The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Irish Traveller

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Irish Travellers are a nomadic or itinerant people of Irish origin living in Ireland, Great Britain and the United States. They are also often referred to as 'gypsies' or 'tinkers' but these names are now considered to be offensive, and in the case of gypsy are technically incorrect, as that word more specifically refers to another travelling community who originated in India. Irish Travellers are distinguished from the settled communities of the countries in which they live by their own language and customs. Shelta is the traditional language of Travellers but they also speak English with a distinct accent and mannerisms. The historical origins of Travellers as a group has been a subject of dispute. Some argue that the Irish Travellers are descended from another nomadic people called the Tarish. The estimated numbers of Irish Travellers in the countries in which they live are1:

  • Ireland: 25,000
  • Great Britain: 15,000
  • United States: 10,000

The Traveller lifestyle often produces friction with settled communities, especially in urban areas. Travellers are accused of leaving behind large amounts of litter in temporary halting sites. Recently, certain highly-publicised scams, such as on the Discovery Channel, perpetrated by Irish Travellers have reinforced a negative stereotype of Travellers as dishonest or criminal. Travellers are known to settled people by a number of names generally considered pejorative, such as gypsy, tinker and knacker (in Ireland), and pikey (in Great Britain). Tinker and knacker are based on the historical occupations of some Travellers, wheras pikey is a generic term used for all travellers, regardless of origin.

Traveller advocacy groups insist that Travellers are a distinct ethnic group with a history of many centuries and that negative treatment of Travellers thus amounts to racism. This assertion is not universally accepted. The Irish Traveller Movement was established in 1990 as "a national network of organisations and individuals working within the Traveller community" and it campaigns for full equality for Travellers in Irish society.

Travellers have been portrayed on a number of occasions on film. Examples include the film Into the West which tells the story of two Traveller boys running away from home. The film Snatch features Brad Pitt as a stereotypical Traveller who is an undefeatable bareknuckle boxing champion.


  • They form a separate social group and are distinguished by mainstream Irish society even when the Travellers are settled in houses. About a third live in caravan camps run by local councils while the others nomadize or are on unofficial sites. Their main occupation is recycling waste material (The Travellers of Ireland).
  • Travellers are a small indigenous minority, documented as being part of Irish society for centuries. Travellers have a long shared history and value system which make them a distinct group. They have their own language, customs and traditions (Pavee Point website).


  1. Source: Irish Travellers' Movement website.

External links

Last updated: 07-30-2005 16:38:54
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13