Friday, November 25, 2011

Irish Travellers are not Gypsies

This was a letter to a Gypsy Vanner horse website that was so over the top with erroneous information on Irish travelers—I came undone and wrote this missive to them. They never replied.

My grandmother (b,1893)  knew the Tinkers well, in Western Ireland. They used to fix my great-grandmother's pots. They travelled through Bantry each year, and camped on our land. They were superb horse people. My family raised horses too—I grew up horse crazy and could ride just about any equine (and an occasional bovine) like the wind. But that was another era.

I hate how people conflate Irish and Scottish TInkers or Travellers with Romany Gypsies. They are not even remotely the same peoples. Never any gypsies in Ireland. Ever. Scottish Tinkers are related to Irish Tinkers. They both speak Shelta or siúlta (aka Gammon or Cant)—a Gaelic, or goidelic language. They were called the lucht siúil  or the walking people. Hence Shelta, as walk/ siúil is pronounced school. Think of it as an Irish Cockney slang with reversed words and backwards talk—to fool the locals.

That's how pig-Latin, and even Boontling evolved in Anderson Valley, CA. To hide the news via slang. My best friend's father spoke it. It even has Irish words in it. But I digress...  The Shelta word "bloke" evolved from the Irish word buachaill, or boy.

Celtic is one of the most ancient language families in the Indo-European tree. Older than Latinate languages. Gaelic is older than Brythonic Celtic. The Celtic Pretani is the origin of the word for Britain.

Romany Gypsies are from Romania by way of India/Egypt. Different genetics. Different DNA, language, customs. The Gypsies of Spain speak Ladino, a form of Latin. As is Romanian. (There's also a Sephardic Jewish connection with Ladino.) Think Latin or Djudeo Espanyol. That also introduces the Middle East as a genetic pool. Few genetic markers are shared with the Irish (whether Tinkler or gaija) and the Middle East.

The term Ladino comes from "latino" and possible "ladrón" (thief) and usually refers to mestizo peoples. I worked with a Sephardic Jew from Peru by way of Spain—what he spoke really is similar to Spanish. Now, I love the Gypsy Kings—but I would never conflate them with the Celtic Irish Tinkers.

Just because the Celtic Travellers are nomadic, use caravans and have fabulous horses, it doesn't make them ethnically related to Gypsies. The problem is that this kind of nonsense has been repeated often enough as of late that most people believe that the Travellers are Gypsies. The notion probably arose during the Romantic period when Gypsies were considered exotic, therefore more interesting (and valuable) than the native peoples who suffered greatly under colonial rule.

There are real Romany Gypsies in Britain, but they're not ethnically related to the Irish Tinkers. The Travelers in England also steer clear of the Gypsies. They're not particularly fond of each other. There's a great stigma of marrying outside the clan.

Sadly, so much of history has been lost, as they're a nomadic peoples, and not much stock was placed on preserving history—that's an occupation for the landed, or settled folks who live in houses. Alas, now some Travellers think they're related to Gypsies!

I have studied with distinguished Celtic scholars of our era at UC Berkeley and elsewhere. My area of study is Medieval Ireland. So I've also studied folklore, medieval literature (translated Irish and Welsh epics) and linguistics, anthropology, archaeology, etc.

Irish Tinkers, or Travellers, who predate the Gypsies—if you can believe the medieval Irish epics—did make it to Scotland, England, and America—during the Great Famine. The Riches with Eddie Izzard was a TV show about the American Travellers.

I suggest that you add:

"Founded November 24, 1996, the GVHS is the world’s first registry to recognize a breed of horse developed by the   ( ADD TRAVELLERS AND )    Gypsies of Great Britain/Ireland and the only such registry founded on an in depth study of British/Irish (   TRAVELLERS AND  ) Gypsies and their horses."

Adding the ethnically correct term will do wonders to reverse centuries of continual colonial aprartheid waged against the Irish Travellers.

See King of the Gypsies

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