On March 15th 2018, Betsy Mobey, then intern at Friends, Families and Travellers, ventured to Dublin to join Travellers in the Republic of Ireland in celebrating one year passing since the Irish State’s acknowledgement of Traveller ethnicity. Continue reading to hear details of Betsy’s trip and what she learned on her journey.
In the U.K, Irish Travellers have been recognised as an ethnic group since 2000 and Romany Gypsies since 1988. Both Irish Traveller and Romany Gypsy groups are recognised as having their own distinct shared culture, language and beliefs, with different DNA and historical heritage.
When I first heard about this event, I was shocked to learn that Irish Travellers had only just been recognised as an ethnic group in the Republic of Ireland. As a proud English Romany Gypsy myself, with relations of mine married into Irish Travelling families, this I hold close to my heart and felt that I had to investigate further.
Until March 2017, the lack of recognition by the Irish State meant that Irish Travellers were only labelled as a ‘social group’, now Irish Travellers are recognised as Ireland’s only indigenous ethnic minority. Despite the fact that evidence supporting this dates back over 500 years and recent DNA analyses have found that Irish Travellers are genetically different from settled Irish folk.
Ireland has a beautiful history – the rebellions, the persistent and courageous fight for their country against foreign powers, the strong tradition of the preservation of language, tradition and culture, strong religious beliefs, the poets and infectious sense of humour. However, much alike many other countries, Ireland has failed to protect and preserve their very own indigenous people.
So, the Republic of Ireland, I ask you, “What took you so long?”
Due to snowy weather conditions, coincidently the event ended up falling on St. Paddy’s Weekend! And what a celebration it was! The Irish Traveller Ethnicity Celebration was bustling with people.
I’d never seen anything like it back at home. It was vibrant with a real sense of solidarity between the community both the Travellers and gaudjes (country folk/non-Travellers).
Maureen, one of the first people I met, introduced herself and before you know it, took me under her wing for the day, I was sincerely grateful to be welcomed with warmth and looked after. There’s no-one the superwoman didn’t know! She introduced me to all of the various organisations, activists, businesses, performers, professors and even the President of Ireland (which proved just how seriously this event was embraced by the nation)!
The day was jam packed. What particularly stuck out for me was the Traveller DNA Presentation, ‘Population Genetics and Genomics of the Irish Traveller’s’ by Gianpero Cavelleri, from The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. Fascinating research, comparing DNA of the settled folk and Travellers in Ireland. I was overwhelmed by the collective effort by scientists and historians that came together to recognise the unique history and experiences of Irish Travellers in Ireland. I think that it’s important that our communities should be recognised and supported through targeted work on education, linguistics, history, data collection and health. This would help us to restore the balance with the rest of society.
Following the event, I spoke to a number of those who took part in the celebration. First of all, John Madden, who is a reporter and researcher for the magazine Travellers Voice, who said:
He added, that in his opinion:
“With a right wing and racist government, lack of improvement is inevitable.”
When I asked Martin Collins, Co-Director of Pavee Point, what his reflections following the event were, he said,
“Pavee Point has been campaigning for the recognition of Traveller Ethnicity since 1985. It was a difficult campaign – we faced both legal and illogical objections from the state.. We got the support from many academics and UN human rights bodies and it was at this level that the states objections were exposed as being very weak and illogical. In fact it was getting to the stage that the Irish state were being exposed and embarrassed. So on the 1st March 2017 the state formally recognised Travellers as an ethnic minority group. This is purely symbolic, it is about recognition and respect. We know it is not a silver bullet and it won’t address the human rights abuses that Travellers face, this will require a different approach.”
I spoke to a good few people, and the general consensus seemed to be that they have a long way to go yet. A glorious celebration, we can only hope will empower and push for a speedy positive chain reaction. This event has truly inspired me. I feel Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month still hasn’t been recognised nor embraced by the government or general public in the UK as much as it could. Especially in comparison to Black History Month.
I believe if the government, local councils, institutes and the royal family were more visibly involved, then change would be instant. Important figures are highly influential so it is paramount that those in power are visibly highlighting and actively showing their support.
I hope we can follow in the footsteps of The Irish Traveller Ethnicity celebration, starting with Gypsy, Roma Traveller History month!
About the author
Betsy Mobey is a former intern at Friends, Families and Travellers and is now Youth Engagement & Campaign Support Worker at London Gypsies & Travellers. During her internship at Friends, Families and Travellers, Betsy was an enthusiastic member of the youth work team, learnt about tackling discrimination at two international gatherings and shared her opinions and views as a young Romany Gypsy at a number of meetings and conferences.