The Irish Travelers

Rebecca Moseman

2017 - Ongoing


These series of images reflect my personal interactions with the Travelers I met at various halting sites, and illegal encampments
in Galway and Limerick, outside of Dublin, and at 
the annual horse fair in Ballinasloe.

I first encountered the Irish Travelers through a photographic trip to Killaloe, County Clare.  Although they have a savory reputation for violence and criminal behavior, I found them to be generally friendly, approachable, and tragically misunderstood. I think it’s important to document the Travelers as we know them today, to collect a photographic record of a unique people and their traditions before they disappear. Although there is great interest in the Travelers outside of Ireland, they remain invisible to the Irish citizens who consider them a nuisance to society. Nevertheless the travelers are desperate to have their stories of heritage and hardship told, to be respected and understood for where they’ve come from and who they are now. As a woman and as a non-Irish citizen, I’ve been able to connect with the Travelers in a unique way. I offer no threat nor judgement, just curiosity & a willingness to listen and understand them.

The Irish Travelers who were once referred to as “tinkers” or “gypsies” are an insular ethnic group that has lived on the fringes of mainstream Irish society for centuries. They live an itinerant lifestyle, with long traditions and gender-based roles that have been passed down from generation to generation. The Travelers today still speak the secret Traveler language, a dialect alternately known as Shelta, Gammon, or Cant, which includes elements of Irish Gaelic, English, Greek, and Hebrew. Sons commonly take over jobs or enter trades their fathers and grandfathers have practiced for hundreds of years. Daughters are encouraged to marry early, and families of eight to twelve children are not uncommon. Discrimination however is wide spread, school dropout rates are high, domestic violence is rampant, and suicides are ever increasing.

Yet the lives of the Travelers are slowly changing in many positive ways. Recently recognized as an Indigenous Ethnic Group by the Irish Government, Traveler families are finding it easier to live in government-serviced halting sites rather than continue their nomadic lifestyles. Teenagers are trying harder to stay in school, graduate, pursue careers outside the Traveler community. Young women are waiting longer to marry and have children. Bit by bit, for better or worse, the Travelers are being assimilated.

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  • Alesha. Labre Park Halting Site, Dublin Ireland.
    Alesha arrives back from school to Labre Park, her family's halting site. Labre Park – named after the patron saint of Travelers, St Benedict Joseph Labre, is the oldest in Ireland. Although the site was seen as a desirable place to live for the many traveler families that came from areas with no running water and electricity, it has now become a safety hazard to more than the 20 families that live there. Yet they fight hard to maintain their community since it has been threatened to be torn down in order to build new houses to be sold to the "settled Irish", which would displace many generations of Travelers that lived there since it was first established in 1967.

  • The Car Boys. Carrowbrowne Halting Site, Galway, Ireland.
    Billy, Steven, and Paddy three Irish Traveler Boys from the Carrowbrowne Halting Site, use an abandoned car as their playground. The boys have no natural areas to play and so displayed their boredom, frustration, and aggression by destroying the car by standing atop it, laying across it, and hitting it with baseball bats. The Carrowbrowne halting site, a rat-infested site is located on the outskirts of Galway city next to a waste management site. Although the site was intended to be temporary, it has now become their permanent area of living. The travelers feel they have been “left to die” and feel helpless since the city council has no plans to provide alternative housing or help with the rodent infestation, mold or poor conditions.

  • Generations. Ballinasloe, Ireland.
    An older woman stands beside her daughter in the car as the three women primp themselves for the Ballinasloe Horse Fair Parade. The Ballinasloe Horse Fair is the oldest annual horse fair in Ireland. The Travelers attend the fair for the week to sell and trade their horses. It is traditional for the young women to dress up and parade themselves around the grounds to show off and attract future husbands.

  • Number 5 By the River. Labre Park Halting Site, Dublin Ireland.
    Alesha and her brother Michael play in the polluted stream and dumping grounds behind their caravan in Labre Park, a halting site outside of Dublin Ireland.

  • Girl Power. Labre Park Halting Site, Dublin Ireland.
    Three young traveler girls from Labre Park halting site arrive home from school. There is a failure on the city council's part to act on the complaints of unsanitary and dangerous living conditions in which the Traveler live. An electrical fire broke out among many of the houses due to faulty wiring, and mildew and mold grow within their houses and bathrooms due to poor insulation and the damp weather.

