Thursday, October 28, 2010

irish travellers

Have you heard of Irish Travellers? With my job in the non-profit field, I have worked with immigrants from around the world but the culture of the Travellers is new to me since moving to Ireland. Out of pure interest, I have applied to NGO organizations like the Irish Traveller Movement that work for advocacy on behalf of Travellers, access to government assistance, and preservation of their traditions. So who are the Travellers?

Irish Travellers are an ethnic minority gypsy community that live mostly in Ireland and England today. Irish Travellers are similar to Romani gypsies but are ethnically Irish (Caucasian). They speak a language called Shelta which combines the Irish language (Gaelic), modern English, and a complex set of techniques like word reversal and substitution to make their spoken language almost unintelligible to outsiders. Have you ever seen the movie Snatch? Brad Pitt famously plays an Irish Traveller named Mickey O’Neil who the British characters can hardly understand because of his thick accent.

Romani gypsies originated near India during medieval times. Although they are different in origin, Romani and Irish Travellers have similar cultures due to their strictly conservative religious values as well as nomadic lifestyles. Irish Travellers are sometimes referred to as "tinkers" or "knackers" (a derogatory term) based on their historical occupations in metal work and animal slaughter. In modern times, Traveller men are revered as experts in horse-breeding.

Travellers have always been fiercely nomadic and continue to live in caravans, moving from place to place each season. They don’t often mix with mainstream Irish society or "country people" in order to avoid diluting their tradition. A typical Traveller grows up doing outdoor activities like hunting with dogs and racing horses rather than indoor hobbies. Although most Travellers live on the road, new generations have settled in mobile homes, which is why mobile homes are called "caravans" in Ireland.

There is a documentary-style TV program on BBC Channel4 called My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding that follows Irish Travellers and their
outlandish weddings. Based on chatting with a boisterous Traveller family that lives in my building, the program does a fair portrayal of real families and lets them speak about their own values.
click above to see the show

Another excellent look at gypsy life is a book I borrowed from the library called Gypsy Boy: One Boy's Struggle to Escape from a Secret WorldThis memoir is the true story of Mikey Walsh, who is from the Romani background. He writes about a gritty childhood being groomed as a boxer—a tradition for gypsy and Traveller boys as young as 3 years old—and his struggles accepting his community’s way of life.

What do you think about these modern-day gypsies?


  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?