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95 DECEMBER 2006
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Celebrating Cultures: Travellers and Child and Youth Care

Niall McElwee, PhD

Next week in Ireland is Traveller Awareness Week. Readers may not even be aware of Travellers who are Ireland's indigenous population making up some 25,000 people and just under 4,000 families. Travellers have been resident in Ireland for hundreds of years and have had, at various times, an uneasy relationship with the mainstream of “settled” population (about four million people).

Travellers are white and mostly Catholic in religion. They live on Halting Sites, official and unofficial, in houses and in caravans (or, in a combination of the aforementioned). Some Travellers travel from place to place all the time, some are partially settled and some are wholly settled. To be a Traveller assumes that one has at least one parent who is a Traveller.

Travellers are known as an “at risk” population because they suffer health, accommodation, educational and social disadvantages when one compares them to the mainstream Irish population.

Child and Youth Care students often encounter Travellers for the first time in any kind of a sustained manner when on their various practica which they must complete as part of their education and training degrees. Thus, they meet Travellers in Workshops and Projects the length and breadth of the country. It is not at all unusual to meet a Traveller in one county and then again in another and another! The way, the history of Travellers is to travel (hence their name). Unfortunately, policy makers have for many decades tried to get Travellers to buy into mainstream society and give up some of their established customs and mores. The results have been disastrous for Travellers in terms of the enforced loss of identity and for us in the mainstream society as we miss out on a special culture.

I would ask readers to familiarise themselves with Irish Travellers and help us to celebrate their culture. We have a lot to learn from our indigenous populations. We can do this by accessing any of the Traveller representative organisations or agencies which are on-line.

* Walking Between Two Lands: Elsipogtog Migmag and Midlands Travellers was recently published by the Centre for Child and Youth Care, Ireland (Niall McElwee, Margaret Sullivan, Susan McKenna & Lisa Durette).

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