My Morning at Pavee Point by Caroline Dudeck

22 Nov

           This morning I trekked to the Dublin’s north side to visit the Irish Traveller and Roma information center, Pavee Point. There, I learned about the day-to-day lifestyle, history, and current issues within the Traveller community from volunteer travellers. The word “traveller” was quite foreign to my vocabulary when I was growing up, but I was introduced to the term through TLC’s hit TV-show, “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.” The show follows a young traveller bride and her family through their journey to wedding day. As the audience, we gain insight into her thoughts, relationships with her fiancée and family, her role as a wife, child, and woman, as well as all the details of the big day. “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” is a huge hit in the United States, and after viewing the show I was extremely inclined to learn about true traveller life. I say true because deep down I know that as interesting as the TV show is, not all travellers live frivolous lifestyles; there’s a lot missing from MBFGW that I wanted to discover.

            Two travellers volunteered to speak to us about their lifestyle. They told us that as students, we are “settled,” but they are travellers. The Irish travellers are an ethnic community, meaning if one is not born into a travelling family, they can never become a traveller, even if they travel and live the lifestyle. I thought this was extremely interesting, because I was under the impression that travellers were just Irish people who chose to live a somewhat “less stable” lifestyle, but I was wrong, there’s many more differences than just travelling between the Irish travellers and settled people.

            One major difference that the volunteers stressed was family. Irish travellers live in homes or in neighborhoods where they are surrounded by their extended families. For many Americans and even modern day Irish, it is common to have family in different states, counties, or towns, but for travellers it is absolutely essential to stay close. Cathleen, the traveller volunteer, told us that for two years her family moved into a real home, but her mother felt so lonely without her extended family nearby, that her family moved back into a caravan, or what we know as a mobile home. Despite the fact that the accommodations in the home were much nicer than the caravan, it was more desirable to live with family and to give up the house.

            Today, there is much discrimination against travellers in Ireland. Travellers have been increasingly moving into apartments and homes near non-travellers, which has been a huge issue. The media portrays travellers as dirty, thieves, and distrustful, so when travellers move in people fear that their possessions will be taken, peace in the neighborhood will be disrupted, and that the value of their homes will decrease. This is not the case at all, as many travellers just want to maintain some of their traditions while living in peace with settlers, but have a difficult time doing so because of the discrimination.

            Many travellers only go to school until the age of 12 or 13, and this is due to the lack of expectations from teachers in school. Traveller children aren’t expected to be able to read or learn as quickly as their peers, so sometimes they are excluded from certain lessons. For example, giving traveller children a coloring book while the rest of the class reads a story. Obviously, this is discrimination on a very deep level, and not only does it make the children feel isolated from society, it hinders their ability to learn and thrive. Cathleen told us that many schoolteachers expect young women to drop out of school because they are under the impression that they will get married at a young age of 14 or 15. This was truer in the early nineteenth century, but travellers today are extremely modern.

            The Irish traveller community unfortunately lives in fear. No matter where they go, they are almost always unwelcome. People will use their communities as dumping grounds for toxic waste such as asbestos, delivering the waste in the nighttime and exposing the communities to harmful chemicals. This harsh discrimination can be largely attributed to negative portrayal in the media in the tabloids, “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding,” and even in broad sheets like the Irish Independent. Because the general population has so much disdain for the travellers, it is extremely hard to go through school, obtain a good job, or make friends outside of the community. Because of this, the suicide rate of Irish traveller men is six times that of the general male population in Ireland.

Organizations like Pavee Point are created to inform people about the truth of Irish travellers: they’re not dangerous, dirty, or thieves, they’re just people with a different background. Pavee Point works to maintain traveler’s human rights and changes the way they are publically treated. From the info session today, I ‘ve learned that my initial impressions from “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” is nothing like the real traveller lifestyle. I learned a lot from today through talking to Cathleen and Martin about their life, and am now aware of the hardships travellers face. I hope that the discrimination can be dissolved and that the Irish community will learn to be more accepting of their traveler minority. 

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