Irish Traveller
Irish Travellers are a traditionally nomadic people of ethnic Irish
Irish people
The Irish people are an ethnic group who originate in Ireland, an island in northwestern Europe. Ireland has been populated for around 9,000 years , with the Irish people's earliest ancestors recorded having legends of being descended from groups such as the Nemedians, Fomorians, Fir Bolg, Tuatha...

 origin, who maintain a separate language and set of traditions. They live predominantly in the Republic of Ireland
Republic of Ireland
Ireland , described as the Republic of Ireland , is a sovereign state in Europe occupying approximately five-sixths of the island of the same name. Its capital is Dublin. Ireland, which had a population of 4.58 million in 2011, is a constitutional republic governed as a parliamentary democracy,...

, the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 and the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...



Travellers refer to themselves as Minceir or Pavees in their own language or in Irish as an Lucht Siúil, meaning literally "the walking people".

Travellers are often referred to by the terms "gypsies", "didicoy
Didicoy is a term of the Romanichal for travellers with mixed Romani blood. There was often fierce competition between the groups, and the Romanichal tended to blame their own reputation for criminality on the didicoys and other nomadic groups masquerading as "Gypsies".Some families of mixed...

", "tinkers" or "knacker
A knacker is a person in the trade of rendering animals that are unfit for human consumption, such as horses that can no longer work. This leads to the slang expression "knackered" meaning very tired, or "ready for the knacker’s yard", where old horses are slaughtered and made into dog food and glue...

s". 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
Horse slaughter
Horse slaughter is the practice of slaughtering horses for meat. These animals come mainly from auctions, where they're sold by private sellers and breeders....


The term 'gypsy' first appeared in record in the sixteenth century from a category of people thought to be Egyptians
Egyptians are nation an ethnic group made up of Mediterranean North Africans, the indigenous people of Egypt.Egyptian identity is closely tied to geography. The population of Egypt is concentrated in the lower Nile Valley, the small strip of cultivable land stretching from the First Cataract to...

Other names, specifically derogatory, such as "pikey
Pikey is a pejorative slang term used mainly in the United Kingdom to refer to Irish Travellers, gypsies or people of low social class. Pikey is also sometimes called a piker in the United States, but a piker in Australia and New Zealand means someone who refuses to do something within a...

" and "gypo" or "gippo" (derived from "Gypsy") are also heard.

Didicoy is a term of the Romanichal for travellers with mixed Romani blood. There was often fierce competition between the groups, and the Romanichal tended to blame their own reputation for criminality on the didicoys and other nomadic groups masquerading as "Gypsies".Some families of mixed...

" is a Romani
Romani language
Romani or Romany, Gypsy or Gipsy is any of several languages of the Romani people. They are Indic, sometimes classified in the "Central" or "Northwestern" zone, and sometimes treated as a branch of their own....

 term for a child of mixed Romani and non-Romani parentage; as applied to the Travellers, it refers to the fact that they are not "Gypsy" by ethnicity but Irish by blood and lead a similar yet distinct lifestyle.

The Didicoy term or context doesn't exist amongst The Pavee (Irish Traveller) It is a Gypsy term. Any 'mixed race Traveller would be accepted as a Pavee as long as they lived among the Pavee people with the Pavee parent. The Pavee have recently been found to have a distinct DNA strand from any other culture in the world. (Blood of the Travellers. RTE) There is a belief among many Pavee that they are the indigenous people of ireland. The DNA evidence could suggest not only are they not from the Irish gene pool but might pre-date the Celts into Ireland.


The 2006 census in the Republic of Ireland
Republic of Ireland
Ireland , described as the Republic of Ireland , is a sovereign state in Europe occupying approximately five-sixths of the island of the same name. Its capital is Dublin. Ireland, which had a population of 4.58 million in 2011, is a constitutional republic governed as a parliamentary democracy,...

 reported the number of Irish Travellers as 22,369. A further 1,700 to 2,000 were estimated to live in Northern Ireland.

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 Tuam, Galway
Tuam is a town in County Galway, Ireland. The name is pronounced choo-um . It is situated west of the midlands of Ireland, and north of Galway city.-History:...

 Travellers constituting 7.71% of the population. There were found to be 9,301 Travellers in the 0-14 age range, comprising 41.5% 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.

Following the findings of the All Ireland Traveller Health Study (estimates for 2008), the figure for Northern Ireland was revised to 3,905 and that for the Republic to 36,224.

United Kingdom

Statistics for Irish Travellers in the UK do not exist, although in 2011, for the first time, the census categorised Romanies (including Roma) and Irish Travellers as distinct ethnic groups. Recent estimates of Travellers living in Great Britain range between 15,000 and 30,000.

