12-year-old Patrick McDonagh
Patrick: A Young Traveller Lost is a new ground-breaking RTÉ documentary shining a light on the issue of alarmingly high suicide rates among the Irish Traveller community through the harrowing and deeply personal story of 12-year-old Patrick McDonagh.
The documentary only hears from Traveller voices, with the story told from their perspective and not through the lens of settled community.
Suicide rates within the Irish Traveller community have long been a cause for concern, yet the issue often remains unaddressed.
12-year-old Patrick McDonagh
12-year-old Patrick from Finglas in Dublin, died by suicide a year ago. Sensitively following his parents, Michelle and Pat, as they come to terms with their loss, the documentary explores the wider multifaceted challenges facing the community and highlights the devastating impact on those left behind.
In sharing their harrowing personal story, Patrick’s family’s hope is to inspire other people to speak up and ask for help when they need it.
President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins with Pat and Michelle McDonagh, at a screening of the RTÉ documentary Patrick: A Young Traveller Lost.
The President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins said:
"What an honour it was to attend an advance screening of Patrick: A Young Traveller Lost. Even though I am familiar with the issues with which the Travelling Community struggle, the personal testimonies of Patrick McDonagh's parents, and Bernie Power moved me in a way I find difficult to describe.
"It would be so valuable if all members of the public could see this film, which describes a life lost to bullying. An incredibly talented boy, interested in all aspects of life and full of curiosity, within one year had his life destroyed.
"RTÉ and Alleycat Films have in my mind placed all of us in their debt in what is a splendid, valuable exercise in public service broadcasting. There are so many reasons I could think of why this film should be seen in every household, and it would be just incredibly valuable if it were seen in every school."
Research shows that more than 1 in 10 Irish Travellers die by suicide. The suicide rate for Irish Traveller women is six times higher than settled women. Meanwhile the suicide rate for Irish Traveller men is seven times higher than settled men. (Source: All Ireland Traveller Health Study, 2015)
Patrick's mother, Michelle McDonagh
In the documentary Patrick’s mother Michelle Ward shared some of her treasured memories of Patrick:
“I remember when he was born. He was the most beautiful little boy that was ever brought into this world. He was always clever. He loved English. He loved Irish. He knew everything about science. He loved fixing bikes. He’d take a bike apart and put it together in seconds. I just can't believe he left the world the way he did. I just thought he was so happy. He showed no signs...”
Patrick’s father Pat McDonagh reflects on the bullying his son experienced which the family were unaware of until after Patrick’s death.
“My little boy didn't tell us nothing. I mean, secrets he took it to the grave. God rest him. We never expected Patrick to do what he done. I'm no good with phones - that's the reason why we didn't pass any notice of the phones. But when he passed away, we started taking notice of the phones, started realising it was the phone. It was a poxy phone. He was hiding stuff where he was being bullied. He never told us deep down inside, the mental torture. God knows what he was going through.”
Patrick's father, Pat McDonagh
Michelle explained: “He deleted everything off his phone before he passed away. Deleted his Snapchat. His Tiktok. I couldn't figure out why he deleted all of them, you know? We didn't know what he was going through until the end, until people came and told us, little friends of Patrick's came up and told us bits and pieces like we didn’t know.”
Michelle McDonagh in her son's bedroom
Sitting in Patrick’s bedroom his mother Michelle describes her heartbreak:
“I feel very heartbroken when I'm looking at all this stuff. I didn't just want him for 12 years; I wanted him forever. I was meant to go first. Not him. Suicide is the most hurtful thing to me as a mother. To lose a child. I feel like I have no answers. You know, why would he feel so hurt? That he thought he wouldn’t be happy in life you know? Why? I don't get it.”
Leading Traveller voices from around the country including Senator Eileen Flynn and Director of the Traveller Counselling Service Thomas McCann, contribute to the documentary and delve into the complexities facing this marginalised and often discriminated against community.
The documentary details research by DCU which states, 1 in 10 Irish Traveller children experience bullying more than several times a week. Meanwhile, 85% of the Irish public wouldn’t have a Traveller as a friend (Traveller Community National Survey 2017).
Senator Eileen Flynn
In the documentary Senator Eileen Flynn says:
“For at least five to six years of my late teens, early 20s, I felt ‘I don’t want to be a member of the Traveller community’. You're born into a community where society doesn't want you. You're born into a community where you’re rejected all of the time, feeling that pressure that you're an ‘other’. You know what I mean? Sometimes you feel that you're never going to be good enough.”
Bernie Power, a Traveller Outreach worker from Kilkenny, shares his compelling first-hand account of the inner turmoil of those from the Traveller community struggling with poor mental health and the real-life positive impact of reaching out for help.
Bernie Power said:
“The reason I'm telling my story is because I've heard too many cases and too many Traveller families’ lives being destroyed by mental health and suicide. The only reason I’m here is because I was one of the lucky ones. I look at my own mother, my father, my own family. I look and I think of the devastation that I could have caused.
"One of the major things in my childhood growing up would have been the local GAA club. Being born in Kilkenny definitely gives you something in your blood, about liking hurling. For that 50 or 60 minutes when you're on a Hurling pitch, you genuinely felt you were no different to anybody else on your team. It was lovely while I was on the pitch, but the minute I got out of that dressing room again, I'm a Traveller and I'm judged differently, now again.
Bernie Power, a Traveller Outreach worker from Kilkenny
"When you're starting off in school at four or five years of age, you don't know that you're any different to anybody else. I suppose it's the other people who start making you aware that you're different. The bullying would have started as far back as I can remember, to be honest. You smelly knacker. You dirty knacker. Go home and wash yourself. Just not playing with you. Not wanting to talk to you, people coming up, dragging other children away from you. Don't talk to him because he's a knacker or he's a Traveller.
"You do ask yourself the questions: Am I dirty? Am I smelly? Like why do they keep saying these things to me? Am I really different? Am I not good enough? First thing comes to mind is am I going to be judged differently or am I being looked at because I'm a Traveller? No matter what you ever do is never going to be good enough.”
This deeply moving, unprecedented film, created in close collaboration with the Irish Traveller community, hopes to provide an opportunity to ignite conversations, dismantle stigmas, and encourage proactive measures to address the underlying factors contributing to this devastating crisis.
Director of the National Traveller Counselling Service Thomas McCann said:
“We didn't have this in the past, we didn't have the levels of mental health and suicide ever that we have now in the last few years. There are more children, Traveller children, suffering from mental health issues and indeed some children have taken their own life.
"For younger Travellers growing up in our society, now has been particularly challenging. And there's a lot of pressures on young people as well in terms of bullying, particularly with social media, just very little escape from it in the past, maybe. Prior to social media, you could escape from it when you were home. Now you know, it comes right into your home or into your bedroom so it's very difficult for the younger people to escape from that. And I'm not just talking about Traveller young people. I'm talking about the general population.
"A lot of the issues that's affecting Travellers, many of the same issues affect settled people. As a society, I think we need to look at how we kind of support children and young people and indeed everyone to have a better quality of life.”
The loss of Patrick’s young life sent shockwaves through the Traveller community, sounding an alarm to face this issue head on. Patrick: A Young Traveller Lost allows the Traveller community the platform through which to do so in their own words.
Patrick: A Young Traveller Lost will be broadcast Monday 27th November at 9.35pm on RTÉ One and RTÉ Player.