Just like all social groups, a small minority can cause the whole community to be falsely stereotyped. As far back as the 18th century there are reports that grouped Irish travellers and Gypsy Roma with Vagrants and tramps. Dishonesty and dodgy dealings are among the things they are blamed for as well as animal theft and the failure to pay taxes. However many of these claims lack sufficient evidence.
It is often heard that travellers are lazy, work shy and don’t contribute to the country’s economy, where in reality they start work at a younger age, with traditional skills passed down through the generations often in the labour and agricultural fields. As the vast majority are self-employed there is proof that they do on a whole pay taxes. Those that live on privately owned sites and local authority sites pay all relevant charges, whereas those who live on temporary unauthorised camps generally do not, but subsequently do not receive any services that those charges pay for. (Taxes are not required until an encampment has been in place for at least a year). What I was pleasantly pleased to read while researching, was the fact that many Gypsies fought for our country in the 1st and 2nd world wars, if that isn’t proof enough that they regard themselves part of our society what is?
Criminal activity among the Gypsy Travellers is highly publicized even though facts show that they are statistically under represented within our prisons. Their disregard for the law is on par or even less than the rest of population. Conversely, over the years laws have come into place that restricts traditional activities.
Linking in to the criminal activity comes the tradition of bare knuckle fighting. A documentary shown on channel 4 this January further observes the vicious culture passed down through the males of some Gypsy families and is worth the watch for a more in depth look into the sport. Starting to gain popularity in the late 18th and early 19th century’s, bare knuckle fighting had no written rules, therefore tactics such as blows below the belt, eye gauges and head butting were common. There were no time limits, weight classes or referees, rounds usually ending whenever an opponent was knocked down. Since then the sport has come a long way, and many Gypsy men are skilful boxers, however it is not rare for disputes between traveller families to be resolved through a bare knuckle brawl.
I’d like to end this post on a high note, with the mention of Gypsy Traveller John Maguire. He represents the disciplined , skilled, side of the fighting sport as an accomplished MMA fighter currently signed to the largest mixed martial arts organization in the world, the UFC. With a record of 18-3, Maguire, known as ‘The One’ is proud of his routes dubbing his style of martial arts as ‘Gypsy Jiu Jitsu’.
Here he is in action. (Or for a highlight video, click here.)
Thanks for reading, I hope this gave you some information into the actual traveller culture and makes you think before you use the term ‘Pikey’ or the like again. Check out this too!
What the names Travellers are given actually derive from-
- · -Hawker, A person who travels around selling goods, typically advertising them by shouting.
- · -Pikey, is a pejorative slang term used mainly in the United Kingdom to refer to Irish Travellers, gypsies or people of low social class.
- · -Gyppo, Derogatory term derived from ‘Gypsies’. Thought to have arrived in England during the reign of Henry VIII people thought they had come from Egypt, and so at first called them 'Egyptians'. The name changed over the years to 'Gyptians' then 'Gypsies'. They were actually thought to have left the northern Indian sub-continent about 1000 years ago.
I'd like to add to this my excitement when we were heading out on a walk the other day and came across a traditional Gypsy caravan parked up along a path in our town with four beautiful horses on long tethers so they could graze. We stopped to take photos with the horses using a GoPro but didn't want to be so cheeky as to stand an take a photo of the caravan...(I did sneek one on my D5000 from further away though, it was just too pretty!) So here they are -