Thursday, October 28, 2010

irish travellers

With my background in the non-profit field I am utterly fascinated by the Irish Travellers. I have worked with different cultures including refugees and immigrants from around the world but Travellers are wholly new to me. I have actually applied to a few organizations like the Irish Traveller Movement that work for advocacy on behalf of travellers in policy, access to government assistance, etc. so I might get to know the culture better.

The Irish Travellers are an ethnic minority community that live mostly in Ireland and England today. Have you ever seen the movie Snatch? Brad Pitt plays an Irish Traveller in that movie. From the little bit I know they are similar to Romani gypsies in lifestyle but are ethnically Irish (Caucasian). They speak a language called Shelta which combines the Irish language (Gaelic), techniques of letter affixiation/reversal/metathesis/substitution, and nowadays modern English. From what I've heard (on the street, on the bus, etc.) it just sounds like garbled English in a heavy accent.

Romani gypsies originated somewhere near India during medieval times so they are different in origin but have a similar culture and community values. Irish Travellers are sometimes referred to as "tinkers" or "knackers" (a derogatory term) based on some of their historically-held jobs of doing metal-work and animal slaughter. They are a people who travel in caravans, are supposedly experts about horses, and live strictly xenophobic lifestyles. They do not mix with the rest of society--"country people".  Although most travellers live nomadic lives, some are more stationary and have mobile homes, which probably due to that fact are called "caravans" here in Ireland.

I dont know too much about Travellers but I am intrigued by the culture, especially their outlandish wedding festivities. I give links to two things below that I enjoyed and give an in-depth look at gypsy life.

1. There was a program called My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding that followed Irish Traveller weddings in England documentary-style. I thought they did a fair portrayal of traveller families and let them speak about their own values. I would highly recommend seeing the documentary before you Google Image Search "traveller weddings" because although the outfits are indeed flamboyant, I think the documentary puts them into the right cultural context.

click here to see the documentary
2. The other thing I read about gypsies was a book I borrowed from the library called Gypsy Boy: One Boy's Struggle to Escape from a Secret World. This book is the true story of Mikey Walsh (name changed) who is from the Romani background. He tells about his tough childhood being groomed to fight, his struggle coming out as gay to his community, and his difficulty leaving the gypsy lifestyle. In some parts he speaks about the differences between his community and the Irish Travellers although I tend to think they are more similar than different. Anyway I am definitely interested in learning more about gypsy cultures because nothing similar exists in the United States. What do you think about the idea of modern gypsies? Better yet, what do you think of their clothes?
click here to read about it on


  1. fyi we americans cannot access the documentary because there is a BIG WALL in the middle of the atlantic that does not let different countries share the internet's contents.

  2. I was afraid of that--I can't tell when I post the link from here obviously. I didnt know the rules about this wall. I think it includes everything that has played on television at some point in time. Other videos seem fine though. Quite frustrating but maybe you can Netflix something on the topic?