Jess Smith - celebrated author of Bruar's Rest, three volumes of autobiography and a collection of stories, storyteller, activist and Traveller - last night read from Richard O’Neill’s 'Sorry is the Hardest Word' at a Kirk fringe event for the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. She first performed this challenging monologue about the treatment of the Travelling Community in Scotland at the Storytelling Festival in Edinburgh in 2008. The monologue is inspired by the oral traditions of the Traveling Community and highlights past wrongs done to the Scottish Travellers by individuals and authorities in Scotland.
Two years ago, after hearing the monologue and talking to Jess, Rev Russell McLarty put the following request to the General Assembly: 'Request that the Church and Society Council considers the question of how the Travelling People have been treated in the past and how they might be properly recognised by the Church and the state in the future'. The request was accepted and since then a study has been carried out on the Church’s attitude to the Travelling community in Scotland, by an ecumenical working group on behalf of the Scottish Church’s Racial Justice Group.
The report of the group considers many aspects of life for the Traveller and how society, state and Church had treated individuals from this community. Areas covered by the group include: housing and access to land; employment; education and welfare; discrimination prejudice and harassment; government initiatives; identity; and the Travelling Community and the Churches.
Recommendations from the group will be heard by the General Assembly today, 24 May 2011, when it is widely anticipated that the Church of Scotland will acknowledge its role in past wrong-doings and look for ways to work with the Scottish Government and local authorities to protect Travellers from discrimination in the future and to celebrate their culture.
Talking about her performance at the Storytelling Centre last night, Jess said. “I am putting on this event to honour all the Travellers whose spirits were broken when authority clipped their wings, halted their seasonal paths and institutionalised their children.”
“For far too long historians have omitted their existence from this proud land as a true society. This report is groundbreaking and will hopefully lead to the Scottish Government legally recognising Scotland's Travelling people as a single thread within a grand quilt of many cultures.”