I just returned home from Ireland where I was visiting the Irish Travellers. I came home disheartened and sad. Spending time with them and talking about their lives, there seems to be no answer or resolution in bringing the Travellers and ‘settled’ people together.
Irish Travellers are Gypsies, also known as Tinkers, but different from the Roma Gypsies. Both their lifestyles center on nomadic life, but they are two culturally different groups. Roma gypsies originate from northern India while the Irish Travellers come from Ireland. They are beautiful people with strong traditions based on love of family and God and lifelong bonds.
Irish Travellers are recognized as an ethnic group in Ireland, but continue to be the subject of both political and cultural discrimination. Recently, one of the Presidential candidates chose to target Travelling people as a method to earn votes. To this day, Travellers are refused services in shops, hotels and pubs. Education for them is inferior. Two decades ago, equality was supposed to be offered to a new generation of Travellers, better integrating them with settled neighbors, but this has not come to fruition. When a Traveller seeks a job, they are not hired. More bitterness was created between the Traveller community and the ‘settled’ community when the government began housing Travellers. The settled community didn’t want them as neighbors, concerned that their property values would go down.
The Irish Travellers are very traditional and proud people. They prefer to live in caravans. Horses are important to them and the men excel in working with them. Families live together on halting sites, which are areas designated by the government. Government houses have been built for some, but are small for large families of 10-15. It is not unusual to see caravans parked in front of these houses and used to live in. Running water, electricity and proper sanitation is rare. I spoke to families who have lived their entire lives without these basic human rights.
There are a few Traveller advocacy groups, but they have yet to attract attention and reach the majority. Both the Travellers and the ‘settled’ need to address the thoughts, feelings, attitudes and behaviors that are causing this separatism. Longtime misconceptions between them need to be addressed. Promoting an environment where racism is challenged needs to be created. I hope by me bringing awareness of this to others conversation can begin.