The London Boroughs of Harrow and Brent contain significant Irish Traveller populations. In addition to those on varous 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.

United States

Some estimations number Irish Travellers in the United States at 10,000 while others put the number at 40,000. They are descendants of Travellers who left Ireland, mostly during the Great Irish Famine of 1845-60. The largest and most affluent population of about 2,500 lives in Murphy Village, outside of the town of North Augusta, South Carolina
North Augusta, South Carolina
North Augusta is a city in Aiken County, South Carolina, United States, on the north bank of the Savannah River. The population was 21,348 at the 2010 census. The city is included in the Central Savannah River Area and is also part of the Augusta, Georgia metropolitan area.- History :North...

. Other communities exist near White Settlement, Texas
White Settlement, Texas
White Settlement is a city in Tarrant County, Texas, United States, and a northwestern suburb of Fort Worth. The population was 16,116 at the 2010 census.-Geography:White Settlement is located at ....

, 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.


The historical origins of Travellers as a group have been a subject of academic and popular debate. It was once widely believed that Travellers were descended from landowners or labourers who were made homeless by Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell was an English military and political leader who overthrew the English monarchy and temporarily turned England into a republican Commonwealth, and served as Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland....

's military campaign in Ireland
Cromwellian conquest of Ireland
The Cromwellian conquest of Ireland refers to the conquest of Ireland by the forces of the English Parliament, led by Oliver Cromwell during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. Cromwell landed in Ireland with his New Model Army on behalf of England's Rump Parliament in 1649...

 and in the 1840s famine; however, their origins may be more complex. This is almost impossible to thoroughly ascertain as throughout their history Travellers have left no written records of their own.

Others claim there is evidence of nomadic groups in Ireland in the 5th century, and by the 12th century the name Tynkler and Tynker emerged in reference to a group of nomads who maintained a separate identity, social organization, and dialect. Even though all families claim ancient origins, not all families of the Travellers date back to the same point in time; some families adopted Traveller customs centuries ago, while others did so more recently. The Clan Murtagh O'Connors
Clan Muircheartaigh Uí Conchobhair
The Clan Muircheartaigh Uí Conchobhair were descendants of Irish High-King Toirdelbach Ua Conchobair, via his son, Muircheartach Muimhneach . They have been defined by Katherine Simms as:...

 are often cited as an example of aristocratic
Aristocracy (class)
The aristocracy are people considered to be in the highest social class in a society which has or once had a political system of Aristocracy. Aristocrats possess hereditary titles granted by a monarch, which once granted them feudal or legal privileges, or deriving, as in Ancient Greece and India,...

 nomadism in Ireland in the late middle ages
Late Middle Ages
The Late Middle Ages was the period of European history generally comprising the 14th to the 16th century . The Late Middle Ages followed the High Middle Ages and preceded the onset of the early modern era ....

. Their nomadism was based on cattle-herds or 'creaghts'.


Irish Travellers speak English and sometimes one of two dialects of Shelta, Gammon (or Gamin) and Cant. It has been dated back to the 18th century, but may be older.


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 ethos called 'The Travellers Code' that dictates their moral beliefs and can influence their actions.


Traveller children often grow up outside of educational systems. The Irish Traveller Movement, a community advocacy group, promotes equal access to education for Traveller children.

In December 2010, the Irish Equality Tribunal ruled in favour of a traveller child in an anti-discrimination suit covering the admission practices of a school in Tipperary county. This suit may allow more children from the Traveller community to enter mainstream educational institutions.


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
Congenital disorder
A congenital disorder, or congenital disease, is a condition existing at birth and often before birth, or that develops during the first month of life , regardless of causation...

, 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
Republic of Ireland
Ireland , described as the Republic of Ireland , is a sovereign state in Europe occupying approximately five-sixths of the island of the same name. Its capital is Dublin. Ireland, which had a population of 4.58 million in 2011, is a constitutional republic governed as a parliamentary democracy,...

, in conjunction with the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety
Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety
The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety is a devolved Northern Ireland government department in the Northern Ireland Executive...

 in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is one of the four countries of the United Kingdom. Situated in the north-east of the island of Ireland, it shares a border with the Republic of Ireland to the south and west...

, commissioned the University College Dublin
University College Dublin
University College Dublin ) - formally known as University College Dublin - National University of Ireland, Dublin is the Republic of Ireland's largest, and Ireland's second largest, university, with over 1,300 faculty and 17,000 students...

