Jim and Jonathan are two young Irish Travellers who are currently serving time in Wormwood Scrubs. I asked them to share a little bit about their culture. What follows is my retelling of what they told me.
As the name suggests, Irish Travellers are nomadic people – we move from place to place. These days, this is mostly done by caravan. We learn to drive and maintain caravans from an early age. The best brands are Hobby and Tabbert. We never use the caravan toilet. If somebody dies inside a caravan, it is customary to burn it out of respect for the deceased.
We have our own language – we call it Cant and it’s based on Irish English, with influences from Irish.
That’s how we settle our disputes – no weapons, no police. The expression “Take off your coat” is an invitation to a fight. Respect, honour and loyalty are very important to us.
Irish Travellers listen to a lot of Irish rebel songs (songs about Irish history and heroes), as well as golden oldies from the 50s and 60s – Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison.
The horse is a very important element of our culture. Many of us buy, sell and breed horses. We learn to ride them from a very early age.
Irish Travellers are mostly Catholic. When somebody dies, we give them a Catholic funeral. A horse-drawn carriage takes them to their final resting place, a Catholic graveyard. No cremations.
HOBBIES & SPORTS
Hare coursing (the pursuit of hares and rabbits with hounds) is a very popular activity in our community. The resulting rabbit stew is a favourite dish. Boxing is the most popular sport. World heavyweight champion Tyson Fury and his cousin Hughie Fury come from a family of Irish Traveller heritage.
MARRIAGE & FAMILY
It’s very uncommon for an Irish Traveller to remain unmarried. We get married and start families early. The woman normally takes care of the children, while the man works and handles finances.