Oein forges new connections with The Slug and the Snail

Arts Week with Judy Murphy

Tuam man Oein deBhairduin thinks he was nine years old when he failed to get an invite to his best friend’s birthday party. His parents think he was seven. But while there might be confusion about his age, they all vividly recall the sense of rejection Oein felt when his best buddy at school  invited loads of other people to the celebration but not him – because Oein was a Traveller and the others were from settled families.

“I didn’t find out about it until afterwards, when I found an invitation on the classroom floor,” he says now. “And what was really upsetting, was that the other people going knew not to tell me.”

That was his first personal experience of racism. Oein, “a soft, impressionable child” was deeply hurt but his wise father, Owenie, wasn’t going to let other people’s behaviour destroy Oein, or any of his five children.

Owenie told them a story about a slug and a snail, a traditional tale, which shows that although creatures can take different routes in life and can sometimes be horrible to each other, fundamentally they’re alike. The same applies  to humans.

“It was a way of taking the harm out of it,” says Oein.

These days, through his writings and his job as Traveller Culture Collections Officer with the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin-based Oein continues to spread the message that we’re more alike than different.

With that in mind he has written a children’s story, illustrated by Olya Anima that’s based on his father’s tale that day.

Published by Little Island Books and Skein Press, The Slug and the Snail is a beautiful book and Oein is thrilled with the lifelike, yet magical drawings of nature that Olya created.

Oein deBhairduin: ‘We have more in common than we think.’

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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