The play Magpies on the Pylon, written and performed by award-winning actor Michael Collins was staged on November, 28th in Siamsa Tire Theatre in Tralee, Co. Kerry. The event was organised by Kerry Travellers Health & Community Development Project with funding from National Traveller Suicide project and NEKD.
Magpies on the Pylon is set in a small bedroom belonging to Jim, a Traveller father who struggles to cope with the suicide of his 23-year-old son. The audience accompanies Jim on an emotional journey as he goes through memories of his son, his anger at God, and his fears for the well-being of his other children and his wife. ‘According to the findings of the All-Ireland Traveller Health Study, completed in 2010, the suicide rate is 6 times higher in the Traveller community compared to the general population. As a member of the Traveller Community and an advocate of Traveller human rights for over twenty years, Michael Collins wrote this play as a means of breaking the taboo about suicide that pervades Irish society. “One of the most important messages that I hope people walk away with, whether Traveller or settled, is that they are not on their own, there is help out there, and one of the most important things they need to do is talk to somebody”, he said.
It was deemed to be a resounding success by the audience of 286 people, which was comprised of Traveller men, women and teenagers from every part of the county, as well as agencies and professionals working with the Traveller community in Kerry. It was “powerful, emotional and engaging.” “It felt very real.” It was great to see a play from a man’s point of view and particularly a Traveller man’s grieving process”.
The play was followed by a lively discussion facilitated by a panel which included Cathy O’Sullivan, HSE South, Patricia McKeever National Suicide Awareness Project, Nora Keoghan from Console and Michael Collins, Actor & Author of Magpies on the Pylon. HSE Mental Health Services, Jigsaw, Console, Samaritans, South West Counselling, Healthy Minds and National Traveller Suicide Project were available with information and support.
Initially, many members of the Traveller community were fearful about the content, but following the play said that they would have no hesitation in recommending it to family and friends. “People were sorry to have missed it because they heard such good reports and there was lots of discussion about it afterwards”. There were many comments and photos put up on facebook.
It was very important that so many of the settled and Traveller community came together to view this play about the subject of suicide that touches and impacts on all the community.
The supports that were put in place were needed and were availed of. Organisations and agencies were moved and visibly shocked on learning the statistics in relation to Traveller Mental health.
There was a feeling of pride and people felt honored that Michael Collins came to Kerry. For many it was the first time to attend an event in Siamsa Tire Theatre. “It was outstanding and really portrayed all the anger, grief, bargaining, hopelessness, need for answers, struggle with one’s faith and the impact on the family.”