'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, is expected to take up to three years to complete.

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. By comparison, the Irish national average was 15.0 in 2007.

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.


Marriage is often a popular topic of discussion among Irish Travellers. It is said that there are a set of prohibitions of marriage in their community.
  1. Marriage to a buffer (Irish Traveller for a non traveller).
  2. Marriage to first cousin.
  3. Marriage to a person much older or younger: generally highly disapproved of if not prohibited when the age gap is large.
  4. Marriage within the immediate family. Sexual relations are forbidden amongst immediate family including parent's siblings and siblings' offspring.

Since there are no necessary requirements in owning land or a house in the culture of Irish Travellers, they are free to be as financially independent as desired. Couples tend to marry young: girls at around the age of 16 or 17, and boys between 18 and 19.

Population genetics

Genetic studies by Miriam Murphy, David Croke, and other researchers identified certain genetic diseases such as galactosemia
Galactosemia is a rare genetic metabolic disorder that affects an individual's ability to metabolize the sugar galactose properly. Although the sugar lactose can metabolize to galactose, galactosemia is not related to and should not be confused with lactose intolerance...

 that are more common in the Irish Traveller population, involving identifiable allelic
An allele is one of two or more forms of a gene or a genetic locus . "Allel" is an abbreviation of allelomorph. Sometimes, different alleles can result in different observable phenotypic traits, such as different pigmentation...

 mutations that are rarer among the rest of the community.

Two main hypotheses have arisen, speculating whether:
  1. this resulted from marriages made largely within and among the Traveller community, or
  2. suggesting descent from a original Irish carrier
    Founder effect
    In population genetics, the founder effect is the loss of genetic variation that occurs when a new population is established by a very small number of individuals from a larger population. It was first fully outlined by Ernst Mayr in 1942, using existing theoretical work by those such as Sewall...

     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
Founder effect
In population genetics, the founder effect is the loss of genetic variation that occurs when a new population is established by a very small number of individuals from a larger population. It was first fully outlined by Ernst Mayr in 1942, using existing theoretical work by those such as Sewall...

 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.

Anti-Traveller prejudice

A 2011 survey by the Economic and Social Research Institute of Ireland concluded that there is widespread ostracisation 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, ie 0.5 per cent, to survive in a meaningful manner without ongoing and supportive personal contact with their fellow citizens in the settled community."


Travellers are breeders of dogs such as greyhound
The Greyhound is a breed of sighthound that has been primarily bred for coursing game and racing, and the breed has also recently seen a resurgence in its popularity as a pedigree show dog and family pet. It is a gentle and intelligent breed...

s or lurcher
The lurcher is a type of dog originating in Ireland and parts of Great Britain. While not a pure breed, it is generally a cross between a sighthound and any other breed, usually a pastoral dog or terrier, dependent on the attributes desired by the breeder; originally stealth and cunning...

s and have a long-standing interest in horse trading. The main fairs associated with them are held annually at Ballinasloe (Ireland) and Appleby
Appleby Horse Fair
The Appleby Horse Fair is a horse fair which is held annually at Appleby-in-Westmorland, Cumbria in England....

 (England). They are often involved in recycling scrap metals, e.g., 60% of the raw material for Irish Steel is sourced from scrap metal, approximately 50% (75,000 metric tonnes) collected and 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
Self-employment is working for one's self.Self-employed people can also be referred to as a person who works for himself/herself instead of an employer, but drawing income from a trade or business that they operate personally....

 or wage labour
Wage labour
Wage labour is the socioeconomic relationship between a worker and an employer, where the worker sells their labour under a formal or informal employment contract. These transactions usually occur in a labour market where wages are market determined...

, income
Income is the consumption and savings opportunity gained by an entity within a specified time frame, which is generally expressed in monetary terms. However, for households and individuals, "income is the sum of all the wages, salaries, profits, interests payments, rents and other forms of earnings...

 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. In order to detect their financial status many look to the state of the possessions: their trailer
Travel trailer
A travel trailer or caravan is towed behind a road vehicle to provide a place to sleep which is more comfortable and protected than a tent . It provides the means for people to have their own home on a journey or a vacation, without relying on a motel or hotel, and enables them to stay in places...

, motor vehicle
Motor vehicle
A motor vehicle or road vehicle is a self-propelled wheeled vehicle that does not operate on rails, such as trains or trolleys. The vehicle propulsion is provided by an engine or motor, usually by an internal combustion engine, or an electric motor, or some combination of the two, such as hybrid...

, domestic utensils, and any other valuables.

