About Irish Travellers
Irish Travellers are an indigenous minority who, historical sources confirm, have been part of Irish society for centuries. Travellers long shared history, cultural values, language, customs and traditions make them a self-defined group, and one which is recognisable and distinct. Their culture and way of life, of which nomadism is an important factor, distinguishes them from the sedentary (settled) population.
There are an estimated 31,000 Travellers in Ireland, making up more than 4,485 Traveller families. This constitutes approximately 0.7% of the total national population. It is estimated that an additional 15,000 Irish Travellers live in Britain, with a further 10,000 Travellers of Irish descent living in the US.
Travellers were formally recognised as an ethnic group by the Irish state on March 1st 2017, after many decades of campaigning by ITM and other Traveller activists and organisations. Ethnicity or identity relates to the collective set of beliefs, attitudes, values, norms and language that Travellers share that make them Travellers.
Culture is not static and solely based in the past, but an interplay between tradition and emerging new ideas.
Traveller culture and identity is constantly changing and adapting. Some aspects of change happen as society changes globally. Other changes are forced upon the community- for example, legislative changes that have had huge negative impacts on Traveller culture: nomadism effectively criminalised through the Trespass legislation, changed laws governing market trading and laws covering horse ownership. These laws have meant that traditional aspects of Traveller culture are almost impossible to express. Despite these policies, which have had serious impacts on the community, Travellers continue to see themselves as Travellers and show pride in their identity and heritage.
Marginalisation of Travellers
Travellers, as individuals and as a group, experience a high level of prejudice and exclusion in Irish society. Many have to endure living in intolerable conditions, such as lack of access to basic facilities of sanitation, water and electricity. This leads to ongoing health problems among the Traveller community. The All Ireland Traveller Health Study 2010 revealed that Traveller men live, on average, 15 years less than settled men, while Traveller women live on average 11 years less than their settled peers. Discrimination and its effects are a daily feature of Travellers lives.