From the Editor…

Published in Issue 4 (Winter 2004), Letters, Letters, Volume 12

Traveller (non) history
Recent events at Dunsink Lane, just outside Dublin, have put the issue of Travellers back in the news. In an attempt, they claimed, to clamp down on illegal activity (dumping, diesel-laundering, the handling of stolen goods, etc.), the local authorities, backed up by hundreds of Gardaí, many in riot gear, closed off one end of the lane, thus severely inconveniencing the local (mainly Traveller) residents. At the time of writing a compromise has been agreed (involving the relocation of the barrier), but not before days of sometimes violent confrontation, serious disruption of traffic and the bandying about of accusations of ‘racism’ and ‘criminality’.
In the course of an otherwise intemperate anti-Traveller tirade in the Irish Times (An Irishman’s Diary, 13 October 2004) Kevin Myers got one thing right: ‘there is no legally binding definition of what a Traveller is—the true hallmark of fuzzy thinking’. While the rights and wrongs of the Dunsink situation are outside the scope of a history magazine such as this, Kevin Myers’s point is not. One of the ‘defining’ features of any community is its history. Yet as Sinéad ní Shuinéar points out in this issue (p. 15), little or no research has been undertaken into the history of Irish Travellers, and the work that has been done has been of dubious quality. This is nothing short of a scandal. Surely it is not beyond the competence of our historians, anthropologists, folklorists, linguists and other relevant disciplines to do the necessary work? How can we as a society formulate a coherent policy to address what is a very complex problem unless it is grounded in solid research?
The prejudices against Irish Travellers are often discussed in the context of similar attitudes to recent immigrants, including Romany Gypsies. But there is one important difference: at least the newcomers have a history; Irish Travellers, it seems, do not.


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