Social identity

Irish Travellers are recognised in British law as an ethnic group
Ethnic group
An ethnic group is a group of people whose members identify with each other, through a common heritage, often consisting of a common language, a common culture and/or an ideology that stresses common ancestry or endogamy...

. The Republic of Ireland, however, does not recognise them as an ethnic group; rather, 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
European Parliament
The European Parliament is the directly elected parliamentary institution of the European Union . Together with the Council of the European Union and the Commission, it exercises the legislative function of the EU and it has been described as one of the most powerful legislatures in the world...

 Committee of Enquiry on Racism
Racism is the belief that inherent different traits in human racial groups justify discrimination. In the modern English language, the term "racism" is used predominantly as a pejorative epithet. It is applied especially to the practice or advocacy of racial discrimination of a pernicious nature...

 and Xenophobia
Xenophobia is defined as "an unreasonable fear of foreigners or strangers or of that which is foreign or strange". It comes from the Greek words ξένος , meaning "stranger," "foreigner" and φόβος , meaning "fear."...

 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 usually viewed in a negative light, as insular, anti-social, drop-outs, misfits, heavily involved in criminal and mendicant
The term mendicant refers to begging or relying on charitable donations, and is most widely used for religious followers or ascetics who rely exclusively on charity to survive....

 behavior, and notorious for settling illegally on land not owned by them.

In Northern Ireland, such prejudices can take on sectarian and political, rather than class-based overtones as the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic and nationalist Travellers are seen by some in the Unionist/Loyalist community as an "invasion from the south of Ireland" and "milking the Northern Irish economy". Some Travellers claim to have experienced difficulties in accessing social services.

Anti-social behaviour

The Commission on Itinerancy, appointed in Ireland in 1960 under Charles Haughey
Charles Haughey
Charles James "Charlie" Haughey was Taoiseach of Ireland, serving three terms in office . He was also the fourth leader of Fianna Fáil...

, 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 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
Mullingar is the county town of County Westmeath in Ireland. The Counties of Meath and Westmeath Act of 1542, proclaimed Westmeath a county, separating it from Meath. Mullingar became the administrative centre for County Westmeath...

 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
Gambling is the wagering of money or something of material value on an event with an uncertain outcome with the primary intent of winning additional money and/or material goods...

 debt linked to a bare-knuckle boxing
Bare-knuckle boxing
Bare-knuckle boxing is the original form of boxing, closely related to ancient combat sports...


Land disputes

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
Common land
Common land is land owned collectively or by one person, but over which other people have certain traditional rights, such as to allow their livestock to graze upon it, to collect firewood, or to cut turf for fuel...

" 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.

The struggle for equal rights for these transient people led to the passing of the Caravan Sites Act 1968
Caravan Sites Act 1968
The Caravan Sites Act 1968 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which resulted in the provision of 400 caravan sites in the UK - where there had been no council-sites before....

 that for some time safeguarded their rights, lifestyle and culture in the UK. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It introduced a number of changes to the existing law, most notably in the restriction and reduction of existing rights and in greater penalties for certain "anti-social" behaviours...

, 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
Democratic Unionist Party
The Democratic Unionist Party is the larger of the two main unionist political parties in Northern Ireland. Founded by Ian Paisley and currently led by Peter Robinson, it is currently the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly and the fourth-largest party in the House of Commons of the...


Depictions and documentaries

Irish Travellers have been depicted, usually negatively but sometimes with some care and sympathy in film, radio, and print. Shows like The Riches
The Riches
The Riches is an FX television series, which originally ran from March 15, 2007 to April 29, 2008, and starred Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver.-History:...

, (US TV Featuring Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver) take a deeper look into the Traveller lifestyle. More recently, Big Fat Gypsy Weddings has been commercially successful in the United Kingdom, with descriptions of traveller life set around real-life weddings.

See also

  • Halting site
    Halting site
    A halting site is a facility constructed for the accommodation of Irish Travellers and other nomadic groups. They are common in Ireland, mainly on the periphery of towns, where they are maintained by local authorities, and include spaces to park caravans and vehicles, electricity and sanitary...

  • Pavee Point Organisation
    Pavee Point
    Pavee Point is a government-funded non-governmental organization based in Dublin, Ireland that was formed to improve the human rights of Irish Travellers and to bridge the economic and social inequalities between Travellers and settled people...

  • Romani people
  • Scottish Travellers
    Scottish Travellers
    Scottish Travellers, or the people termed loosely Gypsies and Tinkers in Scotland, consist of a number of diverse, unrelated communities, with groups speaking a variety of different languages and holding to distinct customs, histories, and traditions...

External links

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