Irish Travellers and Roma Adoption  

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My resolve to stop speaking about the difference between Roma / Gypsies and Romanians was recently shaken by an Irish couple, one of whom had a Roma sister adopted from Romania.

IrishTravelersThey were quite friendly and my mind was going in 10 different directions, trying to finish up a number of things, so when they asked me where I’m from I thoughtlessly went with “Romania”, instantly regretting it; it’s not that I had forgotten about my resolve to answer with “Dacian”, it’s just that it’s not always on my mind, and even less so.

Upon hearing where I’m from, Connor warmed up and told me that his own sister was adopted from Romania (I covered before on this blog Adoptions Restart and Adoption Confidentiality in Ontario). I avoided it at first, but when they told me that the “Romanian” sister was “tanned” I had to ask them: you do know that there’s a difference between Romanian and Roma, right?

They didn’t.

And this may very well partly explain the difficulties Westerners have in separating Roma from Romanians: they have a long experience with the Irish Travelers, whom they got tired of separating and have simply start to consider simply Irish.

I have in the past mentioned the Travelers and in do not date a traveler and shown them in Horsing Around, but here I’ll take a better look.

Following the very successful launch of the TV series Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, which attracted 8.7 million viewers each week on Channel 4, an Australian magazine wrote a comparison between Travelers and Roma (ls-gyptrav).
  1. There are two types of Gypsies – Roma Gypsies and Irish Travellers. Both have a nomadic lifestyle but are separate ethnic groups.
  2. There is much debate about their history, however Romany Gypsies are said to have their roots in India and came to Europe in the 13th century, while Travellers are mainly of Irish origin.
  3. Irish Travellers used to be referred to as ‘tinkers.’ A tinker is a skilful person that mends pots, pans and plates of locals as they move from place to place. Travellers refer to non-travellers as “settled people”.
  4. Travellers used to be okay with being called ‘gypsy; until the word ‘gypo’ became a common insult. The term ‘pikey’ is also very offensive to Travellers (comes from the word ‘pike’). They often call each other ‘pavees’ among themselves.
  5. Some Travelling communities use a language known as the Cant or ‘Shelta’. It includes ‘back slang’ words such as ‘gop’, for kiss, which is a reversal of the Irish word “pog”.
  6. Woman are considered ‘on the shelf’ at 20 and many Traveller women marry as teenagers. Many Traveller men expect their wives to be virgins when they marry.
  7. Young traveller girls have a strict Roman Catholic upbringing. Talking back to elders is unacceptable.
  8. Large families are still very much the norm, with some couples having over 10 children.
  9. While there are no official statistics for Travellers in the UK, there are an estimated 300,000 based on local government caravan counts.
  10. While the original Irish Travellers lived in horse-drawn wagons and travelled, most today live in caravans on official sites provided by a local authority.

Some of the above may be surprising to the Romanian reader, such as the strict, conservative Roman Catholic upbringing and respect for the elders. According to my Irish sources, large families are the norm not only within Travelers, but also in Ireland in general, where abortion is largely illegal and condoms cost more 1E/piece.

The following are my own notes from sources.
  • Irish Travelers, also known as "White Gypsies," are members of a nomadic ethnic group of uncertain origin. Scholars often speculate that they are descended from a race of pre-Celtic minstrels and that their ranks were swelled by displaced farmers during Oliver Cromwell's bloody campaigns of the mid-1600s.
  • Modern Travelers in Ireland, who number around 25,000, frequently live in ad-hoc trailer encampments, though some have settled in permanent housing. Though prejudice against Travelers has abated over the years, they are still widely stereotyped as thieves and troublemakers; according to a recent poll, 70 percent of Irish citizens wouldn't accept a Traveler as a friend. A new law which criminalizes trespassing, thus making it easier for police to shut down encampments, has been criticized by Travelers as an attempt to destroy their culture.
  • The TV3 promotional material for ‘Travellers in America: A Secret Society’ depicts the documentary’s subjects showing-off palatial ‘mcmansions’, designer clothing brands and expensive cars. Asked how they earn a living, Connolly says the men work at “trades – tarmacing, roofing and so on”. However – “most of the income comes from insurance”.
  • What we discovered is that the girls are matched with older men at the age of six or seven – but there’s nothing untoward here at this stage. It’s all to do with legacy – if you marry into another rich family then pride of place in the town will stay with you for years to come. So at six or seven, families just say ‘they might make a good pair’. Then, at the ages of thirteen or fourteen they will have a marriage ceremony, but they won’t in fact be married. The controversial aspect though is that these thirteen- or fourteen-year-old girls will be in a mock marriage with 22- or 23-year-old men.
  • Following the findings of the All Ireland Traveller Health Study (estimates for 2008), the figure for Northern Ireland was revised to 3,905 and that for the Republic to 36,224. In 2011, for the first time, the census category "Irish Traveller" was introduced as part of the broader Gypsy/Traveller section. The self reported figure for collective Gypsy/Traveller and/or Irish Traveller populations were 63,193 but recent estimates of Travellers living in Great Britain range between 15,000 as part of a total estimation of 300,000 Gypsy/Roma and other Traveller groups in the UK.
  • Ten percent of the Gammon language comes from Romani; however, the majority of its words derive from Celtic.
  • The 1959–63 government of Ireland established a "Commission on Itinerancy" with the following terms of reference:
    (1) to enquire into the problem arising from the presence in the country of itinerants in considerable numbers;
    (2) to examine the economic, educational, health and social problems inherent in their way of life;
    (3) to consider what steps might be taken—
    (a) to provide opportunities for a better way of life for itinerants,
    (b) to promote their absorption into the general community,
    (c) pending such absorption, to reduce to a minimum the disadvantages to themselves and to the community resulting from their itinerant habits and
    (d) to improve the position generally; and
    (4) to make recommendations.

    The Commission's 1963 report defined "itinerant" as "a person who had no fixed place of abode and habitually wandered from place to place, but excluding travelling show-people and travelling entertainers". It recommended assimilation of travellers by settling them in fixed dwellings, viewing the Netherlands' approach to its travelling minority as a model. At the time, most Irish travellers lived in barrel-roofed horse-drawn wagons, with some still using tents.

    The Travelling People Review Body (1981–83) advocated integration rather than assimilation, with provision for serviced halting sites. The Body's membership included travellers. The Task Force on the Travelling Community (1993–95) moved to an intercultural paradigm.

Even though I tried avoiding it, his sister kept coming back into our conversation and I eventually heard the whole story. It seems that she had spina bifida and I couldn’t help thinking that his mother was a hero for adopting her.

*(*This article is unfinished – it was scheduled to appear in the hope that it will be finished before, but since this message is here and until it is removed, the article is to be considered work in progress*)*.

Sources / More info: wiki-it, sl8-wiait, jie-murphy, wiki-sb, ls-gyptrav

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