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ENG 208: British/Irish Immigration Literature: A Student-Curated Display: Group 5

Group 5

Group 5's project is...Travellers in Ireland

Group 5's members include...Erin Fenzel, Tayler Washington, Olivia Clark, Celia Hegarty and Kaila Mundell-Hill.


Overview by Erin Fenzel, Tayler Washington, Olivia Clark, Celia Hegarty and Kaila Mundell-Hill.

Irish Travellers are a separate, distinct ethnic minority group in Ireland defined by their nomadic lifestyle. Indigenous to Ireland, they are similar to other nomadic groups throughout Western Europe, but retain their own separate heritage. Marked as being illiterate and different in Irish society, the Travellers have been plagued as socially outcast for years and have only recently begun to enter mainstream society.

Due to the illiteracy of the Travellers, historical evidence concerning the Travellers is written by the Irish. The first mentions of Travellers is in the 12th century where Travellers are described as “tinkers” and “tynkere” (Gmelch, 3). A tinker is defined as someone who participates in tinsmithing (Gmelch, 1) and has been used to describe Travellers throughout Irish history as Travellers mainly made their living by working as craftsmen. From the 12th century to the 20th century, literature concerning Travellers commonly referred to them as beggars. Irish Travellers were also known for having large families that they brought with them in their travels from town to town. While not unwanted by the sedentary families in the towns that they visited, there was a shared sentiment that many of the sedentary families were “glad to see them go” as many sedentary Irish regarded Travellers with “a degree of suspicion” (Gmelch, 4). The uncertain relationship between the settled Irish and the Travellers has continued to define the perception of Travellers.

In 2016, the census in the Republic of Ireland reported that there were 30, 987 Travellers living in Ireland, which is an increase from the number reported in 2011 (“Census of Population” par. 1). Additionally, in 2017, Travellers were officially recognized as an ethnic minority in Ireland (O’Halloran par. 3). Although Ireland officially recognizes the Travellers as an ethnic group, Travellers are still ostracized and seen as socially unacceptable in today’s society. One of the biggest changes to happen to the Travellers over the years has been the loss of their nomadic lifestyle, which is a large part of their identity. Currently, many Travellers “live in houses or in caravans parked more or less permanently on often very crowded Traveller sites. Very few pursue a life ‘on the road’” (Gmelch 193). In Ireland, a nomadic lifestyle is not seen as normal or acceptable, and so it is difficult for the Travellers to pursue that way of life, which has left some Travellers “feeling lost” (Gmelch 193).

In an attempt to try and restore their own narrative, there has been a surge of Irish Travellers’ involvement in literature about their lives. In 2016, the play “Never Going to Beat You” written by Jenny Buchanan, while not a Traveller herself, but with input from Traveller women, portrays the increased risk of domestic assault that Travellers are subject to. Marina Carr has also written plays concerning Irish Travellers, including “By the Bog of Cats” that depicts Traveller Hester Swane and her journey of inclusion in the Traveller community. Nan Joyce, one of the most famous Irish Travellers, with Anna Farmar wrote “My Life on the Road,” an autobiography that details Nan Joyce’s life as a Traveller. 

Works Cited:

Article Reviews

Review by Kaila Mundell-Hill

In “Social Misfits or Victims of Exclusion? Contradictory Representations of Irish Travellers in the Irish Press” Koca-Helvaci explore media portrayals of Irish Travellers in various Irish newspapers.Koca-Helvaci provide background on Irish Travellers’ history as an ethnic group routinely scrutinized for their nomadic lifestyle, as compared to traditional sedentary families which dominate Irish society. Indigenous to Ireland, Travellers are a minority group often restricted in their movement throughout the country, making up a small fraction of Ireland’s population. Travellers have their own traditions, customs, history and language separate from the rest of Irish society. When the rest of Ireland experienced an economic boom during the “Celtic Tiger” period, Travellers faced immense hardships as many of their jobs (centered around an agrarian lifestyle) ceased to exist. Koca-Helvaci argue that the media’s influence over the general public’s perception is powerful, especially since many people have never had contact with Travellers as they usually segregated from society. The article provides quantitative as well as qualitative data collection and analysis of media representation of Irish Travellers, mainly focusing on language usage and the impact on the perception of Travellers. The study is divided into a literature review, methodology, data and analysis. The literature review is comprised of studies on how marginalized communities are represented in the media; the methodology section outlines two frameworks utilized in synthesizing data—Appraisal Theory Framework and legitimation strategies; the data section explains data collection and selection; the analysis section includes analysis of “discourse themes” and of “legitimation strategies” associated with Travellers. Ultimately, Koca-Helvaci found that newspapers discuss Travelers in relation to “criminality, legal systems, accommodation, community and attitude” which generally portray Travelers in a negatively. Much of the media’s portrayal focus on the “clash between sedentarism and nomadism”, in which nomadism is criticized by both right wing and liberal newspapers (53). 

Review by Celia Hegarty

The article, “Opposition to Irish Travellers’ Halting Sites in the Republic of Ireland: Realistic Group Conflict or Symbolic Politics?,” was written by Joel S. Fetzer and published in 2017 in the Irish Journal of Sociology. In his article, Fetzer discusses how anti-Traveller sentiment is very prevalent throughout Ireland. Fetzer notes that as a result of the discrimination against them, many Travellers feel unsafe and afraid. In order to try and explain why anti-Traveller feelings are so commonplace in Ireland, and why these feelings are seen as acceptable among the public, Fetzer examines multiple theories. The two main theories that Fetzer investigates as being causes of anti-Traveller sentiments are “realistic group conflict” and “symbolic politics” (Fetzer 197). 

“Realistic group conflict” (197) refers to the theory that people may be opposed to the Travellers and their halting sites due to issues relating to self-interest, such as unemployment and crime. People may blame the Travellers for causing unemployment or high crime rates. “Symbolic politics” (197) refers to the theory that attitudes toward the Travellers may be linked to levels of conservatism or multiculturalism. In order to investigate these theories, Fetzer discusses research that uses “multivariate ordinary least-squares regression to analyze data from the 2007 Irish National Election Study…” (198). This research includes data that was collected about people’s feelings regarding the Travellers and their halting sites. After analyzing the data, Fetzer comes to the conclusion that both theories are equally true for explaining anti-Traveller sentiments in Ireland.

Fetzer provides an in-depth analysis of the data that was collected, and effectively explains what that research shows about anti-Traveller sentiments. In addition to his research, at the end of the article, Fetzer offers multiple insightful ideas, based on the data, on how to decrease anti-Traveller attitudes and resistance to their halting sites in Ireland

Book Reviews