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Gypsies And Travellers - The Difference


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Irish Travellers (sometimes known as "itinerants" or "Tinkers") are a very small minority group in Ireland. They make up less than 1% of the population with approximately 23,000 people in the Republic and another 1,500 in the North. It is also estimated that there are about 15,000 Irish travellers in Britain and another 7,000 in the USA. Irish Travellers belong to a distinct ethnic group within Ireland. They have their own language, beliefs and social customs which have been made stronger over time due to their exclusion and marginalisation from mainstream "settled" society.


Occasionally Irish Travellers have been confused with the Roma or Gypsies in England, who despite centuries of coexistence, cultural interchange and limited intermarriage, remain a distinct people.


Until not so long ago Irish Travellers were referred to as "Tinkers". This word referred to their occupation as tinsmiths and metalworkers and was derived from the Irish word "ceard" (smith) or "tinceard" (tinsmith). This word is now generally used in a derogatory sense. Most of the Travellers' traditional crafts such as spoon-mending, tinsmithing and flower-making have gone by the way now as a result of urbanisation and the introduction of plastic and industrial technology.


Traveller musicians have included the great uilleann piper Felix Doran and the world-renowned folk musicians The Furey Brothers. The music and singing of the Irish Travellers have been in decline since urbanisation and the arrival of television. Fewer Travellers now rely on singing and making music for their livelihood as in times gone by.


There are a number of theories as to the origin of the Irish Travellers. Their secret language, Shelta, and the evidence of various historical references to them would seem to indicate that they are the remnants of an ancient class of wandering poets, joined by those who were pushed off the land during different times of social and economic upheaval such as Cromwell's campaign of slaughter, the Battle of the Boyne (1690) and the Battle of Aughrim (1691). Many of the Travellers may also be the descendants of people who were left homeless as a result of the Irish potato famines of the nineteenth century.



Definition of Gypsy Traveller Communities


A number of groups are covered by the term Traveller:

· English and Welsh Gypsies

· Irish and Scottish Travellers

· Showmen (Fairground people) and Circus people

(occupational Travellers)

· Bargees (occupational boat dwellers)

· New Travellers (referred to as hippies, New Age Travellers)


Most of these communities have a long tradition of a nomadic lifestyle, although their history and culture vary. Gypsy travellers are the largest group among Travelling communities and constitute a recognised minority ethnic group under the Race Relations Act 1976. (Ofsted 1996)


The term Traveller is acceptable to most members of groups as Gypsy is a term perceived as having negative connotations and is acceptable only to some. This is the case for families from Eastern and Central Europe and ‘Roma’ is the universally preferred term. Fairground people prefer to be called ‘Showmen’, Circus people and Bargees have their own traditional occupations and history of planned movement. (DfES 2003)

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Thank you for that Lesley.


I am always interested to learn about different cultures and you certainly appear to have done some research there! :o


We spoke in the chatroom the other evening ( - Friday?) on equal opportunities, another big interest of mine :D


Keep up the good work!


Sue :D

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