The Tinkers in Ireland

Referat / Aufsatz (Schule), 2001

5 Seiten

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The Tinkers in Ireland

All over Ireland, but especially at the borders of small towns, you can meet the Travellers or “Tinkers”. They are people, living like gipsy in wagons, which are pulled by horses, or in caravans. Today, there are about 23,000 Tinkers in the Irish Republic and another 1,500 in the North. There are also about 15, 000 Irish Travellers in England, Scotland and Wales and 7,000 in the U.S.A. For the native, it is clear, that the Irish Tinker isn’t related with the gypsy from other countries. It is a native itself. A few historians think, that in the past, they didn’t belong to the society of the other citizens. This Generation had children, which

Tinkers became. Some time they realized, that they need their own, secret language. One of these languages is the “Shelta” (or easier “Rotwelsh”). It contains parts of the Gälish and Irish language. By holding contact to the day workers and other simple workers, they could save their survival until today. This was possible, because the Irish Tinker had developed for his difficult social and politic situation, a sympathy opposite fringe groups. They were and are often hunted by the police, because they have the opinion to be allowed to take all with them, what they’re be able to take. But if you think, life of these people is just hard and full of trouble, you err. From April until to the middle of October, when the sky is blue and the days and evenings mild, it is carefree and healthy.


The Tinkers move in their communities from place to place. Because they haven’t got much money, their resting-places are usually very simple and their children often have to starve and to freeze. But in the last Time the Tinkers had to move away into nature, because of the growing traffic on the secondary roads and the racism they had met from the Irish town-dwellers. In this way the Tinkers prefer the grassy strips of an isolated path, where they are near fresh water and rough grazing land for their horses. Even after month, you can recognize an old resting-place. Usually there are rags hanging on the bushes, excrement is lying a few meters away from this place on the ground, litter and even old good but old clothes and shoes you can find there lying everywhere. The Tinkers often leave these places without having a reason for it. In case, other Travelling people come to use these places again. How already said, the Tinkers live in wagons or caravans and move from place to place and they are more and more forced to move into nature, or in serviced sites. On the one hand, it is difficult to live in nature without having any facilities on the other hand are the serviced sites not or only rare in closeness to towns, but very small, too. Although the Tinkers are travelling people, some of them wanted to settle, but they were often prevented to do so, for the Irish people have fear. In this way the serviced areas en built, to keep these strange people away from the “normal” people. But the fact is, that the travelling people don’t wish to live isolated from the other population and the facilities like shops, entertainment, social services health services and so on. The other point is, that the serviced sites aren’t very large and many people have to live on small space. Often Tinkers complained like this one:” Twenty families are being put in half an acre of ground. Travelling people can’t live on top of each other…. I told the council but they wouldn’t listen…there will be no privacy, the doors of the chalets face face each other, when I open my door there’s another one facing me.” Usually every tribe of Tinkers lives on his own, but if there are conflicts between them, it’s not just like a conflict, but also like an earthquake.


If the Tinkers hadn’t got enough money for buying food etc. (this is nearly always fact) they send their young wives to beg some food from the kitchens of big hotels or money from the people. The young women pretend to have a baby by wracking up a hanger in a scarf to wake their sympathy. But that’s not the “normal” way to earn some money: Although in the last centuries life hasn’t changed much for the Tinkers, they have to do much more works than in the past for the development of the plastic-industry as well as the development and the growing use of electric and gas heating. For example, they now have to repair old umbrellas. A Few of them have also worked, as characters in films, like “The playboy of the Western world” or “Ryan’s daughter”.

The metalworking is one of the oldest skills of the Tinkers. From this activity the Travellers got their name: The beating hammer on the metal formed the name “Tinker”. Like in the past, they still sweep chimneys, but this don’t bring so much money like in the past, however it was and is the most save occupation, for this is one of the few jobs, the Tinkers made and make contracts of. Another area of employment was selling and buying horses. They were expert horsemen so much, that farmers and dealers often hired them to buy and sell animals, especially horses on their behalf at fairs. Another, not so common name for the Tinkers or Travellers is “knackers”. It comes from the activity to outwit farmers and sell them houses, which were ready for the slaughterhouse. But there are some points, which the Tinkers always pay attention of: At first, the “home must be clearly separated from the workplace, the family must be isolated from the fellow Travellers and there must be a formal boss/worker relationship at work. Like in every group of people, there are poorer and richer people. The elite of the travelling people are those, who travel great distances and deal on a scale in carpets, furniture, farm machinery, antiques or other goods. Then there are the smaller traders and the people, who work as day worker, which are the biggest group of this people.

The education:

The travelling people are not a very educated group of people and they often can’t read a word. They believed and still believe, that a decent education only takes the second place in their life. Research shows, that the attendance of travelling people at Irish schools is much lower than of the settled children. If the children want to go to school, they first have to find a school, on which they can go, because not every school wants to have the children of the Travellers. Experiences show, that school with travellers children have much more problems, than schools without. However, even if the school allows them to go there, the teaching curriculum is usually too difficult and even unsuitable and the problem of the racism is not only discussed by the settled but also discussed by the travelling people. Once the parents of a family said:” The Irish are the most racist people in the world. They are racist when they go to England and America…. I don’t send my children to school any more because everyday they were being called “effing knacker” and coming home they didn’t want to go to school any more”. A lot of studies were made and it was shown, that at the end of the education, those children, who finished their education (only 8%), only were qualified to take up employment at the lower end of the job market. J.W.B. Douglas find out in a large study with 5000 careers of travellers children, that the most important factor for the success of the education of the children, is the interest of the parents in their children and their education. However most of the parents aren’t very interested in the education of their child, it is very difficult for the children to get a good education.

