|Pavee, an lucht siúil|
Irish Travellers in 1954
|Regions with significant populations|
|English (Irish English), Irish, Shelta|
|Related ethnic groups|
Irish Travellers (Irish: an lucht siúil) also called pavees or pejoratively referred to as tinkers, pikeys, and gypsies, are a traditionally itinerant ethnic group who maintain a set of traditions. Although predominantly English speaking, some also use Shelta and other similar cants. They live mostly in Ireland as well as having large numbers in the United Kingdom and in the United States. Their origin is disputed. Currently, traveller rights groups are pushing for ethnic status from the Irish government, although they have not yet succeeded.
Travellers refer to themselves as Minkiers or Pavees, or in Irish as an Lucht Siúil ("the traveling people"). Travellers may often be referred to by the terms tinkers, gipsies/gypsies, itinerants, or, pejoratively, knackers in Ireland. Some of these terms refer to services that were traditionally provided by them — tinkering or tinsmithing, for example, being the mending of tinware such as pots and pans, and knackering being the acquisition of dead or old horses for slaughter. The term gypsy first appeared in record in the 16th century from the continental Romani people in England and Scotland mistakenly thought to be Egyptians,(p158) who arrived in Britain. Other names, specifically derogatory, such as pikey are also heard.
From the 2006 Irish census it was determined that 20,975 dwell in urban areas and 1,460 were living in rural areas. With an overall population of just 0.5% some areas were found to have a higher proportion, with Travellers constituting 7.71% of the population in Tuam, Galway. There were found to be 9,301 Travellers in the 0–14 age range, comprising 41.5% of the Traveller population, and a further 3,406 of them were in the 15–24 age range, comprising 15.2%. Children of age range 0–17 comprised 48.7% of the Traveller population.
According to the 2002 Irish census, the vast majority of Irish travelers in Ireland are officially unemployed and in receipt of state unemployment payments. From the 2002 census "Nearly three out of four male Travellers unemployed. The labour force participation rate for male Travellers (72%) slightly exceeded that for total males (70%) while the rate for female Travellers (38%) was considerably below that for females in general (47%). Unemployment among male Travellers measured 73 per cent according to the self-assessed principal economic status question on the census form. The national measure of unemployment for males on a comparable basis was 9.4 per cent according to the 2002 census results. Corresponding rates for females were 63 per cent for female Travellers and 8 per cent for the female population overall."
An even greater percentage were unemployed and living on state benefits as measured in the 2011 census "The report showed that there are 9,973 travellers able to work but they have an 84% unemployment rate, up from 75% in 2006. "
In 2011, for the first time, the census category "Irish Traveller" was introduced as part of the broader Gypsy/Traveller section. The self reported figure for collective Gypsy/Traveller and/or Irish Traveller populations were 63,193 but recent estimates of Travellers living in Great Britain range between 15,000 as part of a total estimation of 300,000 Romani and other Traveller groups in the UK.
The London Boroughs of Harrow and Brent contain significant Irish Traveller populations. In addition to those on various official sites there are a number who are settled in Local Authority Housing. These are mostly women who wish their children to have a chance at a good education. They and the children may or may not travel in the summer but remain in close contact with the wider Traveller community.
There are also a number of Irish Traveller communities in the Home Counties.
There are no official population figures regarding Irish Travellers in the United States as the US census does not recognise them as an ethnic group. While some sources estimate their population in the US to be 10,000, others suggest their population is 40,000. According to research published in 1992, Irish travellers in the US divide themselves up into groups that are based on historical residence: Ohio Travellers, Georgia Travellers, Texas Travellers, and Mississippi Travellers. The "Georgia Travelers' camp is made up of about eight hundred families, the Mississippi Travelers, about three hundred families, and the Texas Travelers, under fifty families."
