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Useful Notes / Irish Travellers

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First off, don't call a Traveller a "Gypsy" (ditto for Romani people). It's a derogatory word, and just about the most offensive way you can possibly refer to an Irish Traveller. In its negative sense, it can refer to someone who makes a living by theft or dishonest practices, but not necessarily Romani. Only the word "pikey" might be worse,note  but that only happens in Britain. "Knacker"note  is another well known derogatory term; some Travellers today are significantly more offended by "knacker" than "gypsy". Another derogatory term which the Travellers are sometimes called is "itinerants". Older works (and older people) might call them "Tinkers", from the fact that a lot of them used to be itinerant tinsmiths. This is also considered offensive, if not so much. Terms by which they refer to themselves, besides Traveller, are "Pavee", "Mincéir" and Lucht Siúil ("The travelling people" in Irish, not that you'll hear it used much). "Pavee" can, however, be considered offensive when used by someone outside of the Travelling community.

Irish Travellers are a people who share the language Shelta, commonly known as Traveller Cant, derived from a mixture of intentionally-incomprehensible Irish backslang and a few English, Romani, and other loanwords, though in the modern era they primarily speak English. They are tribal, like the Romani, and share the perception in media as being "evil outsiders", and some are nomadic, and share a passion for boxing (most notably Tyson Fury, born to Traveller parents who migrated to England), but other than that, they're different from the Romani and don't appreciate being lumped into the same category.

The fact that Irish Travellers are culturally different from most other White Europeans—including other ("Settled") Irish—is where a lot of the media bias comes from. There has historically been, and continues to be, a lot of discrimination against Travellers because of this. Though anti-discrimination laws exist, many establishments still prohibit Travellers from frequenting them. The Gardaí (Irish police force) ranked Travellers as their ‘least favorite’ ethnicity in a survey. Apparently, British police have similar attitudes note  Politicians, including presidential candidates and ministers, have frequently used Travellers as an easy target, and play on biases of the public at large. Fates may be changing slightly, as 2020 saw the election of the first senator from the Travelling community appointed to the Seanad.

Irish Travellers have only legally been considered a separate ethnicity from the settled Irish community since 2000 (in Britain) and 2017 (in Ireland), though Irish discrimination legislation prior to that had referenced membership of the travelling community in addition to race and religion. This is why references in Irish media are made to 'the Travelling community' and 'the Settled community'. All of this is a political hot potato.

There is a population of about 7,000 Travellers in the United States, concentrated in the Deep South. Some have settled down, but others still maintain the Travelling lifestyle, albeit in RVs rather than the more traditional covered wagons.

You might notice that this article doesn't say anything about the origin of the Irish Travellers. That's because nobody's really sure about it... not even Travellers themselves. Genetic analysis has verified that they're native Irish, but no record exists for the origin of their distinct cultural traditions. How, why, and when they separated from the rest of the Irish people is a subject of speculation, but the lack of evidence means it'll almost certainly never be answered.

Irish Travellers in fiction:

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  • In Snatch., a clan of Travellers (and their champion bareknuckle fighter in particular) plays a big role. They're all liars and con-men, but so is every other character in the film. It's a Guy Ritchie movie; if there's a moral high ground, the Travellers are probably the ones occupying it, especially considering that they're up against a London Gangster.
  • Into the West, a Magical Realism story about two Traveller boys escaping from the grimness and poverty of early '90s Dublin.
  • Pavee Lackeen (which is Cant for The Traveller Girl) is a pseudo-docu-drama about a family of Travellers, the Maughans, who play versions of themselves coping with the everyday reality of being Travellers. It portrays them as well rounded people, but is by no means rose-tinted: it shows, among other things, children sniffing petrol, stealing clothes from charity bins, fighting in the street, etc. Alas, it's held back from being engaging by a complete lack of plot.
  • Hot Fuzz, a group of Travellers is what ruins the original Village Of The Year contest for Sandford and drives Inspector Butterman's wife to suicide. The townspeople then kill them for that.
  • In The Field, a Traveller woman shows up at a village dance and dares a man to "dance with the Tinker's daughter". She eventually becomes the love interest of Tadgh.
  • In Stand Off (original title Whole Lotta Sole) Irish Travellers supply much of the humour and help to complicate the farcical proceedings. One of their children gets his head stuck between window bars and when the character played by Brendan Fraser uses soap to free him the boy does not know what it is.
  • Traveller follows a young man returning to his Irish Traveller family in North Carolina after having given up their life and being taken under his con man cousin's wing.
  • In Float Like A Butterfly, the protagonist is a 15-year-old Traveller girl who aspires to become a boxer.


