Irish Travellers (note British spelling of "traveler") is a broad term used to describe groups of nomadic Irish people. They are a kind of Gaelic gypsy and sometimes confused with gypsies. Their origin dates back to the time of Oliver Cromwell and the Battle of the Boyne (1690). Irish people pushed off their land began a nomadic life. Many immigrated to America to escape the Irish potato famine.

They traveled from town to town in their distinctive barrel-shaped horse-drawn mobile homes. They maintained their livelihood performing Irish songs and dances for locals as well as performing metalwork for farmers. Because of their metalwork, Irish Travellers were also called for a time "tinkers". Much like gypsies they also garnered a reputation for being tramps and thieves. (Just try to get that Cher song outta your mind now, sucka!)

In America, Irish Travellers preserved their culture (and their extraneous l) by not only moving together in close knit groups, but speaking their own language called "shelta". Because of the great cloud of suspicion Irish Travellers are constantly under, many often refer to shelta as being a "secret language". Irish Travellers usually refer to their shelta language by the names "cant" or "gammon". Shelta is more of an academic classification. Also, Irish Travellers collectively call themselves "the pavee".

Irish Travellers have bred a horse called the Irish Cob Horse. They needed a horse that was strong to pull their mobile homes. However, the horse also had to be very docile as Irish Travellers tended to have large numbers of children (sprogs) and needed a breed that would tolerate their antics. The Irish Cob Horse is an offshoot of the Clydesdale.

Much like gypsies on the continent, Irish Travellers face a great deal of discrimination in their homeland of Ireland.

There are an estimated 25,000 Irish Travellers today in Ireland and about 7,000 in the USA.
Travellers are also an oppressed minority in Ireland. They have a very strong culture and have been subject to pretty bad treatment in Ireland pretty much since they "arrived". Now I'm Irish and I always thought that their origin was from the famine and the large number of people who were dispossessed of their land, however it seems that the travellers have been around since the 5th century (that's longer than the English!). According to a time line at '5th Century Itinerant Irish smiths travelled and produced ornaments and weapons for room and board'. Then in 1243 an English law was passed to control the 'wandering Irish' (much good its had I'm living in Germany now, but I digress). That seems to have been the start of an organised oppression which continued, from 1575 when Sir Henry Sidney executed itinerants at court in Cork, right through to today. At the moment the best way not to get a drink in a bar in Ireland (which is pretty damn hard it has to be said (not getting a drink I mean)), or to get refused admission into a nightclub is to be a traveller.

In the past 5 years anti discrimination legislation has come into effect and there have been many cases upholding the rights of travellers, however discrimination continues with publican refusing entry on the grounds of safety, being in fear of the bar brawls that will spontaneously erupt when travellers and settled folk mix (?).

One myth that I certainly heard of is that mixing with travellers would mean that you lost your property, they were bad luck. You see owning land is deeply rooted in the Irish psychology so losing ownership was one of the most frightening things an Irish person could be faced with. The land loosing thing was connected to the famine. This is of course complete bunkum (as an aside Irish people are still very attracted to property ownership and will build a wall about four feet high or higher around their gardens when they have a garden!)

In the 1940's through to the mid 80's the Irish government tried to "settle" the travellers. They tend to live in caravans in large family groups and, well, travel. Only in the last decade and a half, now they are recognised as an ethnic minority, have the government tried to provide them with suitable facilities, these being Halting sites where you can park your caravan, connect to electricity, clean running water and sanitary facilities. Sounds good right? Wrong. Every one wants the government to build halting sites (just some where else thank you very much!). As a result there is still a dire lack of facilities which invariably tend to be overtaxed and under resourced.

If you ever see large (small car sized) rocks on the perimeter of public parks or at the entrance to public fields in Ireland they have been placed there to prevent travellers to setting up camp. Next time you visit Ireland just look out to see how many of these there are. Yes that's right there are lots!.

Travellers are also known as itinerants, tinkers and as knackers. The former relates to the probable fact that they are connected to the itinerant tinkers of old, the third name is an insult. Travellers area horse culture. Horses are highly valued. A knacker is someone who rends dead horses.

The travelling community is depicted (parodied?) in many films, such as Snatch, Into the west, The Field and This is my father. Travellers are an integral part of Irish culture and to this day are an important aspect to the many fairs that happen throughout the country such as the Puck fair in Killorglin Co Kerry.

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