The’Pecker’ Dunne (real name Patrick) was born in a horse-drawn caravan in Castlebar, Co Mayo, on 1 April 1933, into an Irish Travelling family, known as ‘Tinkers’ at the time. His father was a fiddle player who had spent much of his life in County Wexford. Pecker Dunne himself was one of Ireland’s most noted banjo players and was also a genius on the fiddle, melodeon and guitar, and was among the best of Traveller musicians.
Pecker was well known to a wide Irish audience from his regular busking at GAA sporting fixtures, particularly in Munster. Later he played in England, France, Australia and New York, where he appeared with The Dubliners. He performed with Richard Harris and Stephen Rea in the 1996 film Trojan Eddie. The Pecker wrote and recorded many songs including Sullivan’s John, The Last of the Travelling People, Tinkers’ Lullaby, Wexford, The Old Morris Van and Maximatosis Rabbit.
He made Killimer, Co Clare his home in his later years and he died there on 12 December 2012.
The daughter of the famous troubadour , Sarah Jane Dunne, is the first member of the Travelling community to compete in the Miss Ireland Pageant – as Miss Kilkenny – since its inception 67 years ago. She has an Honours Degree from Trinity College, Dublin. The following ballad is my tribute to this remarkable young woman.
THE PECKER’S DAUGHTER.
Air: Sullivan’s John
By Mattie Lennon
Oh, Sarah Jane Dunne, ‘though she hadn’t won, on the nineteenth day of July.
This talented lass, from the Traveller class, was neither aloof or shy.
Tinkers daughter, you’d hear, amid debt-ridden fear in that place that’s called Dublin-four
She never felt shame but carried the name, as the Pecker had done before.
To the final she went, then felt quite content when her rival Miss Cork took the crown
All set to advance, with a positive stance Sarah didn’t see cause for a frown.
If one doesn’t stop, till they get to the top there’s always a price to be paid
Like Kipling she knows, no matter how the wind blows, there’s no failure just triumph delayed.
From the time she was small it was clear to us all, she was on the road to fame.
At a match or a fair in Cork, Kerry or Clare to busk with her father she came.
Unlike Sullivan’s John, from the road she’s gone but the globe she plans to roam.
She’ll model and teach and great heights she’ll reach; the world is now her home.
She has got this far and her rising star will continue to ascend.
With new points now scored and the critics ignored grudgery she’ll transcend
And you can be sure that her Godfather, Moore, will pen her a song bye and bye
As the Pecker sings proud, on his Heavenly cloud, a new Tinker’s Lullaby.
© Mattie Lennon2014
Mattie Lennon interviewed Sarah Jane Dunne before the final of the Miss Ireland Competition, on Saturday 19th June, in the Ballsbridge Hotel. Among her 35 co-finalists she was unique. Miss Cork, Jessica Hayes, was crowned Miss Ireland.
I asked her where did it all start? What was her path to Miss Kilkenny?
I took part in the Miss University Ireland pageant earlier this year where I represented Trinity College! After doing this I went on to enter 2FM’s Miss Personality competition. This competition was based solely on the entrant’s personality and nobody had a clue as to what we looked like! I was one of 8 finalists and we all used alternative names – mine was ‘Miss Trad’ – so as not to give our identities away, it was all very secretive! The winner of this competition went on to secure a place as a Miss Ireland finalist with the title of Miss Personality. I didn’t win but I did very well in the competition and went on to compete in the Miss Ireland Semi-finals, where I was selected as ‘Miss Kilkenny’. I was absolutely thrilled to be selected, I really gave it my best shot this year at becoming a Miss Ireland finalist as it is my last year to enter due to age restrictions. I love the whole pageantry thing. I know that there are people out there who really dislike the whole thing but speaking from experience, participating in pageants has really helped give me confidence. I have made so many friends from participating in pageants and I have had so much fun along the way. If you have an interest in modelling, entering pageants like the Miss Ireland, is a great way of networking and gaining experience.
She is also a talented musician (no surprise there). At what age did she start playing?
I was so young that I actually don’t remember! I would say I was around 6 when I started playing the concertina. This was my first instrument and it wasn’t until I was 15 that I took up the fiddle.
Not many Travelers make it to third-level education. What was different here?
My dad always encouraged me to read, from a very young age he had me reading. He was a big reader himself so this had a huge influence on me. He also encouraged me to do well in school and instilled the importance of getting an education. He never pressured me, or any of my siblings, when it came to choosing college or doing exams, he always just encouraged us to do our best and work hard.
She didn’t feel like an outsider in Trinity but learned that ignorance is everywhere:
I was after finishing a lecture with a group of students from my class in Trinity one morning, and we went to grab a cup of coffee. We were all sitting around, in a group, discussing our teaching practice and how we were finding the course. I must add that I didn’t really know this group as I had not spent much time with them. One of the girls who was sitting at the table across from me began a tirade about how it annoyed her that ‘traveller children get everything handed to them’. She began a discussion about a traveller girl that was in her class, and how this child was getting help from all angles, and she really seemed upset and disgusted at this. She went on about the ‘special treatment’ that this child was receiving and how outraged she was at it for a few minutes and when she finished I spoke to her and said, ‘Wow, that is terrible, isn’t it?’, she nodded in agreement, and I went on to state that ‘I am a member of the travelling community and I can assure you that I have never had anything “handed to me”, in fact I have worked extremely hard to get where I am today’. I made my point and expressed my upset at her statement, the whole group sat in discomfort and what had just unfolded! This girls jaw had literally dropped and she made some redundant comment about how she just felt that ‘everyone should be treated equal’! At this point I just got up and left the table. I had made my point and I wasn’t going to sit there and entertain this ignorant girl.
And where does the Pecker’s daughter plan to go from here?
I plan to travel, I really want to see the world and now I finally have my degree I can make my plans. Since finishing secondary school I have been putting myself through college and only recently completed my Higher Diploma in Education where I secured an Honours Degree from Trinity College Dublin. I am now a qualified English and Religion secondary school teacher. I am hoping to secure some work so I can save up and go off on my journey.’
The Travelling community is fully behind her; delighted that one of their own has made it.
I have received really positive messages from those who have contacted me since I began receiving media attention. I met two lovely travelling women from Kilkenny on the train back from Dublin recently and they were so proud of me, they praised me for how well-spoken I was on ‘Saturday Night with Miriam’ and gave me some words of encouragement. I have received countless messages on Facebook from members of the Travelling community who have all expressed their happiness at my success. I couldn’t see anyone looking down on me for going to college, and if there are people out there who do then that saddens me, I am sad for them.
I asked Sarah Jane what she thought of the fact that the trade of Tinsmith is almost dead. ‘
It is sad really, we have a beautiful copper bucket at home in Clare that was given to my dad decades ago by a tinker man. It would be great to see something in place to revive this skill among young travellers.
It was the first time I asked a Trinity Graduate ‘are you wide to the gammon?’
I am of course! My dad was a fluent speaker of Cant and I picked up some of it from him. One of my biggest regrets is not learning to speak it like he could before he passed away. It is a lovely language and a huge part of Traveller culture.”
There’s only one way for the Pecker Dunne’s daughter – UP.