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Irish Travellers

For other uses of the term see Traveler.
Irish Travellers in 1954

Irish Travellers (Irish: an lucht siúil) also called pavees, tinkers, or gypsies, are a traditionally itinerant ethnic group who maintain a set of traditions.[1][2] 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.[3] Their origin is disputed. Around 10,000 people in the United States are descendants of Travellers who left Ireland, mostly during the period between 1845 and 1860 during the Great Famine.[4] About 2,500 of them live in Murphy Village, a community outside North Augusta, South Carolina.[5]


  • Etymology 1
  • Distribution 2
    • Ireland 2.1
    • Great Britain 2.2
    • United States 2.3
  • History 3
    • Origins 3.1
    • Twentieth century 3.2
  • Language 4
  • Religion 5
  • Education 6
  • Health 7
  • Marriage 8
    • Population genetics 8.1
  • Social conflict and controversies 9
    • Discrimination and Prejudice 9.1
    • Income 9.2
    • Social identity 9.3
    • Violence and crime 9.4
    • Land disputes 9.5
  • List of Irish Travellers 10
  • List of Travellers' organisations 11
  • Depictions and documentaries 12
  • See also 13
  • References 14
    • Notes and references 14.1
    • Bibliography 14.2
  • External links 15


Travellers refer to themselves as Minkiers[6] or Pavees, or in Irish as an Lucht Siúil, meaning literally "the walking people".

Travellers are often referred to by the terms tinkers, itinerants, or, pejoratively, knackers[7] in Ireland.[8] 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. Tinker and especially knacker is used as a pejorative against Travellers in Ireland.

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,[9] who arrived in Britain. Other names, specifically derogatory, such as pikey[10][11] are also heard.



The 2006 census in the Republic of Ireland reported the number of Irish Travellers as 22,369.[12] A further 1,700 to 2,000 were estimated to live in Northern Ireland.[13]

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.

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.[14]

Great Britain

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[15] but recent estimates of Travellers living in Great Britain range between 15,000[16] as part of a total estimation of 300,000 Gypsy/Roma and other Traveller groups in the UK.[17]

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.[18]

United States

Due to the level of secrecy of the group, there are no official or legitimate population figures regarding Travellers in the United States.[19] In fact, Irish Travellers are not recognised as a unique ethnic group by the US Census.[19] While some sources estimate their population in the US to be 10,000, others suggest their population is 40,000. According to research by Mary E. Andereck, "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."[19]

Travellers in the US divide themselves up into groups that are based on historical residence: Ohio Travellers, Georgia Travellers, Texas Travellers, and Mississippi Travellers.[19] The largest and most affluent population of about 2,500 lives in Murphy Village, outside of the town of

  • 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, a UK-based charity.
  • "Ireland's biggest minority group" CNN.

