Irish Minorities: Traveling Communities

Irish Tinkers
Figure 1.--This photograph was captioned "Irish Tinker Boy". It was taken by photographer John Zelinkski, who is better known for his portraits of Amish people.

The most important Irish minority is what is known as the the Travelling community. One source estimates that there are more than 20,000 Travelers in Ireland. They are primarily the Pavee who in Irish are called the an Lucht Siúil--the walking people. They refer to themselves as Minceir or Pavees in their own language. Some groups of Pavee also live in Britain and the United States. Gypsies and Pavee are have some similar characteristics , both nomad peoples, but they have different origins, languages, and cultures. The Pavee appear ethnically Irish with blond or tawny hair. The origins of the Travellers is an interesting and largely unanswered historical question. There is some indication that groups of Irish adopted the Traveling life style over various historical periods. Some authors claim there were nomafic groups at a very early point in Irish history (5th century AD). The written record establishes the name 'Tynkler' and 'Tynker' being used for groups of nomads who maintained a separate identity, social organization, and dialect (12th century). One popular theory is that the Travellers were descended from Catholic landowners and labourers who were made homeless by Oliver Cromwell's military campaign in Ireland (17th century). The Potato Famine was probably another major contributor (1840). The Traveler origins is difficult to determine because there is no written Traveler record. We know of no DNA studies on the Travelers which might give some indication as to origins. Here we see a Pavee group in 1966 (figure 1). The European Parliament Committee of Enquiry on Racism and Xenophobia found them to be among the most discriminated-against ethnic groups in Ireland.


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Created: 7:30 AM 1/2/2011
Last updated: 7:30 AM 1/2/2011