Old religious traditions like the ‘Travelling Mary’ are kept alive across the country. While new ones such as a multi-cultural mass at Christmas are growing from strength to strength. Here Ellen McDonagh writes about Christmas traditions among Travellers in her own Co. Meath community.

Christmas is a very special time for the majority of Travellers. It is a time of festivities and celebrations, but to many it is also a time of tradition, especially spiritual tradition. To keep the spiritual side of Christmas alive has not always proved easy, with the commercialisation of Christmas slowly pushing the real meaning of Christmas to one side. However around the country Travellers are preserving time honoured traditions.

One of these places is Navan, Co Meath. For the past seven years Navan Travellers Workshops Ltd have held an annual Mass, where the Travellers of Co Meath come together and invite the local country people to come and celebrate Mass with them.

This Mass has gone from strength to strength, so much so that this year we are going multi-cultural and inviting people from the various ethnic groups in the community to come and have their input in our annual Mass. Our Mass this year will be celebrated by Father Declan Hurley who has special responsibility for Travellers in the Meath area.

For the past number of years another special tradition that has survived in the Meath area is our Travelling Mary. This is a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary that is passed from house to house. The statue of Mary comes to your house and the family keeps her for a week. The rosary is said in the house and then the statue is passed to another house. This is helping to revive the past tradition of saying the rosary in your home.

This year at our annual Mass, we are also having a bale of straw blessed and tied into small bundles. The family then bring home the blessed straw and put it into their crib at home. This is because straw has always held special meaning for Travellers.

At our Mass this year, we are going to distribute Blessed Scalpers (scapulars) to the entire congregation, especially the young people as these scalpers hold special meaning to Travellers because we believe they mind and protect the person wearing them.

The meaning of Christmas may be changing for people all over the world but here in Navan, we are trying to maintain some of our time honoured traditions in this very fast moving and commercial society.


Written by Eileen McDonagh