The largest and most affluent population of about 2,500 lives in Murphy Village, outside of the town of North Augusta, South Carolina. Other communities exist near White Settlement, Texas, where the families stay in their homes during the winter, and leave during the summer, while smaller enclaves can be found across Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.
Travellers in the US are said to speak English and Cant. The Cant spoken in the US is similar to the Cant spoken in Ireland, but differes in some respects in that the language has transformed into a type of pidgin English over the generations. They typically work in asphalting, spray painting, laying linoleum, or as itinerant workers to earn their living.
The historical origins of Irish Travellers as a group has been a subject of academic and popular debate. Such discussions have been difficult as Irish Travellers left no written records of their own. They may be of Romani extraction, although this theory is disputed and theories of pre-Celt origin also exist.(p43) Jean-Pierre Liégeois wrote that the Irish Traveller Gammon vocabulary is derived from pre-13th-century Celtic idioms with ten percent Indian origin Romani language vocabulary. Celtic language expert Kuno Meyer and Romani language linguist John Sampson both asserted that Shelta existed as far back as the 13th century, 300 years before the first Romani populations arrived on the island of Britain.
Their origin is genetically Irish. with around 10,000 people in the United States being descendants of Travellers who left Ireland, mostly during the period between 1845 and 1860 during the Great Famine. About 2,500 of them live in Murphy Village, a community outside North Augusta, South Carolina.
In 2011 an analysis of DNA from 40 Travellers was undertaken at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin and the University of Edinburgh. The study provided evidence that Irish Travellers are a distinct Irish ethnic minority, who separated from the settled Irish community at least 1000 years ago; the claim was made that they are as distinct from the settled community as Icelanders are from Norwegians. Irish Travellers "left no written record of their own" and their families do not date back to the same point in time; some families adopted Traveller customs centuries ago, while others did so more recently. It is unclear how many Irish Travellers would be included in this distinct ethnic group at least from a genetic perspective.
Among other speculation on their origins, "two theories are rejected outright": that they were descended from those Irish who were made homeless by Oliver Cromwell's military campaign in Ireland in the 1650s, or made homeless in the 1840s famine due to eviction.(p56)
The 1959–63 government of Ireland established a "Commission on Itinerancy" with the following terms of reference:
- (1) to enquire into the problem arising from the presence in the country of itinerants in considerable numbers;
- (2) to examine the economic, educational, health and social problems inherent in their way of life;
- (3) to consider what steps might be taken—
- (a) to provide opportunities for a better way of life for itinerants,
- (b) to promote their absorption into the general community,
- (c) pending such absorption, to reduce to a minimum the disadvantages to themselves and to the community resulting from their itinerant habits and
- (d) to improve the position generally; and
- (4) to make recommendations.
The Commission's 1963 report defined "itinerant" as "a person who had no fixed place of abode and habitually wandered from place to place, but excluding travelling show-people and travelling entertainers". It recommended assimilation of travellers by settling them in fixed dwellings, viewing the Netherlands' approach to its travelling minority as a model. At the time, about 60% Irish travellers lived in barrel-roofed horse-drawn wagons, with almost 40% still using tents in summer (fewer in winter).
The Travelling People Review Body (1981–83) advocated integration rather than assimilation, with provision for serviced halting sites. The Body's membership included travellers. The Task Force on the Travelling Community (1993–95) moved to an intercultural paradigm.
Irish Travellers speak English and sometimes one of two dialects of Shelta, Gammon (or Gamin) and Irish Traveller Cant. Shelta has been dated back to the 18th century, but may be older. Cant, which derives from Irish, is a combination of English and Shelta.
Travellers have a distinctive approach to religion; the vast majority are Roman Catholics with particular attention paid to issues of healing. They have been known to follow a strict code of behaviour that dictates some of their moral beliefs and influences their actions.
In December 2010, the Irish Equality Tribunal ruled in favour of a traveller child in an anti-discrimination suit covering the admission practices of CBS High School Clonmel in County Tipperary. This suit may allow more children from the Traveller community to enter mainstream educational institutions.
