Irish Travellers, not Gypsies!
By jessicastaton on January 13, 2012
Traditional Irish Travellers are a nomadic people native to Ireland who have spread to the UK and parts of the US. They are not drifting homeless people but a distinct, separate, proud culture with their own language, standards, and traditions. The Traveller's own language, Cant, is similar to Cockney in that it uses word replacement to conceal true meanings from outsiders. While their migratory nature and close knit, secretive communities are similar to Gypsies, they are completely separate genetic and cultural groups.
|Traditional Traveller Caravan Modern Traveller Caravan|
They refer to themselves Pavees or an Lucht Siúil, which is Irish for "the walking people". As someone born with irrepressible wanderlust myself, I empathize with their reverence for travel. "A house is like a prison" is a Traveller adage I understand. Travelers do rent or own houses from time to time, but these residences are seen as stopping points until the next adventure - never permanent.
Outsiders commonly refer to them as "tinkers" or "knackers". These names come from the traditional Pavee trades of tin smithing and horse slaughtering, but are now considered offensive. Pikey is another negative term used to describe Travellers, thought to derive from "turn pike" - a common meeting place for Travellers.
|Irish Traveller bridal party|
Family and Roman Catholicism are at the center of their cultural identity. Divorce is unheard of and children out of wedlock are extremely taboo, as in marrying anyone outside the Pavee culture. Having a child marry a "settled" person would be extremely shameful to the entire family. Marriage is encouraged as early as 16, and typically last for life. Wedding are truly outlandish celebrations complete with Cinderella - like dresses, towering cakes, 5 star accommodations, and luxury cars.
A troubling aspect of Pavee life is the lack of health care. Over half of the Traveller population do not live past 40 and infants are 10 times more likely to die before their second birthday than settled people. One in three Travellers die before age 25.
|Traveller settlement debris|
Unfortunately, education and environmental awareness are also not highly esteemed in Pavee culture. Most Pavee children do not attend school past 6th grade, and waste removal tends to mean dumping garbage wherever. Their lack of formal education and the waste they tend to leave behind cause friction in towns they pass through.
The annual Cahirmee Horse Fair in County Cork each July is the oldest fair in Ireland, and the Traveller's largest social event. Women dress in their best finery and men buy, sell, and show horses. It's an opportunity to meet each year with family scattered around the globe.
Travelers live by the "Traveller's code" - an oral tradition passed down through the centuries outlining behavioral expectations. Although little is known of the code to outsiders, it does emphasize the importance of large families sticking together and caring for and respecting their elders. Another tenant of the code is that settled people are referred to as “country people” and viewed as both slow and suspicious.