External links

  • Bhreatnach, Aoife (2007). Becoming Conspicuous: Irish Travellers, Society and the State 1922–70. Dublin: University College Dublin Press.  
  • Bhreatnach, Aoife; Breathnach, Ciara (2006). Portraying Irish Travellers: histories and representations. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press.  
  • Burke, Mary (2009). 'Tinkers': Synge and the Cultural History of the Irish Traveller. Oxford University Press, USA.  
  • Dillon, Eamon (2006). The Outsiders. Merlin Publishing.  
  • Drummond, Anthony; Hayes, Micheál (ed.); Acton, Thomas (ed.) (2006). "Cultural Denigration: Media representation of Irish Travellers as Criminal". Counter-Hegemony and the Postcolonial "Other". Cambridge Scholars Press: Cambridge. pp. 75–85.  
  • Drummond, Anthony; Ồ hAodha, Micheál (2007). "The Construction of Irish Travellers (and Gypsies) as a Problem". Migrants and Memory: The Forgotten "Postcolonials". Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Press. pp. 2–42.  
  • Drummond, Anthony (2007). "Irish Travellers and the Criminal Justice Systems Across the Island of Ireland". University of Ulster (PhD thesis). 
  • Gmelch, George (1985). The Irish Tinkers: the urbanization of an itinerant people. Prospect Heights, Illinois: Waveland Press.  
  • Gmelch, Sharon (1991). Nan: The Life of an Irish Travelling Woman. Prospect Heights, Illinois: Waveland Press.  
  • García Grande, María Remedios (2010). Ni una palabra más. Celaya Barturen, Beatriz; ISBN 978-84-614-1053-8.
  • Joyce, Nan; Farmar, Anna (ed.) (1985). Traveller: an autobiography. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan.  
  • Maher, Sean (1998). The Road to God Knows Where: A Memoir of a Travelling Boyhood. Dublin: Veritas Publications.  
  • Merrigan, Michael (2009). Is there a Case for Indigenous Ethnic Status in Ireland (pp. 101–115, Féil-Scríbhinn Liam Mhic Alasdair:Essays Presented to Liam Mac Alasdair, FGSI). Dublin: Genealogical Society of Ireland.  
  • Ó hAodha, Micheál; Acton, Thomas (eds.) (2007). Travellers, Gypsies, Roma: The Demonisation of Difference. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press.  
  • Sánchez, Eleuterio (1977). Camina o revienta: memorias de El Lute. Cuadernos para el diálogo.
  • Thouroude, Guillaume (2012). Voyage au pays des Travellers : (Irlande, début du XXIe siècle). Paris: Cartouche. .  