In July 2011 the secondary school in Clonmel successfully appealed the decision of the Equality Tribunal that its admission criteria were indirectly discriminatory against children from the Traveller community.
The health of Irish Travellers is significantly poorer than that of the general population in Ireland. This is evidenced in a 2007 report published in Ireland, which states that over half of Travellers do not live past the age of 39 years. Another government report of 1987 found:
From birth to old age, they have high mortality rates, particularly from accidents, metabolic and congenital problems, but also from other major causes of death. Female Travellers have especially high mortality compared to settled women.
In 2007, the Department of Health and Children in the Republic of Ireland, in conjunction with the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland, commissioned the University College Dublin's School of Public Health and Population Science to conduct a major cross-border study of Travellers' welfare. The study, including a detailed census of Traveller population and an examination of their health status, was expected to take up to three years to complete. The main results of the study were published in 2010.
The birth rate of Irish Travellers has decreased since the 1990s, but they still have one of the highest birth rates in Europe. The birth rate for the Traveller community for the year 2005 was 33.32 per 1,000, possibly the highest birth rate recorded for any community in Europe.
On average there are ten times more driving fatalities within the Traveller community. At 22%, this represents the most common cause of death among Traveller males. Some 10% of Traveller children die before their second birthday, compared to just 1% of the general population. In Ireland, 2.6% of all deaths in the total population were for people aged under 25, versus 32% for the Travellers. In addition, 80% of Travellers die before the age of 65.
Teen marriage is common among the Irish Traveller.(p110) Couples tend to marry young. According to Judith Okely, "there is no large time spans between puberty and marriage" of Travellers. Okely wrote in 1983 that the typical marriage age for females was 16–17 and the typical marriage age for males was 18–19.(p153) As of the Census of Ireland 2011 the average age of an Irish Traveller was 22.4 and 52.2% were aged under 20. Yet only 252 15–19-year-old enumerated Irish Travellers identified themselves as married. In contrast, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (DEHLG) in ROI "definition of a [Traveller] family includes unmarried Traveller men over 18 as a unit" because, according to Abdalla et al., "it is understood that they will marry at this age and require an additional unit of accommodation." Irish Travellers generally marry other Irish Travellers.(p156) Consanguineous marriage is common among Irish Travellers.(p156)(pp110–111)
Irish Travellers lived as cohabiters who "married at one time without religious or civil ceremony."(p258) Into the early 20th century about one-third of Irish Travellers were "married according to the law."(p246)
According to Christopher Griffin, arranged Irish Traveller marriages in the early 21st century "safeguard the girl's [interests] by securing a man who won't mistreat her."(p247) According to Julie Bindel, in Standpoint, some Irish Traveller females in the UK are forced into marriages, but Bindel points out that data is difficult to obtain because "the line between an arranged marriage and a forced one is not always clear."
A genetic analysis of Irish Travellers found evidence to support the hypotheses of: (1) Irish ancestry; (2) several distinct subpopulations; and (3) the distinctiveness of the midland counties due to Viking influence.
Genetic studies by Miriam Murphy, David Croke, and other researchers identified certain genetic diseases such as galactosemia that are more common in the Irish Traveller population, involving identifiable allelic mutations that are rarer among the rest of the community.
Two main hypotheses have arisen, speculating whether:
- this resulted from marriages made largely within and among the Traveller community, or
- suggesting descent from an original Irish carrier long ago with ancestors unrelated to the rest of the Irish population.
They concluded that: "The fact that Q188R is the sole mutant allele among the Travellers as compared to the non-Traveller group may be the result of a founder effect in the isolation of a small group of the Irish population from their peers as founders of the Traveller sub-population. This would favour the second, endogenous, hypothesis of Traveller origins."
More specifically, they found that Q188R was found in 100% of Traveller samples, and in 89% of other Irish samples, indicating that the Traveller group was typical of the larger Irish indigenous population.
