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University names lecture room after Traveller who was universally liked


From this week's Galway City Tribune

From this week's Galway City Tribune

University names lecture room after Traveller who was universally liked University names lecture room after Traveller who was universally liked

University of Galway has announced the dedication of a teaching facility on campus as the Galway John Room, named after well-known Irish Traveller John Ward, who was born and raised in Galway city.

‘Galway John’, who was born on Water Lane, Bohermore, Galway, on June 18, 1913, was a firm believer in the value of education.

In consultation with relatives, Jason Sherlock, a great grandson of Galway John and alumnus of University of Galway, has worked with staff at the University on the project for the dedication of the Galway John Room.

Jason Sherlock said: “Galway John was known for his likeable persona. The settled community has always held John in high regard and seen him as a strong link between the Irish Traveller and Irish settled.

“In this current era, education is crucial to understanding each other’s differences and as many Mincéirs know, it is hard to progress in a place where you do not feel that you belong.

“We all hope that by naming this classroom after Galway John and telling the Mincéir story that it will empower Irish Travellers to build their sense of belonging on campus.”

University of Galway President Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh said: “The Galway John Room holds particular significance as it marks a historic moment for our University.

“For the first time, we are dedicating a permanent classroom in honour of an Irish Traveller, recognising the rich cultural contributions and resilience of our Irish Traveller people.

“When I was growing up, I walked through our campus as if it was my own. I want everybody to feel the same, that our University is part of the furniture of their lives.

“This initiative is consistent with that commitment to fostering inclusivity, diversity, and understanding within our academic environment, where everyone belongs here.”

As an Irish Traveller, John camped in many spots on or near the University campus, including beside Galway Cathedral and Snipe Avenue, as well as other parts of the city such as Lough Atalia, with some of the University’s buildings now standing on places where Irish Travellers would have lived.

Galway John and his wife Bridget Ward, known as Big Biddy Ward, were Galway characters and were well known across the west of Ireland for their honesty and hard work, with Bridget, in particular, counting the likes of President Michael D Higgins and singer Dolores Keane among their circle of friends and associates.

As a couple they travelled throughout the country working and making a living, with a typical route being Galway, Athenry, Craughwell, Gort, Limerick, Killarney, the ring of Kerry, Ennis, Kilrush, Lahinch, Doolin, Ballyvaughan, Kinvara, Kilcolgan, and back.

Their daughter Anne Sherlock was a member of Mincéir Misle, one of the first national organisations set up by Mincéirs, for Mincéirs.

Galway John was as a man of many trades, including being a tinsmith and a chimney sweep. He was a fluent speaker of Cant — the Irish Traveller language — An Ghaeilge and English.

John was a great storyteller and knew Ireland’s ancient fables and stories, and would tell tales and sing songs about life on the road.

When Galway John died on January 7, 1981, thousands attended his funeral in Galway Cathedral.

Numerous newspapers published reports of the Requiem Mass, which was attended by people from all walks of life including Mincéirs, members of the wider settled community, business and civic leaders and public representatives.

Pictured: ‘Galway John’ Ward: a firm believer in the value of education. Photo: Stan Shields.

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