  1. ^ Ethnicity and the American cemetery by Richard E. Meyer. 1993. "... though many of them crossed the Atlantic in centuries past to play their trade".
  2. ^ Questioning Gypsy identity: ethnic narratives in Britain and America by Brian Belton
  3. ^ "Questioning Gypsy". 
  4. ^ Dan and Conor Casey, Irish America Magazine, Sept/October1994
  5. ^ "North Augusta episode of 'My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding' was most 'revelatory,' producer says". The Augusta Chronicle. Archived from the original on 19 July 2012. 
  6. ^ Clarity, James F. (8 February 1999). "Tullamore Journal; Travelers' Tale: Irish Nomads Make Little Headway". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ 'All right in their own place': Policing and the spatial regulation of Irish Travellers. Criminology and Criminal Justice, July 2012 vol. 12 no. 3 307–327
  8. ^ "The Roma Empire". newsquest (sunday herald). 2009. Retrieved 11 May 2009. 
  9. ^ a b c Okely, Judith. The Traveller-gypsies. New York: Cambridge, 1983., p158.
  10. ^ Geoghegan, Tom (11 June 2008). "How offensive is the word 'pikey'?". BBC News Magazine. Retrieved 11 May 2009. 
  11. ^ "How the White Working Class Became 'Chav'" by J. Preston, Whiteness and Class in Education, 2007
  12. ^ Irish Census 2006
  13. ^ Redmond, Andrea (2008). Out of Site, Out of Mind': An Historical Overview of Accommodating Irish Travellers' Nomadic Culture in Northern Ireland"'" (PDF). Community Relations Council (CRC). pp. 1, 71. Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  14. ^ Abdala, Safa; Brigid Quirke (September 2010). Cecily Kelleher, ed. Demography & Vital Statistics – Part A of Technical Report 2 (PDF). Our Geels – All Ireland Traveller Health Study. Patricia Fitzpatrick, Leslie Daly. UCD School of Public Health and Population Science. p. 21. Retrieved 28 March 2011. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Traveller Health: A National Strategy 2002–2005". Irish Medical Journal. 
  17. ^ Bindel, Julie (25 February 2011). "The big fat truth about Gypsy life". The Guardian (London). 
  18. ^ Sedghi, Ami (29 June 2011). "Every Gypsy and Traveller caravan site in England mapped and listed". The Guardian (London). 
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h Andereck, Mary E. "Irish Travelers." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. Vol. 1: North America. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1996. 162–164. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 21 December 2011.
  20. ^ "Who are the Irish Travellers in the United States?". Pavee Point Travellers Centre. June 2005. Retrieved 20 July 2011. 
  21. ^ License To Steal, Traveling Con Artists, Their Games, Their Rules – Your Money by Dennis Marlock & John Dowling, Paladin Press, 1994: Boulder, Colorado
  22. ^ Solidarity with Travellers, 2008, Sean O'Riain
  23. ^ Helleiner, Jane (2003). Irish Travellers: Racism and the Politics of Culture. University of Toronto Press.  
  24. ^ Keane, David. "International Law and the Ethnicity of Irish Travellers." Wash. & Lee Race & Ethnic Anc. LJ 11 (2005): 43.
  25. ^ Rosarii Griffin, Education in Indigenous, Nomadic and Travelling Communities, A&C Black, 2014, p. 50, ISBN 9781472511195
  26. ^ Jean-Pierre Liégeois, Roma in Europe, Council of Europe, 2007, p. 43
  27. ^ Meyer, Kuno. 1909. The secret languages of Ireland. Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, New Series, 2: 241–6.
  28. ^ "DNA study: Travellers a distinct ethnicity". 
  29. ^ Sharon Gmelch, Nan: The Life of an Irish Travelling Woman, page 14
  30. ^ Commission on Itinerancy (26 November 1963). Report (PDF). Official publications. Pr.7272. Dublin: Stationery Office. 
  31. ^ a b c O'Connell, John (October 1997). "Policy Issues in Ireland". In Orla Egan. Minority Ethnic Groups In Higher Education In Ireland - Proceedings of Conference held in St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, 27 September 1996. Higher Education Equality Unit.  
  32. ^ Travelling people review body (February 1983). Report (PDF). Official publications. Pl.1520. Dublin: Stationery Office. 
  33. ^ Task Force on the Travelling Community (July 1995). Report (PDF). Official publications. Pn.1726. Dublin: Department of Equality and Law Reform. 