Social conflict and controversies
Discrimination and Prejudice
Travellers are often reported as the subject of explicit political and cultural discrimination, with politicians being elected on promises to block Traveller housing in local communities, and individuals frequently refused service in pubs, shops and hotels.
A 2011 survey by the Economic and Social Research Institute of Ireland concluded that there is widespread ostracism of Travellers in Ireland, and the report concluded that this could hurt the long-term prospects for Travellers, who "need the intercultural solidarity of their neighbours in the settled community. ... They are too small a minority, i.e., 0.5 percent, to survive in a meaningful manner without ongoing and supportive personal contact with their fellow citizens in the settled community." The general prejudice against Travellers hinders efforts by the central government to integrate Travellers into Irish society.
Many Travellers are breeders of dogs such as greyhounds or lurchers and have a long-standing interest in horse trading. The main fairs associated with them are held annually at Ballinasloe (County Galway), Puck Fair (County Kerry), Ballabuidhe Horse Fair (County Cork), the twice yearly Smithfield Horse Fair (Dublin inner city) and Appleby (England). They are often involved in dealing scrap metals, e.g., 60% of the raw material for Irish steel is sourced from scrap metal, approximately 50% (75,000 metric tonnes) segregated by the community at a value of more than £1.5 million. Such percentages for more valuable non-ferrous metals may be significantly greater.
Since the majority of Irish Travellers' employment is either self-employment or wage labour, income and financial status varies greatly from family to family. Many families choose not to reveal the specifics of their finances, but when explained it is very difficult to detect any sort of pattern or regular trend of monthly or weekly income. To detect their financial status many look to the state of the possessions: their trailer, motor vehicle, domestic utensils, and any other valuables.
Irish Travellers are recognised in British law as an ethnic group. In Irish law, their legal status is that of a social group. An ethnic group is defined as one whose members identify with each other, usually on the basis of a presumed common genealogy or ancestry. Ethnic identity is also marked by the recognition from others of a group's distinctiveness and by common cultural, linguistic, religious, behavioural or biological traits.
The European Parliament Committee of Enquiry on Racism and Xenophobia found them to be among the most discriminated-against ethnic groups in Ireland and yet their status remains insecure in the absence of widespread legal endorsement. Travellers are often viewed by settled people in a negative light, perceived as insular, anti-social, 'drop-outs' and 'misfits', or believed to be involved in criminal and mendicant behaviour, or settling illegally on land owned by others.
Violence and crime
The Commission on Itinerancy, appointed in Ireland in 1960 under Charles Haughey, found that "public brawling fuelled by excessive drinking further added to settled people's fear of Travellers ... feuding was felt to be the result of a dearth of pastimes and [of] illiteracy, historically comparable to features of rural Irish life before the Famine."
In 2008 a faction fight riot broke out in D'Alton Park, Mullingar involving up to 65 people of the Nevin, Dinnegan and McDonagh families. The court hearing in 2010 resulted in suspended sentences for all the defendants. The cause may have been an unpaid gambling debt linked to a bare-knuckle boxing match.
A 2011 report, conducted by the Irish Chaplaincy in Britain, Voices Unheard: A Study of Irish Travellers in Prison (Mac Gabhann, 2011) found that social, economic and educational exclusion were contributing factors to the high levels of offending behaviour by Irish Travellers.
A complaint against Travellers in the United Kingdom is that of unauthorised Traveller sites being established on privately owned land or on council-owned land not designated for that purpose. Under the government's "Gypsy and Traveller Sites Grant", designated sites for Travellers' use are provided by the council, and funds are made available to local authorities for the construction of new sites and maintenance and extension of existing sites.
However, Travellers also frequently make use of other, non-authorised sites, including public "common land" and private plots such as large fields and other privately owned land. The Travellers claim that there is an under-provision of authorised sites – the Gypsy Council estimates an under-provision amounts to insufficient sites for 3,500 people. A famous example was Dale Farm in Essex.
