, but it’s not the same as, like, feeling. You know.
But of course you can’t go to Gaza
No, no. But I mean, like, you know, Jordan would be like the immediate place of and like Jordan is like, you know, Palestine, Palestinians, second home.
I’m very aware of my privilege when I go there because half of me is like I could have been brought up in this mentality if my mom wasn’t Irish. You know, what what really sets me apart in my privilege is my Irish passport and my Irish mom and the opportunities I’ve had.
Like, ah, maybe I’m stereotyping here totally now, but do you have girl cousins in Jordan.
And do they have the same freedoms that you have.
I mean they’re all married with four or five kids. It’s a completely different culture. So like I don’t want to use the word oppression but I’m going to use it. But it’s not just the women that are oppressed there, the men are oppressed there. The whole, like poverty is an oppression of sorts. But definitely when I go there, I’m like, you know, an alien. I’m like way too far gone. You know, every time I go there, they want to, like, really kind of hone in that, you know, you will marry a good Muslim man and, you know, you might start the praying.
And I was like, oh yeah, we’ll see, you know, you know, and like, they’re really salt of the earth people. But poverty is real and limitations of education, limitations of
And actually, you know, your life because, you know, on paper, you know, I know that working in film and all that is hard work. But on paper it’s so glamorous.
She works on Vikings and all of these kind of things. And then because of that, I urge listeners to go on YouTube and look up Roisin El Cherif’s videos because, of course, you can call in good people to make your videos and help you. Oh they’re beautiful, they’re gorgeous and big productions.
Thank you. I appreciate that.
Yeah. What’s the second song that you’re going to do for us?
The second song is called Cross Your Mind and it’s my latest single.
It has a lovely animated video that was made by a friend of yours, I believe
My friend Sinead McCormack.
And also this song is such an earwig because this morning my, you know, cinnamon skinned, cinnamon eyed husband was like, what are you, because I was, like, mumbling away to myself the whole time after listening to it last night while working.
But yeah, it’s a real earworm.
Thank you so much.
So do you want to tell us anything about it.
My main genre of songs is like sad songs. That’s what I’m into. And it’s kind of like an honest depiction of feeling low and feeling like something’s, you know, when you get in a mood you can’t really get yourself out of it, it’s about that,
Roisin El Cherif performs Cross Your Mind
I’ve always been jealous of musicians, you know, always especially talented singers and that.
Yeah, because they can do this thing that captivates everybody in any room, you know. You just open your mouth. I’m always, always, always jealous of it.
Santis I want to just ask two little things, because I mentioned earlier on and I’m aware now that listeners might think, about just very briefly, Montserrat, you know. Really weird little history. A Caribbean island couldn’t be further from Ireland in the seventeen hundreds Irish people, some of them involved in the slave trade, some of them just regular workers. It’s a bit complicated, but anyway,
It’s very complicated
But there’s shamrocks and everything.
So you get the stamp on your passport when you go in and it’s a shamrock like it’s very much a coming to the Emerald Isle.
And so they call it the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean or whatever. But it has like, there’s a Kinsale and
Kinsale, Cork, there’s so many, little even things that I don’t realize. I remember when my mam said when she came here first she heard someone speaking and she stopped, it was a cork accent. But obviously, we wouldn’t have known about a cork accent in Montserrat, it’s just the way we talk.
You went back, you’ve been back to visit.
I’ve been back. Yes. It looks very small when you go back. It’s like, I went back as an adult.
How big actually is it?
It’s not even the size of Dublin. It’s tiny. It’s beautifully tiny. But half of the island now has been ravaged by Mother Nature.
Yes because depending on what age you are people, or listeners, will remember, or won’t remember. But to me, that’s the two things about it. I had discovered there was this weird Irishness about it. And it’s fascinating and people should look on YouTube just to hear the people speak.
And they sing the ballads and everything.
Yeah. And then there was, what year was the volcano?
It was ninety five. I was literally here two months. And the thing was I said to my mam, look, I’ll come and try it out for a year. And we were going to school and I just saw on Sky News a Caribbean. You speak about poetry, but I actually remember writing a poem that night because I was so heartbroken and I didn’t know how to word it.
