Irish Travelers - Orientation



Identification. Irish Travelers are a small, itinerant ethnic group in the United States. Distinct from present-day Irish Travellers in the Republic of Ireland, Irish Travelers in the United States earn their living as itinerant workers, spray painting, asphalting, or laying linoleum. Irish Travelers are identified by non-Travelers as Gypsies because of their itinerant life-styles, but Travelers consider the term a derogatory one. Nevertheless, Irish Travelers will often introduce themselves to non-Travelers as Irish Gypsies because of the continuing use of the label by non-Travelers.

Location. Irish Travelers divide themselves into three groups based on historical residence: Georgia Travelers, Mississippi Travelers, and Texas Travelers. There is also a group called Ohio Travelers that migrated to the Midwest in the late 1800s while other Irish Travelers moved south. Contact between the Ohio Travelers and the Travelers in the southern United States is minimal.

Demography. Population figures on Irish Travelers in the United States are unavailable. The U.S. Census does not recognize Irish Travelers as a unique ethnic group. The amount of itinerancy and the level of secrecy of the group make enumeration very difficult. According to my research and Irish Travelers' estimates, the Georgia Travelers' camp is made up of about eight hundred families, the Mississippi Travelers, about three hundred families, and the Texas Travelers, under fifty families. The birthrate among Irish Travelers is surprisingly low for a very strict Roman Catholic group, with an average of two to three children per family.

Linguistic Affiliation. Irish Travelers in the United States speak English and an argot they call Cant. Cant is a combination of Shelta, derived from Irish Gaelic, Romanes (the Language of Romany Gypsies), and English. Travelers use their Cant among themselves in the presence of non-Travelers. Irish Travellers residing in Ireland also speak a similar Cant, but in the United States the Cant, over generations, has developed into more of a pidgin English. Younger Travelers are not as fluent as previous generations and often know only a few phrases or words.

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Jun 25, 2012 @ 1:13 pm
I am from Ohio and am interested in more information on the "Ohio Travelers." Ineed some background information for a novel I a working on, and would appreciate any contributions. My own ethnic background is Irish (County Monaghan) on Mom's side, and Czech (Bohemian) on Dad's. I have a good friend that I worked with, who is a Romani Gypsy. Nothing but good things to say about him! Honest, generous, and very proud and hard working man! He knows gypsies who are not that way, and he is ashamed of them.

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