Traveller suicide documentary ‘incredibly valuable’, says President

Michael D Higgins says the RTÉ programme should be seen in every household and every school

A documentary about the prevalence of suicide in the Traveller community would be “incredibly valuable” if it was shown in schools, President Michael D Higgins has said.

On Monday, a documentary will be aired on suicide rates among the Irish Traveller community through the personal story of 12-year-old Patrick McDonagh who died by suicide last year.

According to the 2015 All Ireland Traveller Health Study, more than one in 10 Irish Travellers die by suicide. The suicide rate for Traveller women is six times higher than their settled counterparts, while for Traveller men it is seven times higher than settled men.

Patrick: A Young Traveller Lost, an RTÉ programme, follows the 12-year-old’s parents, Michelle and Pat, as they come to terms with the loss of their son.


President Higgins said though he was familiar with the struggles among the Travelling community, the documentary moved him “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,” he said.

“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.”

Speaking about her son in the documentary, Michelle Ward said 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,” she said.

His father said Patrick was being bullied, but his family was not aware of this until after his 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,” he said.

“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.”

His mother said he deleted everything from his phone before he died, including social media apps Snapchat and 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.”

Patrick: A Young Traveller Lost will air at 9.35pm on Monday on RTÉ One and RTÉ Player.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times