  • John, an old Irish Traveler. Halting Site, Limerick Ireland.
    John lives alone in his caravan within a halting site outside of Limerick, Ireland.
    Although he suffers from diabetes, and his toes have fallen off which hinders his ability to function easily, he hobbles around to host his guests. On this day he spends the afternoon watching American western movies.

  • Faulkner Girls. Long Pavement Halting Site, Limerick Ireland.
    Two young girls mimic their older sisters as they pose for the camera. Young girls are encouraged to marry early and have many children. Girls as young as eight start to dress and act proactively in order to attract men to gain their "freedom" from the restrictions of their parents and the Traveler community.

  • Ronnie and Bernie. Ballinalsoe, Ireland.
    Two traveler cousins stand beside their horse trailer at the Ballinasloe Horse Fair. Their families have been going to the fair to trade and buy horses for many years.

  • JJ in Kitchen. Halting Site, Ireland.
    JJ, a young teenage boy sits at the kitchen table within his family's caravan, surrounded by family members as he asks questions about American life and trends. JJ lives within a deaf Traveler halting site community although he and his siblings are not deaf.

  • Philomena. Illegal Encampment, Limerick, Ireland.
    Philomena sits within her family car at an illegal encampment and watches through the window while her mother stops to visit with family. Many travelers have family members that live within their halting sites, while others chose to live traditionally as their nomadic ancestors did beside roadways. Some live in these illegal encampment sites temporarily while they wait for space within a halting site, which can take many years.

  • Maggie. Roadside Encampment, Limerick, Ireland.
    Maggie a teenage girl, arrives home from school to her roadside encampment. Most traveler boys and girls drop out of school at an early age because of bullying and lack of educational support in their own traveler community. Only 13% of traveler children complete second-level education compared to 92% of "settled" Irish.

  • Traveler Boy at Labre Park. Labre Park Halting Site, Dublin Ireland.
    A traveler boy from Labre Park talks about the unemployment problem within the Traveler community. There is wide spread discrimination toward the Travelers in general based on their unsavory reputations as thieves and troublemakers. The suicide rate is 6 times higher than the general population, and 7 times higher among young traveler men.

  • Cheynne in the Ivy. Roadside Encampment, Limerick Ireland.
    A young traveler girl plays outside of her family caravan within a roadside encampment. There are no natural play areas for children in the encampment to play so they play in the streets or in makeshift areas around their family caravans.

  • Preparation. Ballinasloe, Ireland.
    A traveler mother primps and prepares her children inside their van for the Ballinasloe Horse Fair. Many travelers come from all around Ireland to the fair to trade horses and sell goods. It is traditional for the girls to dress up and parade around the fair.

  • Boy with Toy Gun. Ballinasloe, Ireland.
    A young traveler boy and his friends run around the Ballinasloe Horse Fair with his pellet gun. The fair has been a long Irish tradition and the travelers have been attending the fair for many years. They use the 9 day event to congregate and trade horses and goods. Many businesses within the town of Ballinasloe however choose to close for the week of the fair and/or refuse to service the travelers due to their reputations for trouble and past disturbances.

  • Meghan. Labre Park Halting Site, Dublin Ireland.
    Meghan, a young teenage girl stands among the trash within the Labre Park halting site, outside of Dublin Ireland. Although there are multiple issues with sanitation, mold and mildew, and many of the house structures are falling apart Megan is just one of many travelers upset about the possibility that the town may tear down all the existing houses within their site and replace them with a community center, which will displace the traveler families that have lived there for years.

  • Philomena's Dinner. Roadside Encampment, Tipperary, Ireland.
    Philomena, a little traveler girl eats her dinner from a tray within her family's roadside encampment while her family dog begs for food. Traveler families keep dogs around their encampments to kill off rodents and keep strangers away.

  • Dolly Horse. Ballinasloe, Ireland.
    A young girl dresses up in traditional clothing for the Ballinasloe Horse Fair.

  • Lipstick Girl. Ballinasloe Ireland.
    A pre-teen traveler girl dresses up to parade around the Ballinasloe Horse Fair with friends. It is tradition that the Traveler girls present themselves in extravagant clothing to the boys in hopes they can attract a marriage proposal.

  • Three Tough Boys. Ballinasloe, Ireland.
    Three young travelers pose alongside a horse trailer at the Ballinasloe Horse Fair. The boys often follow their fathers around at the fair to learn the horse trading business.