Killarney was our wild west and as Hollywood poured out ‘Westerns’ we all became cowboys. Paul and his friend, Johnny, rounded up the tinkers’ piebald ponies and took turns wearing the white hat he found under a Christmas tree.
Tinkers are often confused with Gypsies. They live the same lifestyle and suffer the same condemnations but they are different. They were once farmers and 'landed' but were stripped from their holdings when economic fashions changed. They now roam the roads of Ireland and borrowed their name from the itinerant tradesmen of long ago. They traveled in horse drawn wagons, just like Gypsies, pulled along by sturdy ponies that were large enough to be confused with horses.
Stealing a tinker’s horse is a declaration of war and when they arrived at our gate our army went out to meet them. My grandfather still had a policeman’s stance and propped himself with an innocent looking but lethal walking cane.
My father carried the ceremonial sword that should have been returned to the army and Sean carried a blackthorn stick. Dick and Paul stood behind, near a small mound of sticks and stones. My mother watched from behind lace curtains, trembling but ready to rush in to tend to the fallen. Ciaran and I stood behind her itching for the fight.
“Can we not go out to help beat the tinkers?” we asked.
“Nobody will be beating anybody,” my mother soothed, “they are just going to talk.”
The tinkers sized us up and knew they were matched and chose instead to negotiate for the return of the horses.
“We had ourselves a day of Horse-trading with the Tinkers,” my father would remind us later, “and who better than a Kerryman to get the better of them?”
It happened a few more times until we found ourselves in ‘Entante’ with the travelers. Their horses grazed in our garden and nothing of ours went ‘missing’.
The tinkers could see us as apart from the rest of the settled people. We were apart but it took a tinker to tell us. From then on no tinker ever left our door empty handed and a few years later, in a respectable suburb in Dublin we had a tinker’s picnic on our front lawn.