For International Women's Day 2023 - Romany Days and Romany Nights

8 March 2023
Romany Days and Romany Nights

Romany Days and Romany Nights

By Dee Cooper

Pulling onto the ground, laughter filled the air. The familiar chuckles ‌I had longed to hear. The year had gone slowly for some reason. The smell of the wood-smoke bellowed through the open windows of the car, with the rich smell of My Ann’s Joey Grey. “Hello, my cousin” My Ann, now reaching out to me with open arms, “How was your drive up?”, “All Kushti” I replied, “It's so good to see you, Is Ryalla here?” I ask. Ann now pointing to Ry’s Vardo tucked under the massive oak tree that dominated the ground, Ry’s Vardo looked as pretty as a picture. The green bow top shone out in the June sun, the red arched body and gold gilt glistening. 

Ann Wilson
'My Anne'

Bent over the open fire, cooking up a mound of sausage’s, bacon, and mushrooms, was My Ry, her beautiful red hair trailing down her back, her pinny hanging down to the floor as she leaned over to poke the fire. The ashes now flicked out of the flames. 

As she stood up straight to greet me, her cheeky smile and glint in her eye gave me that immediate feeling of love. Now lifting the heavy cast-iron kettle to make tea, Ann, Ry, and I gathered around the yog, Family by blood, friends by choice us three, wisdom between us for all things GRT.

Ry's vardo
Ry's vardo

Today was our yearly meet up, where gorger folk would visit the ground to see the old ways. They would enjoy the history and ambiance, the music, and the dancers, we would share our food and break bread with them. Challenge ideas of stereotypes. Ry would tell stories and sell her much-loved books. Ann would be on bacon puddings and Joe grey all served up with a large helping of crusty bread. I would provide the dancers and singers. It was just after 10 am when our Florence turned up, her beautiful jet back hair and bright red lips heading towards us in her flowing skirt and off the shoulder top, her guitar in hand, the team was complete. The love and pride in all these strong women filled me with joy, Proud Romany women. The children, all under 4ft, run around the common ground, helping elders set up, pulling in wagons to set up for the busy weekend. 

Around the yog
Around the yog

Our children all growing up together, learning the ways of the old days, friendships that would last a lifetime. Safe in the grounds that we were invited to, in celebration of our heritage, we weren’t welcomed to many places, but here we were wanted.


Every year we looked forward to the freedom of the celebration, without fear or fight of being accepted. The days spent entertaining the masses, engagement to help futures, the evenings spent with our families. Stories of old being shared round the yog, eating good food, cooked on the open fire, a taste that can't be beaten. No need for Michelin stars, you couldn't get this sort of cooking or company anywhere, I thought to myself, and there wasn't another place in the world I would rather be.

Standing here today, holding back the tears, there are no familiar chuckles, the ground vast without them, empty spaces where Vardo’s used to nestle, the wood-smoke now overtook by smells of a local diner. If I look close enough, I swear I can still see the remains of scorched grass. The echoes of stories gently brushing through the trees, and the laughter of children.

The images of the strongest women I know still walk these grounds, for this was our happy place, there is no rhyme or reason for them to have been taken far too soon. 

In my heart they are here, walking these grounds with their pinnies on, laughing in the moonlight. Sitting on the shoulders of the Gorger’s, teaching them the Romany ways and not to believe all they read or see on the Telly box. I think of my Ann, who served our community beyond measure, who got to visit the queen, to collect her M.B.E, she was shy about it, her biggest pride was her family and her community, the same as my Ry, family, and community, The same as us all. As I sit on the grass beside the oak, where Romany pride once filled these grounds, I vow to come back again, with the families of these beautiful women and make it bustle with love and laughter again, new, little footsteps, freshly lit fires, and love and pride that will never die.

In memory of Ryalla Duffy and Ann Wilson published by the Travellers' Times on the 8th March, 2023, to mark International Women's Day.

(All pictures courtesy of Dee Cooper)

Romany – English

Yog- Fire

Kushti- Good

Vardo – Wagon

Gorger/Gorgio- Non-Romany

Joe Grey – Gypsy Stew

GRT- Gypsy Roma Traveller