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Fighting man
  1. P Van Cleemput5
  1. 5P Van Cleemput, Sheffield University, ScHARR, Regent Court, 30 Regent St, Sheffield, S1 4DA, UK;

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    I’m looking at meself in the mirror, not too many marks on me face considering how many times I’ve done this. It’s no good though is it? A man of my age still fighting, having to spend a day or two lying down on the bunk in me trailer because I can’t work. Even if the fella’s hardly marked me, I still can’t go out calling for work till the bruises have gone off me face. If I never have to have another fight in me life I’ll be a happy man. But that’s not likely, not the way things is going. It’s getting worse and people is using knives and guns now. Used to happen a few times a year, maybe during or after a fair or a wedding, people’d have too much to drink, things’d be said and then it would end up in fighting. It’s more than that now. I don’t know what’s getting into people but it seems like they want to kill each other: Travellers against Travellers.

    My youngest lass came and sat on me knee the other day and said Daddy I don’t like it when you get hurt, it makes me cry and get really sad and I don’t tell Mammie because I’m not supposed to say it to you. Everybody knows when there’s going to be a fight, even the bairns. I didn’t know what to say, I couldn’t tell the little lass that it wouldn’t happen again because we both knew it would.

    It’s like I say, things are said maybe in drink and then they have to be straightened out the next day or a few days after by me and the other fella who I’m having to fight. I might have nothing against the man and him the same with me, but we are the fighting men from both sides and we have to sort it out.

    I’ve got a bad feeling about this one though I don’t mind tellin yer, I’ve had a good run and me heart’s not in it, but I can’t let my family down. Young Georgie and Tommy said what they said in front of a load of other men and the other family’s within their rights to have it sorted. My family’ll all be cheering when I win, if I win and my wife will be bathing me cuts the next morning when the drink has worn off me. I’ll have a drink after with the men because they’ll want to buy it for me and that’ll stop the pain a bit. There’ll be a bit of money as well, some’ll come from the bettin, some’ll have to come from their pockets and all that’ll do is cover the few days I can’t work.

    My wife’ll be waitin for me whatever time I get back to the trailer, she does it every time and she never says a thing, she never has because she was brought up with it, her father was a fighting man as well. I don’t know when this is going to stop I just have to keep on going until it does, but I’ll say it again me heart’s not in it. There’s the knock on the trailer door and there’s a last look at my wife, she knows how I’m feeling and she can’t look me in the face. I wouldn’t wish this on me worst enemy, being a fighting man.


    Trying to explain to gorgio (non-Gypsy) people about Gypsy Traveller culture can be a very difficult task, you don’t even realise how complex your culture is until you try and explain certain aspects of it.

    Earlier this year I was contacted by a person studying for a PhD. She contacted me hoping that I could shed light on the current situation regarding conflict resolution within the Gypsy community. I tried on a number of occasions via email and over the phone to properly explain my viewpoint and experiences, but no matter how I tried I felt I just was not able to do it properly.

    Having written a number of stories for my children on different aspects of my upbringing in the Gypsy community, in which I always seemed to be able to express myself very well, I sat down and wrote in the same story form about a relative who was a fighting man. Within 15 minutes it was done. I felt straightaway that it worked and sent it to the PhD student who felt that it explained very clearly what I had previously been unable to and gave her a new and unique way of looking at the subject. The therapeutic benefits of having written Fighting Man were tremendous. I had found a new way of expressing myself and the benefits are ongoing, the very positive responses to Fighting Man inspired me to write another 20 stories on other aspects of Gypsy life. I now have a collection called 21st Century Travellers Tales, which I hope gives those within my community some kind of voice outside of it and those outside of it some kind of insight into it.

    R O’Neill


    I first met Richard through his interest in promoting men’s health. Richard became a valued advisory group member on the Department of Health funded study, The Health Status of Gypsies and Travellers in England.1 Richard’s creative and positive approach to raising cultural awareness has led to encouragement of other Gypsy Travellers to have a voice through his website,, to express and celebrate their lives and their culture.



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