  34. ^ Sharon Gmlech, op. cit., p. 234
  35. ^ Brownlee, Attracta, "Irish travellers and 'powerful priests'" (pp. 97–110). Ireland's new religious movements in Olivia Cosgrove, et al. (eds), Cambridge Scholars, 2011 ISBN 1-4438-2588-3
  36. ^ DEEGAN, DENISE (28 May 2011). "Trapped by the Traveller code?". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 12 June 2011. Retrieved 12 June 2011. 
  37. ^ a b Social work and Irish people in Britain: historical and contemporary responses to Irish children and families by Paul Michael Garrett (2004)
  38. ^ "ITM Key Issues – Education". Irish Traveller Movement. Archived from the original on 12 June 2011. Retrieved 12 June 2011. 
  39. ^ Coulter, Carol (10 December 2010). "'"Traveller wins discrimination case over school's 'father rule. The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 12 June 2011. Retrieved 12 June 2011. 
  40. ^ "50% of Travellers die before 39 - study". The Irish Times. 25 June 2007. 
  41. ^ "The Travellers' Health Status Study" (PDF). Irish Dept. of Health. 1987. Retrieved 15 June 2009.  p24
  42. ^ "Minister Harney Launches All-Ireland Traveller Health Study". UCD. 10 July 2007. Retrieved 15 June 2009. 
  43. ^ "Life expectancy of Irish travellers still at 1940s levels despite economic boom". The Independent, David McKittrick. 28 June 2007
  44. ^ "50% of Travellers die before 39 per study". The Irish Times, Eoin Burke-Kennedy. 25 June 2007 (subscription sometimes required)
  45. ^ "All Ireland Traveller Health Survey" (PDF). National Traveller Suicide Awareness Project. September 2010. 
  46. ^ (2000 Sep–Oct;27(5):453-65)Ann Hum BiolNorth KE, Martin LJ, Crawford MH. "The origins of the Irish travellers and the genetic structure of Ireland",
  47. ^ (July 1999, Volume 7, Number 5, pp. 549–554)European Journal of Human GeneticsMiriam Murphy, Brian McHugh, Orna Tighe, Philip Mayne, Charles O'Neill, Eileen Naughten and David T Croke. "Genetic basis of transferase-deficient galactosaemia in Ireland and the population history of the Irish Travellers",
  48. ^ Murphy et al, op cit., p. 522, discussion section
  49. ^ DALBY, DOUGLAS (29 October 2015). "Sympathy Is Short-Lived for Irish Minority Group After Deadly Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 October 2015. 
  50. ^ Holland, Kitty (18 May 2011). "Young among the most prejudiced, expert finds". Irish Times. Retrieved 18 May 2011. 
  51. ^ Douglas Dalby (October 29, 2015). "Sympathy Is Short-Lived for Irish Minority Group After Deadly Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved October 30, 2015. 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. 
  52. ^ Recycling and the Traveller Economy (Income, Jobs and Wealth Creation). Dublin: Pavee Point Publications (1993)
  53. ^ "Gypsies and Irish Travellers: The facts". Archived from the original on 3 February 2007. 
  54. ^ Traveller Legal Resource Pack 2 – Traveller CultureIrish Travellers Movement:
  55. ^ Traveller, Nomadic and Migrant Education by Patrick Alan Danaher, Máirín Kenny, Judith Remy Leder. 2009, p. 119
  56. ^ Traveller, Nomadic and Migrant Education by Patrick Alan Danaher, Máirín Kenny & Judith Remy Leder
  57. ^ a b "Divided society: ethnic minorities and racism in Northern Ireland" (Contemporary Irish Studies) by Paul Hainsworth (1999)
  58. ^ Hickey, Shane; Cunningham, Grainne (5 May 2009). "Garda injured after riot squad called to Traveller pub battle". Irish Independent. 
  59. ^ Bhreatnach, Aoife (2006). Becoming conspicuous: Irish travellers, society and the state, 1922–70. University College Dublin Press. p. 108.  
  60. ^ Travellers owe it to Mullingar to sort out their grievances Westmeath Examiner. 5th August, 2008.
  61. ^ Dalton Park rioters given suspended sentences Westmeath Examiner. 24th February, 2010.
  62. ^ "Riot families spurned peace bid". Irish Independent. 31 July 2008. 
  63. ^ Mac Gabhann. "Voices Unheard: Irish Travellers in Prison". Irish Chaplaincy in Britain. 
  64. ^ "'"BBC NEWS - UK - Councils 'must find Gypsy sites. 
  65. ^ Irish Traveller Movement - Unless otherwise noted. "ITM View Key Issue". 
  66. ^ "Racism in Ireland: Travellers Fighting Back" (PDF). Red and Black Revolution (Workers Solidarity Movement) (2): p. 23. 1996. Retrieved 12 August 2013. 