And just for maybe younger listeners, it was a massive volcano
Yeah half the island gone like the modern day Pompeii, literally just covered everywhere. You wouldn’t recognise it. Really sad to watch that because
Especially from a distance and you’d only just left
Left. And then when even going back, nothing is the same.
And your surname is
Yeah it comes for O’Gara
And of course here people would think of O’Gara
Or even O’Hara. We’re not really sure where that mix came from, but I think it’s it’s really interesting. And sometimes when I was here and people were saying things, I wanted to just say, I’m actually, you know, I’m very Irish. In every way if you actually listen to me for a minute.
The effect of, I’ll start with you Santis, the effect of you’re speaking out, as you have done recently.
I feel very Irish now after that, just because of the people that have reached out and said, I didn’t know that I’m going to learn, because I feel that’s an acceptance. All the time that I’ve been here, I’ve been changing myself to be accepted. And now people are saying, I didn’t realise that, you know what? I’m going to see what I can do to make you feel more comfortable. And that’s really beautiful.
Yeah it is. And I’m really glad to hear that because, you know,
I think it’s OK to admit it. It’s OK to say, you know, I actually didn’t realise that saying that could actually have repercussions on yourself or other people of colour, in any colour, any sense. Like, you know, I think it’s OK. It takes a brave person to go, you know, I didn’t realise that, but I’m going to try and do better. And that’s all we can do.
Yeah. Well my attitude is nobody’s perfect. And as long as you acknowledge that in yourself. You know that’s.
So for you, you know, there aren’t many voices, Traveller voices, out there. You’re one of them. And that whether you choose that or have it pushed upon you, you have this responsibility. And do you have a responsibility to yourself.
Do I have a responsibility to myself. Absolutely. Like, I just want to make a living. I want to have the same opportunities as my peers. My whole following was like every bit of comedy I’ve done is outside of the circuit. They didn’t book me for gigs. So I had to create my own shows.
I’ve created my own characters. So now I can start selling tickets for the very first time. That’s my responsibility to me is to be able to just have a comfortable life. I don’t care about the fame, I’ll be honest. But I do think there is a responsibility then on me as a person from my community and as a member of the LGBT community as well, to be that nexus point, because my community have to catch up and my community still needs to adapt to the fact that there are LGBT people within the community.
We have the highest rate of suicide in Europe, Travellers. If you look at 10 Travellers walking the street, one of those will die by suicide.
And life expectancy is
Three percent past 65 years of age. Another massive issue within the community is mental health issues. I’ve suffered from anxiety since the age of 14. I’m so much out there on my own because I’m the only Traveller comedian, first off, there’s no one else I can ask. What do I do? Do you’ve have any contacts? I have to beg steal and borrow contacts to get forward in my career, you know, and I’m hoping that by me doing this, that there’s going to be a network left behind to help the next generation of Travellers.
Roisin, you are planning to connect more with Jordan and go film there and make some of your beautiful videos there.
I hope so. When yeah, I’ve got a few notions myself.
Yeah. Well your art, in a way, combining this background in film with your love of music.
Yeah, I feel like they overlap. I mean, like anything, like I love the idea is that if you know music, making a living is very important, but as of now I’ve never really made a living out of music. It’s just the dream.
There’s a million other things I wanted to talk to you about and we never got around to them. So let me thank you all for being with us today. That is it for us today’s Pantisocracy and the second of two songs we’ve recorded here in the splendid surroundings of Belvedere House.
So thanks to Martin Beanz Warde and Roisin El Cherif and to Alma Kelliher who accompanied you of course and to Santis O’Garro. Thank you all so much for being with us. Check out Pantisocracy.ie for everything else and continue to listen to us here on RTE One. Bye.
She meets Santis O’Garro, a proud Black Irishwoman from the Caribbean island of Montserrat, Martin Beanz Warde, a comedian who shares his story of growing up gay in the traveller community in the west of Ireland, and singer Róisín El Cherif, a Palestinian Irishwoman from Oranmore, Co Galway.