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The Irish Travellers are the largest minority in Ireland. There are about 25,000 Irish Travellers in Ireland and 1,300 in Northern Ireland. They are a little understood nomadic community, who have many difficulties to overcome if they are to survive as a culture and gain acceptance into Irish society. Among the challenges facing them are poverty and racism.
The Irish Travellers are a distinct ethnic group which has existed for centuries. Often they are mistakenly considered part of the nomadic Romani, an ethnic group which originated in the region of India and is now widespread throughout Europe. But the Irish Travellers are indigenous to Ireland, so the two cultures are not related. While both are nomadic, the Irish Travellers are Roman Catholic and speak a language that is theirs alone. They have their own culture, customs, traditions, and language. They are noted for their musical and storytelling abilities.
In times past, they travelled by horse-drawn wagon in caravans, making camp along the way. Tinsmithing, horse trading and peddling were the major sources of income in those days. Tinsmiths were so prevalent among Irish Travellers that the terms Tinker and Irish Traveller were used interchangeably. Today, Tinker is one of many names for Irish Travellers.
Horses and wagons have given way to mobile homes pulled by motor vehicles. They continue their life on the road, but there are fewer places to stop and fewer places where they are welcome. Today, Irish Travellers mainly work in recycling. Changing needs of society and progress have eliminated the jobs that could support a culture on wheels.
Irish Travellers are poor, undereducated, and on the receiving end of discrimination. Their life expectancy is lower than average while their infant mortality rate is higher than average. As is the case with the Romani, the Irish Travellers are seen by many as a group of immoral, ignorant criminals and con artists. People distrust their nomadic culture and their language, Shelta. Many think it's a secret language specifically developed as a tool to help the Irish Travellers trick innocent people. But this is not true. It is an old language, which has evolved with time and circumstances. Once heavily infused with Irish Gaelic, it is now infused with English.
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