An Irish Romany writes

19 November 2009

My name is Eric. I'm 30 and from the United States. I feel it's very important to tell my family’s story.


I've read a lot of stuff that has said the Irish Travellers (often referred to as Gypsies) are not Romanichals or Romani people, but are basically just homeless red necks and that Irish Gypsies do not exist. That is such nonsense.

Eric Sure the pavee or 'tinkers', as they are sometimes called, are their own people and are an indigenous group to Ireland. They are a much larger group than the Irish Romani. Many Irish Romanies mixed in with Pavees. Others just mixed in with regular Irish folk. The Numbers are much smaller than in the UK, but make no mistake they exist and are very much Romanichal and very much Irish at the same time. I know because that’s what I am and that's what I come from. 

When I asked my Gran as a kid “How can you tell the Gypsies from the Tinkers?” her reply to me was 'that Tinkers had big red faces and dressed daft, Gyppoes had more of a olive tone and dressed better'; her words not mine, please do not take offence.

My Gran looked a little like Mr McGoo with olive skin. She was born in Ireland and had both a love and hate for the Irish. When I was young, she would tell me how she was a Gypsy, but as a kid she might as well been telling me she was a banshe. My cousins Tommy and Maria both lived on camp sites and rokkered enough Romnes mixed with Gaelic to be recognized by most old school Romanichal folk. 

I have both people in my family who will admit it and deny it. All agree to having original ancestors who migrated from Spain to Ireland during the 1700-1800's, but not all would agree that we are Gypsies. Ireland is a screwed up place in many respects. Because after you been living there a while and set down root and talk like them they refuse to see you as being different.

The English, on the other hand, will point out your difference no matter how slight or watered down it might be and will never let you think you’re fully English despite all their political correctness geared towards other minority groups. I don't know what's worse; complete denial of your existence or complete exclusion? 

I mean Gypsies have been in the UK for 500 years. Many Romanichals in my book are more bred out and watered down then my family. You won’t find any Blonds, redheads or light skinhead people on that side of my family. We know from oral history and recent DNA, that we are not completely indigenous to there and that many of us migrated much later then many Romanichals.

Five hundred years ago we could have been in North Africa, Spain or Greece Two hundred years ago we were somewhere in Andalusia, Spain. We also know that Irish Romanies stopped off in Scotland before Ireland. Records show that boat loads of “Egyptians” where transported to Galway from Scotland in 1642 - the earliest record of Gypsies in Ireland.

Although they deny we exist another record said most Irish Egyptians where of mixed stock and watered down, but real ones where spotted in 1814 in Ballaghadreen, County Roscommon in Ireland.

You know I respect the fact that the Irish have allowed us to integrate more then the British would have. The Irish kind of have the attitude that ‘if they live in a house, talk like us and make us laugh at the pub they are Irish!’

Being Irish and Gypsy is a rare and strange thing, but to all you morons who say we don't exist. You don't know anything and is probably some gorger tree hugger trying to document stuff you know nothing about. 

 In a sense the Irish protected us as long as we where tolerant to certain forms of mild discrimination like having to live outside of towns and being called “Black b*****ds”. My family had enough vonger to own land when many Irish didn't have their own and I guess we took enough of a liking to them to embrace much of their music, names, food and culture as our own.

You see It's a love hate thing; a struggle between being proud to be Irish, and being proud to be Romani and not wanting to give up either. We never had a need to keep up the language. Those who wanted to speak it could learn it and those who wanted to live as Irish folk could, but it still never changed who we where.

I was tired of reading about Welsh and English Gypsies, so I had to write something my self. I do not have a 100 year old story of living in bender tents with pack horses or great granddad being a migrating farm labourer. I don't have any Johnny Faa's who got hung for suving white women, just folk who migrated to Ireland mixed with both Irish/Romani and regular Irish folk. They were small farmers who lived in bungalows outside town, like my great great granddad Jonny Gallagher, or my Great Grand uncle Barkley Castello.

We are not Tinkers and haven't travelled as a whole family in over 150 years so. We are settled people and haven't needed to travel to stay Gypsies - it's our blood.

My great gran Margaret Gallagher was born in 1895 in Roscommon, Ireland and died in 1992 in Brooklyn, New York. I believe god kept her alive so long to teach us about how unique culture. A culture that has both Spanish to British stories that goes back hundreds of years. She was a unique and open minded person.

eric's granI would walk in her house in the late 80's with my Mohawk and nose ring and with her Irish accent; she would say 'What a lovely style' then ask me if I would like some tea with gin. She would do dukkering with tea leaves, tell stories of how a wealthy Spanish Gypsy named Carlos who had a lot of vonger bought up land in Ireland,

I had a DNA test. It basically said we were mostly Celtic-indigenous to the British isles, but then 50% - 30% Spanish and a 20.2 Times higher concentration of North African Arab Berber than was to be expected in a western European.

My Gran always told us that before Ireland, we were from Spain and before that we where from Egypt and that we took common names in the countries in which we lived, such as Gallagher, Costello, Mulligan and Henery.

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