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Irish travellers have been a part of the society for centuries. However, it was only in the late 1990s and early 2000s that they received legal recognition by the society (Hayes, 2006). The community has been ostracized from the mainstream society for years. This is mainly because of the perception that their cultural values and practices are outdated and strange. Irish travellers are believed to have originated from various communities oppressed by their society for various reasons. To overcome their predicaments they adopted a carefree lifestyle that mainly comprised nomadic practices of moving from one region to another. Therefore, the community lived in moving caravans without establishing any permanent areas to live in. In return, the mainstream society ostracized the Irish community being denied many social amenities (Watt & McGaughey, 2006). These include social recognition, education, housing, healthcare and other social services.
Conversely, the community developed a deep mistrust for the main society refusing to conform to what was mostly perceived as social norms. These social norms include education, health standards, permanent and semi-permanent housing, employment and dressing codes. For years there had been controversies regarding the role that the society played to force the community into their nomadic lifestyle. This is especially so, because the community experienced prejudicial treatment in terms of employment, social services and general acceptance by the rest of the public.
Literature Review- A Travelling Community in Ireland
According to Colin (2007) the existence of Irish travellers can have various reasons that include the dispossession of traditional tribes from Ireland plantations in the early centuries. Their remnants were forced to adapt to a nomadic culture to survive. Others are said to have descended from travelling metal workers and craftsmen. The groups are believed to have travelled from one region to another in search of work. Others are believed to have been descendants of poor communities who travelled form one region to another in search of livelihood and to avoid feminine. Irish travellers are also believed to have descended from communities that left their homes to escape from oppressive laws and religious persecution.
Strong controversies emerged in regard to the causes of the Irish travellers’ non-conformation to the mainstream society. These debates mainly focus on whether Irish travellers have been forced by the rest of the society to be engaged in the nomadic lifestyle. Primarily, this is because the community has been denied social recognition, education, housing healthcare and social services by the mainstream society for many years. The combination of these oppressive circumstances made the community nomadic to escape from predicaments. According to Hayes (2006), Irish travellers cannot be argued to be descendants of a single homogeneous group. They are believed to be a community made of various heritages that become travellers to escape from their oppressive predicaments. These communities become unified in their resolve to avoid oppressive circumstances to be engaged in what is often perceived as a “carefree” lifestyle. Their ostracism from the rest of the society is believed to have lead to prejudices and outright rejection of the community by the mainstream society.
According to Commison on Itinerancy (1963), historical difficulties of finding employment by Irish travellers stem from these prejudices and negative perceptions about the community members. The unwillingness to accept Irish travellers by the society, including employers made it difficult for the community to find formal employment forcing them to rely on small business, entertainment and fortunetelling as means of livelihood. McCarrthy (1972) argues that settled communities have a long history of shunning Irish travellers ostracizing them from the mainstream society. This partially forced this group to maintain their unique cultural values and practices for the purpose of survival purposes. Haye (2007) argues that the non-conformism nature of Irish travellers in regard to societal norms, especially those of an urbanized society, have lead to their separation from the mainstream society. This is used to justify denying the community employment, social recognition, housing, health care and education.
According to Royalla (2010), the entertainment of Irish travellers can be traced to the Middle Ages, when show people would entertain crowds during festive seasons and trading activities. The culture stretches back to the era of pagan customs, when fairs and festivity were used to accompany trading activities and seasonal gatherings. Fairs are believed to have been attractive forces to merchants and travellers of that era. Irish travellers made their livelihood from funfair activities in fairgrounds as travelling showmen. This culture is practiced today, whereby most Irish travellers are funfair entertainers engaged in such activities as fortune telling, music, juggling, tumbling, magic, dancing, and merchants.
Profile of Irish Travellers
Irish travellers are known for their non-conformation nature in regard to the mainstream society. Historically, they have been engaged in funfair activities to earn an income to sustain their livelihood. They mistrust the mainstream society and are ostracized by other societies. Although, today some Irish travellers have acquired permanent housing, majority still live in mobile homes moving from one camping to another (Haye, 2007). A societal perception of the Irish travellers is that they are strange community with outdated practices. They are also perceived in some quarters of the society as thieves, lazybones and criminals. This stems mainly from the fact that most travellers have not held permanent jobs for years.
Thus, they are assumed to resort to stealing for survival. However, over the years the community has been discriminated by the rest of the society in terms of employment, housing, education, social recognition and access to social amenities. Since they have no permanent homes, most Irish travellers are poor and uneducated with little access to healthcare services. For this reason, they are perceived as dirty, illiterate and uncivilized. However, today it is recognized that this community has faced prejudices in terms of education, access to healthcare and employment for years. The roots of this unfair treatment can include the unwillingness by the main society to accept members of this community as a part of the society. Irish travellers can trace their heritage to the fifth century, when people escaped their homes because of poverty, hunger and oppressive laws, including religious persecution (Barth, 1970).