  • There is a passing reference to Travellers in the novel The Book Of Kells by R. A. MacAvoy. John goes back to the present and sees a family in Dublin that look like they could be descendants of Ailesh and himself.
  • One of the main characters in Cathy Cassidy's book Scarlet is a Traveller named Kian, who the titular Scarlett falls in love with.
  • One of the main characters in Anne McCaffrey's book Dragonsdawn is a Traveller named Sean Connell.
  • In Shirley Rousseau Murphy's Cat to the Dogs, some disreputable Travellers cause trouble for their less disreputable relatives.
  • In The Golden Compass (aka His Dark Materials), an alternate universe counter-part of the Irish Travellers are called Gyptians (derived from the word "Egyptian," and oddly their lingo is referred to as "fen-Dutch," so presumably their ethnicity is a blend; half of the Gyptian characters have Greek names, the other half have Dutch-sounding ones). They spend their time traveling the waterways of the British Isles and play a large role in helping the protagonist Lyra as she searches for her lost friend (many of their own children having been taken as well). Some Travellers take such a shine to her that she is generally considered an unofficial member of their people. The word "Gypsy" is derived from a mistaken belief that the Romani people were descended from Egyptians. Thus, "Gyptian" is probably an alternate-universe derivation along much the same lines. This has some basis in our reality as well, as many Medieval Histories of Ireland and Scotland traced the Gaelic peoples as a whole ultimately back to an Egyptian Princess [Scoti] in much the same way Britain was traced back to Brutus of Troy.
  • In Mary Beth Keane's The Walking People One of the main characters is an Irish Traveller. The Walking People is another name for Irish Traveller.
  • See You Down The Road is about Travellers.
  • The Wheel of Time series has the "Tinkers" or Traveling People. They are a Fantasy Counterpart Culture to these as they might have existed in Medieval/Renaissance times, but with the addition that they are actual pacifists whose highest value is Thou Shall Not Kill. This is the group the original Aiel people splintered off from. They even have the Celtic trait of red hair, plus pale eyes and naturally fair skin (although usually tanned due to being in the sun so much).
  • The Irish children's series by Kenneth Bird about a talking dog called Himself, whose owner is a tinker. The ongoing prejudice against tinkers is brought up several times in the series.
  • In Steadfast, Katie Langford is half-Traveller. Her dancer mother was the Traveller, and her acrobat father a non-Traveller man that was living a similar lifestyle. The two eloped when the Traveller clan refused to let the two marry, and Katie's mother was then cast out from the clan.
  • In The Dinosaur Lords, Rob Korrigan identifies as Traveler, Fantasy Counterpart Culture to Irish Travellers. He doesn't live with any clan, but does lead a wandering lifestyle and chiefly works as a minstrel.

