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Dublin: 15 °C Friday 31 October, 2014

Pavee Point: Why these 6 Traveller myths are untrue

From grabbing, to marrying cousins, to bare-knuckle fighting, Pavee Point’s Martin Collins dispels some Traveller prejudices.

Travellers protest march to Dáil in 2009.
Travellers protest march to Dáil in 2009.
Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

SOME SEE THEM for having extravagant weddings, bare-knuckle fighting and wearing extravagant outfits but these ideas are “one-sided” and not “reflective of Travellers as a whole” says Martin Collins, assistant director of Pavee Point, an organisation aimed at improving the quality of life and living circumstances of Irish Travellers.

Here Collins tells TheJournal.ie some of the of the biggest prejudices about Travellers and explains why they are untrue.

1. Grabbing: Made popular by the television show, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, it’s where Traveller girls are ‘grabbed’ as part of a courtship ritual, which sees boys angling for a kiss.

Busted: “That is certainly a myth and definitely not the case in the Traveller community,” says Collins. “I’m a 47-year-old Traveller man and I’ve never heard of that term before the show… It’s grossly offensive, especially against women.”

2. Travellers don’t pay taxes: This idea stems from the fact that unemployment in the Irish Traveller community was 84.3 per cent in 2011, up from 74.9 per cent five years earlier.

Busted: “We pay VAT on everything we buy, so in that sense, Travellers do pay taxes,” says Collins. “A small numbers of Travellers that are employed pay taxes. I have been working all my life and I have always paid my taxes.”

3. Tinkers’ curse: If someone does a bad deed to a Traveller then the Traveller would bestow bad luck on them. The only way it could be lifted was to give the Traveller money.

Busted: “This was a myth that was out years and years ago. It’s just a romantic idea,” says Collins. “Curses aren’t true.”

4. Marrying cousins: To this day it is still a Traveller tradition to marry a cousin but it is a custom that is changing with the times.

Busted: “Prior to having IT and Facebook, opportunities for Travellers to meet possible suitors were quite limited so marrying cousins was and still is quite common,” explains Collins. “But there are more opportunities now to meet people in other places through Facebook and the like so it’s something that we are seeing a change in.”

5. Violence: Travellers have long been associated with fighting, an idea that has grown through the many YouTube videos of Travelling men bare-knuckle boxing and settling disputes with their fists.

Busted: “Some Travellers are violent but it’s wrong to suggest that the whole community are,” says Collins. “Videos on YouTube are making it worse. It is an element in the community but not representative of Travellers as a whole.”

6. Travellers don’t want to work: With over 84 per cent of the Travelling community in Ireland unemployed, there are ideas that Travellers don’t want to take up employment. This idea is one that Collins vehemently denies.

Busted: “I know Travellers who are actively seeking work but they are discriminated against and people don’t want to hire them when they find out they’re Travellers,” says Collins. “Even in the show ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’, we saw grooms hiding their identities so they wouldn’t lose work, one of the only parts of the show that were true.”

Read: Hundreds of Travellers outside Dáil for anti-racism protest >

More: Column: Denying Traveller ethnicity makes Ireland a rogue state >

Read: Traveller group expresses ‘deep concern’ over judge comments >

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