October 12, 2023

History of Irish Traveller: The Legacy and Journey of Travellers

History of Irish Traveller: The Legacy and Journey of Travellers
History of Irish Traveller

History of Irish Traveller: The Legacy and Journey of Travellers

The Rich Tapestry of Irish Travellers: A Glimpse into a Unique Community


The story of the Irish Traveller community is woven deeply into the fabric of Irish history and society. A nomadic ethnic group with roots that are distinct from the settled Irish population, the travellers have endured centuries of both recognition and prejudice. This article explores the history, culture, and challenges of the Irish Traveller community.

The History of Irish Travellers: From Ancient Times to Today

1. Origins of the Irish Travellers

The true origins of the Irish Travellers remain a topic of debate among historians. Some believe their beginnings trace back to the time of the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, while others suggest they are an indigenous ethnic group with a lineage that predates this event.

2. Travellers in Ireland Through the Ages

For centuries, travellers in Ireland have led an itinerant lifestyle, embracing a nomadic culture distinct from the settled Irish population. Their unique language, a mix of English and Irish, further solidified their identity as a distinct group within the Irish society for centuries.

The Challenges and Triumphs of the Traveller Community

1. Health and Social Issues Among Irish Travellers

The Ireland Traveller Health Study revealed startling disparities in health outcomes. The general population enjoys better health than the majority of Irish travellers. Challenges such as metabolic and congenital problems are notably higher among Irish travellers, making healthcare accessibility a major concern for the community.

2. Recognition as an Ethnic Minority

In March 2017, the Irish government finally recognised Irish travellers as a distinct ethnic group, a significant milestone for traveller rights groups. The Irish Traveller Movement and Pavee Point were among the community advocacy groups that hailed this recognition.

3. The Role of Traveller Women and Men in Society

Traveller women and traveller men have unique roles within their community, often influenced by a strict code of behaviour that dictates some of their moral beliefs and influences their actions. Despite facing political and cultural discrimination, many traveller women are now at the forefront of community development initiatives.

Irish Travellers Beyond the Shores of Ireland

1. Irish Travellers in the US

The town of North Augusta has witnessed the settling of Irish travellers in America. Known as Irish Travelers, this community maintains a distinct identity, though they've integrated with the larger Irish population.

2. Global Diaspora

From the UK, where they are sometimes colloquially referred to as 'gypsies', to the broader diaspora including those of mixed English and Irish extraction, the influence and presence of Irish travellers are undeniably global.

Conclusion: A Call to Embrace and Understand

While the Irish state and Irish society have come a long way in recognising the unique identity of the Irish Traveller community, there is still a journey ahead. The hope is for a Republic of Ireland where both travellers and settled people coexist in mutual respect and understanding.

The Evolving Landscape of Irish Traveller Identity in Modern Times

1. The Recognition of Travellers as a Distinct Group in Ireland’s Contemporary Landscape

In a landmark move, Irish travellers were recognised as an ethnic minority group by the Irish government, marking a pivotal moment in the nation's history. This recognition of traveller ethnicity aligns with Ireland’s ongoing efforts to appreciate the diverse tapestry of cultures and identities within its borders. It's notable that they are one of several groups identified as having a significant cultural and historical impact on the nation.

2. The Struggle for Identity: Beyond Stereotypes and Media Portrayal

Shows like "Big Fat Gypsy" have, for better or worse, shaped the perceptions many people have of the traveller community. While some argue the show offers insight, others believe it perpetuates stereotypes that don't reflect the life of the majority of Irish travellers. The Irish Times, a leading publication, has covered this debate extensively, shedding light on the travellers as a distinct group beyond the media caricatures.

3. Delving Deep into Traveller Traditions and Modern Interactions

Irish travellers have lived in harmony with the settled community for generations, often maintaining their distinct culture and identity. Known to follow a strict code of behaviour and values, the community places emphasis on traditions passed down over generations. The language of mixed English and traveller dialect further strengthens their distinct identity. While some traveller females take up roles deeply rooted in their traditions, there's a noticeable shift towards modern professions and lifestyle choices.

4. A Glimpse into Travellers' Socio-Economic Landscape

The Economic and Social Research Institute conducted a study that revealed startling statistics. It was found that the life expectancy of 167 travellers is significantly lower, sometimes by up to six times, within the general population. While challenges persist, the money allocated by the government post their recognition as an Irish ethnic minority is hopeful. Prominent figures like Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver have also voiced their support for the traveller community, bringing attention to their unique culture on a global stage.

5. Conclusion: A Bright Future Ahead

The journey of the Irish travellers, from ancient nomads to recognised members of contemporary Irish society, has been both challenging and inspiring. As the nation moves forward, it's essential for the Irish people to embrace the rich tapestry of cultures, recognizing the contributions and unique identity of each group.

Discover the World of Irish Travellers with Cunian App!

Explore the rich history, culture, and unique stories of the Irish Travelling community through Cunian, the digital tour guide app. Dive deep into the origins of Irish travellers, their nomadic lifestyle, and the challenges they've overcome. And the best part? All tours on the Cunian app are absolutely free. Download now and embark on a journey through time!

Frequently Asked Questions: Understanding the Traveller Culture

1. Are Irish Travellers and Roma the same? No, Irish Travellers and Roma are two distinct ethnic groups with different histories and cultures.

2. What is the Royal College of Surgeons' connection to the Irish Travellers? The Royal College of Surgeons conducted studies highlighting health disparities among travellers compared to the general Irish population.

3. What are halting sites? Halting sites are designated areas where the traveller families can legally park their caravans, a testament to their traditional nomadic way of life.

4. Why were Irish Travellers in the US, particularly in the town of North Augusta, in the news? Irish Travellers in the US, especially those in North Augusta, made headlines for their unique culture and traditions, distinct even from other Irish communities.

5. How does the Irish Traveller community perceive the show 'Big Fat Gypsy'? The show has been controversial. Some believe it doesn't accurately represent the lives of the majority of Irish Travellers.

6. How is the Irish Traveller Movement significant? The Irish Traveller Movement is a leading national platform advocating for the rights and recognition of the traveller community in Ireland.

7. What role do young travellers play in the community? Young travellers are the bridge between tradition and modernity, often leading initiatives for change within the traveller community.

8. How has the Irish government supported the traveller community in recent years? Following the recognition of travellers as an ethnic minority, the Irish government allocated funds and resources to support community initiatives and development.

9. What is known about the first traveller families in history? Historical records from County Galway and other regions highlight the presence of traveller families, but their exact origins remain a subject of research.

10. Are travellers significantly different genetically from the settled Irish community? Some studies suggest travellers are genetically distinct from the settled community, but this is an area of ongoing research.