     Live Action TV  

  • Peaky Blinders is probably the most high profile show ever with Irish Travellers as main characters. Kinda. The Shelby family are Romani on their mother's side, and implied to be half-Roma half-Traveller on their father's side, and they have strong ties to people in both communities (literally - their mother's last name was "Strong"), and all of them are fluent in Romanichal AND Shelta. The Romani heritage comes up more often though, with characters like the Lee family and Aberama Gold playing more important roles.
  • Law & Order: Criminal Intent: The murder at the heart of one episode was tied to an attempt to cover up a business deal between two families of Travellers. The deal being the arrangement of a marriage between two ten-year-olds so that a "dowry" could be exchanged to pay off some business debts.
  • The Riches joins up an American Traveller family (in the Deep South) with a Fish out of Water plot. Featuring Eddie Izzard, no less.
  • The family of con artists in the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Taken" have all the earmarks of Irish Travellers, but are never referred to as such in the episode.
  • Top Gear:
    • James May once scolded Jeremy Clarkson for using a hammer to fix a car, saying that a hammer is "the tool of a pikey".
    • Richard Hammond also described a model of car by using the term "pikey" as a pejorative (albeit by subtly cutting the camera to show a "pie" next to a "key").
  • Providing an example of Irish Travellers in an actual Irish work, Single Handed, a three-part police drama, has the son of a pair of them go missing in its second part.
  • A pair turned up in Boys from the Blackstuff where they proved to be sociopathic con-men.
  • There's a documentary series in the UK called My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, which challenges the stereotypes about Irish Travellers and Romani, as it shows several different aspects of Traveller life. However, in showing the truth about several stereotypes, it also showed something about Traveller communities that has become another stereotype: their extravagant wedding dresses.
  • Love/Hate has Patrick, a settled Traveller who works as an Arms Dealer and bomb maker. When Nidge comes gunning for him because he made the pipe bomb Nidge used to injure Fran's wife, he takes refuge in a halting site with his fellow travellers and, having survived several assassination attempts, takes the fight to Nidge, eventually killing him in the series 5 finale. It's worth noting that the actor playing him is also a Traveller.
  • The Prisoner has Number 6 escape the village and encounter a group of what could be assumed as Travellers unaware of what they're saying. They give him food and part ways.
  • In Moone Boy, a family of travellers moves into the field next to the Moones' house, causing the local community to panic and move everything that isn't nailed down away from them. The usual stereotypes are subverted, though, as they are an honest family and their daughter briefly becomes Martin's Love Interest.
  • Crossing Lines: Tommy and his whole family are Irish Travellers. He's been disowned for becoming a police officer, as they're also gangsters.
  • In Derry Girls, the girls meet a group of Travellers selling vegetables on the side of the road. They freak out when a Traveller starts following them, but he was just trying to return a dropped purse (and is rather offended that they assumed he was a criminal.)
  • In The Windsors, the Middletons are reimagined as Travellers, with Pippa being a conniving schemer while Catherine is a former fighter who still has an eye out for salvaging white goods for resale.


The traveling people are a common theme in Irish music. They're often portrayed romantically, making off with a lord's daughter or otherwise getting the better of their fellow men.

  • "The Irish Rover" doesn't fall under this category, as it follows the adventures of a ship called "The Irish Rover."
  • Many traditional songs describe the life of the gypsy, including:
    • "The Gypsy Rover"
    • "The Raggle-Taggle Gypsy"
    • "The Whistling Gypsy"
  • Patrick "Pecker" Dunne (1933-2012) was a well-known multi-instrumentalist folk musician (being especially acclaimed as a banjo player). His autobiographical song "Wexford Town" is especially well-known.

Some singers and songwriters have written one or more songs about the life of the tinker, including:

  • Ewan MacColl: "The Forty-Foot Trailer", "(I'm a) Freeborn Man", and "Go, Move, Shift" (about the mistreatment that Travellers and other itinerant peoples receive from society).

  • The Mad Scientist Wars suggests that one of Andrew Tinker's Mad Scientist grandfathers, Dr. Io, is an Irish Traveller. It hasn't been gone into too much, but Dr. Io is presented as a kind, good person, so it's a positive portrayal.


  • Irish Travellers are very much a staple of Irish theater, from the 1908 comedy The Tinker's Wedding by J. M. Synge onwards. Marina Carr's By the Bog of Cats (1998) is probably the best known work internationally.

Alternative Title(s): Irish Traveller