Notes and references




See also

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, with descriptions of Traveller life set around real-life weddings. A 1997 American film, Traveller, starring Bill Paxton and Mark Wahlberg, also explored the Travellers in America.

Depictions and documentaries

  • 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)
  • Irish Travellers' Movement (founded in 1990)

The following are some of the Travellers' representative organisations formed since the 1960s:[66]

The flag of the Irish Traveller Movement[65]

List of Travellers' organisations

List of Irish Travellers

The struggle for equal rights for these transient people led to the passing of the Caravan Sites Act 1968 that for some time safeguarded their rights, lifestyle and culture in the UK. 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.[57]

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.[64] A famous example was Dale Farm in Essex.

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.

Land disputes

A 2011 report, conducted by the Irish Chaplaincy in Britain, Voices Unheard: A Study of Irish Travellers in Prison (Mac Gabhann, 2011) [63] found that social, economic and educational exclusion were contributing factors to the high levels of offending behaviour by Irish Travellers.

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.[60][61] The cause may have been an unpaid gambling debt linked to a bare-knuckle boxing match.[62]

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."[59]

Violence and crime

The European Parliament Committee of Enquiry on Racism and Xenophobia found them to be among the most discriminated-against ethnic groups in Ireland[55] and yet their status remains insecure in the absence of widespread legal endorsement.[56] Travellers are often viewed by settled people in a negative light, perceived as insular, anti-social, 'drop-outs' and 'misfits',[57] or believed to be involved in criminal and mendicant behaviour, or settling illegally on land owned by others.[37][58]

Irish Travellers are recognised in British law as an ethnic group.[53] In Irish law, their legal status is that of a social group.[54] 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.

Social identity

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.[9]

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 monthly 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.[52]


The word "knacker" is often used as a pejorative against Travellers, as well as "pikey".

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."[50] The general prejudice against Travellers hinders efforts by the central government to integrate Travellers into Irish society.[51]

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.[49]

Discrimination and Prejudice

Social conflict and controversies

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.[48]

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."

  1. this resulted from marriages made largely within and among the Traveller community, or
  2. suggesting descent from an original Irish carrier long ago with ancestors unrelated to the rest of the Irish population.[47]

Two main hypotheses have arisen, speculating whether:

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.

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.[46]

Population genetics

Couples tend to marry young: girls at around the age of 16 or 17, and boys between 18 and 19.[9]


According to the National Traveller Suicide Awareness Project, Traveller men are over six times more likely to commit suicide than the general population.[45]

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.[43][44] In addition, 80% of Travellers die before the age of 65.

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.

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.[42]

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.[41]

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.[40] Another government report of 1987 found:

Irish Travellers in 1946


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.

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.[39] This suit may allow more children from the Traveller community to enter mainstream educational institutions.

Traveller children often grow up outside educational systems.[37] The Irish Traveller Movement, a community advocacy group, promotes equal access to education for Traveller children.[38]


Travellers have a distinctive approach to religion; the vast majority are Roman Catholics with particular attention paid to issues of healing.[35] They have been known to follow a strict code of behaviour that dictates some of their moral beliefs and influences their actions.[36]


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.[34] Cant, which derives from Irish Gaelic, is a combination of English and Shelta.[19]


The Travelling People Review Body (1981–83) advocated integration rather than assimilation,[31] with provision for serviced halting sites. The Body's membership included travellers.[32] The Task Force on the Travelling Community (1993–95) moved to an intercultural paradigm.[31][33]

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, most Irish travellers lived in barrel-roofed horse-drawn wagons, with some still using tents.[30][31]

(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 1959–63 government of Ireland established a "Commission on Itinerancy" with the following terms of reference:

Twentieth century

There has been a wide range of theories speculating on their origins such as that they were descended from those Irish who were made homeless by Oliver Cromwell's military campaign in Ireland in the 1650s, or possibly from the people made homeless in the 1840s famine due to eviction, or the descendants of the aristocratic nomads of the Clan Murtagh O'Connors in the Late Middle Ages. Their nomadism was based on cattle-herds or creaghts.

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.[28] Even though all families claim ancient origins, not all families of Irish Travellers date back to the same point in time; some families adopted Traveller customs centuries ago, while others did so more recently.[29] It is unclear how many Irish Travellers would be included in this distinct ethnic group at least from a genetic perspective.

The historical origins of Irish Travellers as an ethnic 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.[22][23] They may be of Romani extraction, although this theory is disputed and theories of pre-Celt origin also exist.[24][25] Ten percent of the Gammon language comes from Romani; however, the majority of its words derive from Irish.[26] Celtic language expert Kuno Meyer and Romani expert John Sampson both asserted that Shelta existed as far back as the 13th century, 300 years before the first Romani populations arrived in the British Isles.[27]



Travellers in the US are said to speak English and Cant.[19] The Cant spoken in the US differs from the Cant spoken in Ireland, in that the language has transformed into a type of pidgin English over the generations.[19] They typically work in asphalting, spray painting, laying linoleum, or as itinerant workers to earn their living.[19]


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