Galway business-owner receives accolade at Traveller Pride Awards

Awards are part of Traveller Pride Week, an important marker of the positive achievements of individual Travellers and their 30,000-strong community

Aaron O’Loughlin (28), who left school at 15, overcame addiction and faced anti-Traveller discrimination, will on Thursday receive the “enterprise and innovation” accolade at the annual Traveller Pride Awards.

The Galway man is now a business-owner, having founded O’Loughlin Elegant Events Galway two years ago, providing flowers and floral displays at weddings, funerals and other occasions, across the county.

One of five children he enjoyed growing up in a council estate in Ballybane but “couldn’t settle, couldn’t concentrate” in school. He left school after his Junior Certificate and went to Youthreach for a few months but again “just couldn’t focus” there.

“I ended up looking for work. I did up lots of CVs but just didn’t get the interviews. In the end, from age 18, I got a job as a takeaway delivery driver. I loved it. I loved the family atmosphere of the restaurant. The owner was a great friend of my father’s and he looked out for me.”


The restaurant was in Salthill, surrounded by amusement arcades and casinos where Mr O’Loughlin developed a gambling addiction. “I had to leave the job to get away from the gambling,” he says. It was with the “fantastic support of my family and my friends” that he overcame the addiction.

A number of years ago a family friend asked him to help with their events’ decoration business. “I was only helping but I loved it, I loved the hard work and seeing the results of that.” When the business closed, friends encouraged him to start his own.” With family support he bought a van, revived contacts with flower stockists and now employs four people.

“I love hard work. It doesn’t give you down time to think about negativity... I don’t like having too many reminiscences,” he says.

He is one of 10 winners at the 15th annual Traveller Pride Awards on Thursday, marking the start of Traveller Pride Week. Together they are seen as an important marker of the positive achievements of both individual Travellers and their 30,000-strong community which were often at the centre of negative stories about the mental health crisis, housing challenges, and discrimination and racism it faced, said a spokesman.

Other winners on Thursday will include Annmarie Sweeney, from Galway, who has overcome prison and addiction and is now a founding member of the Traveller Drug Advisory Board.

Nadine Cawley (15) from Co Galway is an “outstanding young footballer” and the only Traveller on her team, Ballinasloe FC, while Cindy Collins (13) from Co Mayo is a young artist and “outstanding advocate for Traveller culture” say their citations.

An Tearmann, a women’s Traveller group in Co Tyrone, which supports women with their health, education, rights and recognition, will receive the “community” award.

Asked what the award meant to him, Mr O’Loughlin said he thrived on setting targets and meeting his goals. “But this award, this is not a goal, this is a dream. I’d like it to help support every young person who has a dream in their head to know that with hard work, dedication they can get there. ‘Don’t stop, never ever stop’. With support and keeping going you can get there,” he said.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times