Christmas is a time of faith and family for Travellers. Thousands of Irish Travellers live in Britain and many will return for the festive season. David Lynch spoke to Martin Moloney-Naughton, ex Irish Traveller Co-ordinator for the North of England.

For many Travellers, the Irish Sea is not an important barrier. Family members live and work in both Ireland and Britain and there is much movement between both islands.

“Many families maintain contact with extended family throughout Ireland,” Martin Moloney Naughton told Voice of the Traveller. Martin has many years’ experience working with the community in England. Once the Traveller Co-Ordinator for the North of England, Martin now works in Traveller Education.

“The vast majority would want to visit home for family reasons and strengthen the ties. That makes the Irish Travelling community, amongst the strongest in Britain.

“Christmas is a family time and visiting ‘home’ for Christmas is not always the exact time to return, when you have family in England and Ireland. The opportunity to be together dictates the location in either England or back home in Ireland.”

Martin says that Christmas time brings mixed emotions to different families. “This is a personal issue for each person, family; this can be a time for celebration and/or of mourning for missed family members, past and recent”.

The community in England faces many challenges according to Martin. “High levels of discrimination continue, isolation – leading to depression, homelessness, lack of sites and human rights, opportunities for young people, restrictions in being nomadic for work or culture.

“Changes are happening, but Travellers need to be involved from the beginning, rather than be added as an after-thought. “Progress is evolving and sometimes the biggest progress is happening within the community, where the settled population and agencies have limited knowledge of what Travellers can do.”

The majority English community can sometimes misunderstand the nature of Traveller culture.

“We had major issues last year when a BBC series ‘Waking the Dead’ confused the Wren’s Boys into a mix of Gypsy, Irish and Irish Traveller culture. Which left many confused,” says Martin.

“As in Ireland, the fastest growing Irish youth is Irish Traveller youth. Hence, the need for there to be an investment in the potential. Britain and Ireland both wins medals in Boxing from Irish Travellers and this needs to be celebrated.” Irish Traveller families can be found across the island. “Many families are established throughout England, several cities including rural areas, where work can be obtained and established,” said Martin.


By David Lynch

From our archives (1998)