Gypsies or Gypos, Pavees or Pikeys. But do you know which of these words are insults? Or how Travellers refer to each other amongst themselves?
They have ways that 'settled people' struggle to understand and traditions that still hold as strong today as they did a hundred years ago. Here are a few things you might not know about these pavee people...
Travellers are a group of people who are, or were once, nomadic. Gypsies are similar because of their lifestyle, but they're usually of Romani origin whilst most Travellers are Irish or English. Travellers didn't mind being called gypsies until the word 'gypo' became a common insult. You're not being politically correct by calling Travellers 'itinerants'; this is a name they despise. They were originally referred to as 'tinkers' because many were skilled tinsmiths; mending the pots, pans and tools of local people as they moved from place to place – however with the influx of plastic and machinery this trade quickly became redundant. They'll call each other 'pavees' amongst themselves but it wouldn't be appreciated if a 'settled person' (someone who has always lived in a house) called them that! So call a Traveller a Traveller.
The largest groups of Travellers live in Great Britain and Ireland. There is much debate about their origin, some say they came from families who were evicted during famine times in Ireland – with no fixed home they moved from place to place. Other historians claim Travellers were around long before that. Travellers have great pride in their history and culture.
To be called a Traveller doesn't necessarily mean you move from place to place, in fact most have settled down, hence the term 'settled Traveller'. But some Travellers resent being called 'settled'. They say if you're born a Traveller, that's who you are for life, regardless of whether you live in a caravan or a house. Others shy away from even being identified as a Traveller because of the negative connotations that go with it.
Faith and Beliefs
Mainly they have strong Catholic values with a somewhat conservative view of the world. They're faithful to their own traditions and customs with religion playing a very important part life. Homosexuality is greatly frowned upon. Honour means a great deal in this community, particularly when it comes to sex outside marriage. A Traveller man will expect his wife to be a virgin when they get married. A woman who has lost her virginity won't have an easy job finding a husband in the Traveller community. That's why young Traveller girls have such a strict upbringing, being closely watched by their families, never left alone with another man to make sure their honour is never called into question.
Looking for a Husband
Most people are familiar with the very distinct fashion of a young Traveller girl; fake tan, hooped earrings, short skirts and belly tops adorn many a Traveller teenager. Some may say their dress is provocative but it's very much a case of 'look but don't touch'. These ladies are proud of their bodies and comfortable in themselves and see no reason to stay covered up, they're looking out for a husband and want to look their best. However many will admit that they marry as teenagers to get more freedom, desperate to move out of the family home and escape the strict influence of their parents.
Arranged marriages are less frequent now but not unheard of, there are still a few matchmakers within the community. Many Travellers have married their first cousins but that's not common practise any more. Large families are still very much the norm, with some couples having over 10 children!
The Traveller trouble makers have made the headlines, leaving other decent people to suffer with an unjustified negative reputation.
This is a proud community with great loyalty to their own families and people. Once a very insular community, but as this documentary demonstrates, some Travellers are now ready to open up and speak for themselves.
Jenny McArdle is a freelance communications consultant who specialises in radio production and PR. She previously worked as a talk show producer with Ireland's national broadcaster and editor of Voice of the Traveller magazine.