The passing of the Caravan Sites Act 1968 for some time safeguarded their right to a site, but the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, however, repealed part II of the 1968 act, removing the duty on local authorities in the UK to provide sites for Travellers and giving them the power to close down existing sites. In Northern Ireland, opposition to Travellers' sites has been led by the Democratic Unionist Party.
List of Travellers' organisations
- Irish Traveller Community (1960s)
- Itinerant Settlement Committee (1960s–1980s)
- Travellers' Rights Committee (1981–83)
- Minceir Misli (1983–85)
- Travellers' Education and Development Group (founded in 1984)
- Pavee Point (founded 1985)
- Irish Travellers' Movement (founded in 1990)
Depictions and documentaries
Irish Travellers have been depicted, usually negatively but sometimes with some care and sympathy, in film, radio, print, and television. Shows like The Riches, (2007–2008) – the American television series featuring Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver – take a deeper look into the Traveller lifestyle. More recently, the documentary series Big Fat Gypsy Weddings (2010, 2011, and 2012) has been commercially successful in the United Kingdom, offering glimpses of Traveller life as viewed at real-life weddings. A 1997 American film, Traveller, starring Bill Paxton and Mark Wahlberg, also explored the Travellers in America.
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Such is the animus toward Travelers that almost half of the country’s 31 localities returned the money allocated by the central government for Traveler accommodations this year.
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- Gmelch, Sharon (1991). Nan: The Life of an Irish Travelling Woman. Prospect Heights, Illinois: Waveland Press. ISBN 0-88133-602-5.
- García Grande, María Remedios (2010). Ni una palabra más (in Spanish). Bilbao Biografías Personales. ISBN 978-84-614-1053-8.
- Joyce, Nan (1985). Farmar, Anna, ed. Traveller: an autobiography. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-7171-1388-0.
- Maher, Sean (1998). The Road to God Knows Where: A Memoir of a Travelling Boyhood. Dublin: Veritas Publications. ISBN 1-85390-314-0.
- Merrigan, Michael (2009). "Is there a Case for Indigenous Ethnic Status in Ireland". In Stanley, Rory J. Féil-scríbhinn Liam Mhic Alasdair: essays presented to Liam Mac Alasdair, FGSI. Dublin: Genealogical Society of Ireland. pp. 101–115. ISBN 978-1-898471-67-7.
- Ó hAodha, Micheál; Acton, Thomas A., eds. (2007). Travellers, Gypsies, Roma: The Demonisation of Difference. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press. ISBN 978-1-84718-127-5.
- Sánchez Rodríguez, Eleuterio (1977). Camina o revienta: memorias de "El Lute" (in Spanish). Madrid: Cuadernos para el diálogo. ISBN 978-8-42296-014-0.
- Thouroude, Guillaume (2012). Voyage au pays des Travellers: Irlande, début du XXIe siècle. Voyage au pays des... (in French). Paris: Cartouche. ISBN 978-2915842845..
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Irish Travellers.|
- Traveller Equality Project, Irish Chaplaincy in Britain
- Traveller Heritage and Photo Site from Navan Travellers Workshops
- Irish Travellers' Movement
- Pavee Point Travellers Centre
- Involve (formerly the National Association of Travellers' Centres)
- Historical Resources for Research into the Social, Economic and Cultural History of Irish Travellers
- Traveller and Roma Collection at the University of Limerick
- The Travellers: Ireland's Ethnic Minority
- London Gypsy and Travellers Unit, Representing Traveller's issues in North and East London
- Friends, Families and Travellers. Advice and Information for Gypsies and Travellers (UK-based charity)
- "Ireland's biggest minority group" (CNN photo blog)
- When is 'I do' taboo? (About carrier testing to determine the risks of genetic disorders in Irish Traveller cousin marriages)