Definition of Irish Travellers
According to the Republic of Ireland Equal Status Act of 2000 and the Race Relations Order of 1997, Irish travellers are members of the UK and the mainstream society (Whincup, 2006). The two acts of parliament define Irish travellers as “the community of people who are commonly called travellers and who are indentified both by themselves and others as people with a shared history, culture, and traditions including, historically, a nomadic way of life on the island of Ireland” (Whincup, 2006). Despite the legal definition, the issue of travellers’ definition often raises controversies. This is because they have not been legally recognized and have been often perceived as an outcast within the society for centuries (Whincup, 2006). This made the society perceive those living a nomadic life as gypsies or travellers. The two terms have historically been interchanged to describe communities with a nomadic lifestyle.
Travellers can be argued to fall into several groups, which include gypsies, Irish travellers, European Roma and Scottish travellers or Gypsies. These groups can be distinguished from one another based on their heritage. Gypsies can trace their origin to the India’s Rajasthan region. On the other hand, European Roma can trace their origin to Eastern and Central Europe. Irish travellers are of Celtic descent and have been in Britain since the fifth century. Scottish gypsies can trace their roots to the twelfth century and comprise different groups. Irish travellers are believed to have arrived in Britain in the fifth century. However, they were first recorded in Britain in the 1850s. In Britain the term “ethnic traveller” is used to describe the community of people living a nomadic live, such as Irish travellers and gypsies. These communities are born into nomadic families and culture. They have their own history, culture, language, religion and geographical origin.
Overview of Irish Travellers
Irish travellers are of Celtic descent and believed to have lived in Britain since the fifth century. The community often referred to as Mincier or Pavee, these two terminologies are also used inside the group. Irish travellers have Gammon and Cant as their unique languages. They are the largest group of travellers in the United Kingdom, having the estimated population of three hundred thousand people. Irish travellers attained legal recognition in Britain in 1997 through the Race Relation Act and Equal Status Act of 2000.
Despite this late recognition, Irish travellers are believed to have lived in the United Kingdom since the fifth century. They are known for their non-conformation to society norms, especially those norms practiced by an urban society. Therefore, they live in mobile homes and they are engaged in small business and entertainment activities to earn a livelihood. Irish travellers also have strong mistrust for the mainstream society. This is mainly caused by prejudices that the community is often subjected to by the main society. There has been a debate whether Irish travellers have been forced to practice their nomadic lifestyle. This is mainly because the mainstream society has denied the community social recognition, education, housing healthcare among other social services for years.
Irish travellers are believed to have Celtic roots and have been in existence since the fifth century. However, according to the (Commison on Itinerancy, 1963) report, they cannot be said to have originated from a single homogeneous ethinic group. The report recognized that this community emerged from several communitiees, which escaped from their homes because of being oppressed. These oppresive forces include hunger, religious persecution of travelling heritage of their craftsmen and metal workers forefathers (Commison on Itinerancy, 1963)
A nomadic society can be described as a community that moves from one region to another with its animals. The Irish travellers used to move from place to place with all their earthly possessions. These included animals such as horses, goats and sheep. This made the community to be regarded as nomadic. However, today most of the community members own vehicles that are used to pull their mobile homes.
Irish travellers’ unique culture makes the community stand out from the rest of the society. For this reason, Irish travellers are largely excluded from the mainstream societies. This makes it difficult, for the members of this community to access, decent housing, employment, healthcare services and other social amenities. The Irish travellers are, therefore, ostracised from the mainstream societies.
Irish travellers have a rich unique culture, they have strong family ties that are based on respect for elder people and live in an extended family setting. They have Gammon and Cant as their own unique languages and strong traditions that are passed from one generation to another (Watt & McGaughey, 2006). Irish travellers are predominantly Roman Catholics. However, other religions are practiced within the community. Most travellers live in mobile homes, although government restrictions have been put in place to discourage these practices (Liverpool University Press, 2009). Only several members of this community acquire housing, but they do not lose their strong traditional values.
They live in large extended families and look after each other. The elders in the Irish travellers’ community are greatly respected and families take care of their elders. Their nomadic lives have often caused the perception that the community is not engaged in work-related activities. However, this perception is wrong, since its members are engaged in small business and get employment to sustain them. The community is also perceived as to be heavily engaged in mystic activities, since they mostly earn their livelihood from entertainment activities that include fortunetelling, magic shows and dancing. They also have strong traditional rituals that include rites that are often perceived as outdated. Their strong traditional cultural values and rites are passed from one generation to another and have been still practiced by the community.
Irish travellers’ traditional values and strong culture are often perceived by the rest society as outdated and strange. For this reason the community is often ostracized from the mainstream society. Irish travellers are also mainly regarded as lazy and dirty by the rest. This is mainly because of their nomadic practices that often render many members of this community to be engaged in temporal employment and small businesses. The mainstream society social construction of this community is that Irish travellers are a strange group of people who are different from the rest.
There have been debates whether Irish travellers have been forced to practice their nomadic lifestyle. This is mainly because the mainstream society has denied the community social recognition, education, housing healthcare and other social services for many years. However, today Irish travellers are recognized as a minority group in the society. It should be noted that all individuals are equal. On this basis, there should be no discrimination against any group irrespective of how minor it is. Every person has equal rights irrespective of their origin. Divisions on the basis of ethnicity and traditional practices ought to be abolished. The world has advanced far more beyond these differences.
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