Irish Travelers - Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs and Practices. Irish Travelers are Roman Catholic and continue to raise their children in the Catholic church. But because of the lack of formal instruction, most Travelers have integrated into their observances a number of their own religious practices. Some, such as novenas or praying for several days for a special intention, are older Catholic practices that are not widely encouraged by the church, because of the tendency of the practitioners to show signs of superstition rather than affirm their faith. Traveler women's religiousness is strong, whereas the men participate in the sequence of sacraments but do not regularly attend church. All Travelers are baptized as infants, receive first communion around eight years of age, and are confirmed Between thirteen and eighteen. The women continue to attend mass, receive communion, and often go to confession throughout their lives. Most men attend mass only on holidays and for special events. The older Traveler women attend mass daily for "extra graces" or special intentions. There are four major concerns for which Travelers, especially women, pray, in order of importance: that their daughters marry; that their daughters, once married, become pregnant; that their husbands or sons quit drinking; and that any health problems in the family are overcome. Because of the amount of time Traveler men are on the road and the fatalities that have occurred from automobile accidents, Traveler women worry about the level of social drinking practiced by the men. Pressure from the women has resulted in Irish Traveler men "taking the pledge." They ask a local priest to witness in front of the church altar their taking the pledge or promising to quit drinking for a specific amount of time. This is done inside the church with no other witnesses.
Death and Afterlife. Irish Travelers believe, as the Roman Catholic church teaches, that there is an afterlife. Travelers do not believe anything that diverges from the mainstream Catholic way of thinking. In the past, Traveler funerals were held once a year to enable as many Travelers as possible to attend. The distance Travelers must travel from their villages to obtain work has made it difficult for some families to attend all the activities held by other Travelers. Because of the difficulty in including all Travelers in the funeral plans and the increase in funeral costs, funerals are now being held within six months of the person's death. Irish Travelers continue to bury their dead in cemeteries used by their ancestors, although recently, Travelers have begun to bury their relatives in local cemeteries.