The Everyday Life:

The Tinkers have a very interesting day: Those people, who have a wagon or caravan and don’t use one of the rare serviced sites (A lot of them do), first go to a brook to wash them. In case, they don’t have breakfast. They let their wagons on the resting-place and search in the country for stolen property. During the time, the men are gone, the women have to look after the children. But often the women have to earn (to beg) some money, too. Then the children have to go with them. In the evening, they come back and make a fire to cook the main meal of the day. Sometimes other wagons come to the first, and so there are sometimes eight or nine wagons standing at the roadside. Then, there are sitting the tinkers, talking about the day, or the people, they have outwitted. Then their horses are often on the fields of unsuspecting farmers. If someone comes along the road, they ask him after the time, not for they are interested in that, but to find out, if it was a friend or an enemy. If it was an enemy, they send immediately a boy to the horses, to bring them away to another place, where they couldn’t be found. During the nights, they sleep in their wagons. The next day, they wash them in the next brook. Though this is only possible in the mild months. In the winter, they have a lot of serious problems.

The problems, the Tinkers have

On of the biggest problem of the travelling Tinkers is the Winter: In the winter, they don’t know, where they can wash them, for over half of them have no access to toilet facilities, electricity or piped water. Another problem is the humid climate of Ireland. Because of this, many Tinkers become ill, for this humid climate cause a lot of illnesses of the respiratory tract. If the parents die by a disease or by an accident, their children often have no one, who takes care about them. Beside these problems, there’s the growing plastic industry, the almost missing education and not to forget the racism from some of the Irish. If you put all these facts in consideration you must believe, the group of the Tinkers and travelling people have to became smaller and smaller - and that’s the fact: All of them have to fight to survive although not all of them can do it.

Help from the state…

The Tinkers are a real problem for the government. The government had promised to the travelling people, to help them. In some parts, it already has happened, and another group wanted to help those people too, the “Irish Council for Itinerant Settlement”. This group has already built resting places with small houses on them, where the Tinkers can stay. One of these places is to the east of Dublin and houses 39 tinker families. 80 children of these families attend the school of the “village”. If you were in this “village”, you could notice, how nine-year-old boys and girls read out their illiterate parents the daily newspaper. A lot of them try to get welfare aid from the state, but only little of them were successful and these, who were successful got too little money to live.


If you think, that the tinkers are hardy, for only living in wagons and never going to the doctor, you’re wrong. In fact, those people are more susceptible to illness as anyone else. The experiences, the Tinker make in case of illness are very different to the experience of “normal” people. For they have made very bad and harrowing experiences in all levels of health care, it isn’t surprising, that they only make use of the healthcare when it is absolutely necessary. Especially in the 1960s died from 1124 children 85 in their first year of living on grounds of diseases and illness, who mostly could have be saved from a trained doctor with the right medicine and possibilities.


0400 Already in 400, the Tinkers travelled through Ireland. They were blacksmiths and belonged to the Irish society, but they had an alternative lifestyle.

1175 Tinker and Travellers began in 1175 to appear in Ireland in written records as trade names or surnames.

1243 The English Government began to control the travellers in 1243.

1413 Henry V made laws to reduce the Number of the Travellers.

1550 In 1550 the Irish government made plans and projects to civilize the Travellers by controlling and reducing their moving. The intention was to settle this people.

1619 In this time, there were the Irish wars and the Travellers got their name: They were the "gravers in gold and silver”. From this moment they were called “plain tinkers."

1831 In this year, there were 1,545 male "tinkers" and "brass workers" over age of 20

1834 Ordinary beggars do not become a separate class of the community, but wandering tinkers, families who always beg, do.

1841 There were about 835 "tinkers".

1891 In this year, the number of the Tinkers has doubled itself: 1,851 people were "working and dealing in tin".

1900 Irish cultural nationalism gives over to Irish separatist nationalism: Travellers were declared as not moral or acceptable.

1922 In the Irish Free State the Catholic bourgeoisie was model for the homogeneous ideal of Ireland. Travellers did not fit the ideal.

1960 1963 the assimilation of the Travellers in the settled community began.

In the mid 70's academics described the Travellers as an ethnic group. 1980 In the middle and late 80's The Traveller and non-Traveller groups opened 1990 discourse for the ethnic and racially distinctiveness of Travellers.

Shelta: The language of the Tinkers

The Travelling people form a distinct group within Irish society, and have their own secret language, the Shelta, also known as Gammon or Cant. Shelta had distinctive forms in the past, relating to occupation, although the differences in dialect are much less clearly defined today between the various strata of Traveller society. Both the Celtic scholar Kuno Meyer (1858-1919) and the Romany scholar John Sampson (1862-1931) believed Shelta to be a language that was centuries old, perhaps from the thirteenth century. Meyer believed that Shelta was "once possessed by Irish poets and scholars, who, probably were its original framers". He said that there were elements in the language, which only well employed people, could have made: these included the names of characters from the old Ogham alphabet, and borrowings from Greek and Hebrew. Mainly, Shelta is more similar to English than it is to Irish Gaelic, although the most of the vocabularies have Gaelic origins.

Gaater a goikhil,

swurth asturth Nyedas a Daalyon, swudal Duilsha's Linska,

Duilsha's Sreedug toari, Duilsha's Lag graydied,

shedi Ladu arark asturth Nyedas a Daalyon.


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The Tinkers in Ireland
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Tinkers, Ireland
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Patrick Wiener (Autor), 2001, The Tinkers in Ireland, München, GRIN Verlag,


  • Gast am 1.7.2010

    nobody says 'tinkers' anymore. the prefered term is The Travelling Community

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