This article is taken from our archives and was published in The Voice of the Traveller Magazine (Now known as Voice of the Traveller Magazine) by David Lynch.

The fatal shootings of two British soldiers and a PSNI officer by ‘dissident’ republicans in 2011 fired the North back into the headlines. Over 3,000 people lost their lives during three decades of what was called the ‘Troubles’. A fascinating new report shows that Travellers were not unaffected. David Lynch talks to the author of the report, discusses the future and reprints the voices of Travellers from both sides of the border.
“Travellers never got involved- we had our own problems. We stuck to ourselves- we were too busy protecting each other to worry about stuff.” The words of this unidentified Traveller echo the belief of many. In official histories of the violence in the North, Travellers are rarely mentioned. It was as if the ‘Troubles’ past the community by. However,

The Troubles and the Travellers.

The Troubles and the Travellers.

as the author of a new report ‘Irish Travellers and the Troubles’ says the idea of not being “involved” is very different than Travellers “not being affected”. Dr Robbie McVeigh’s report was commissioned by the Donegal Travellers Project.
With an extensive series of interviews with unnamed Travellers this interesting document shines a light on a forgotten part of Irish history. With a nomadic community, the creation of the border in the 1920s was to have a huge impact on Travellers. With the explosion of violence in the late 1960’s movement across the border became very difficult for families and traders. “The border affected me when I was young. My parents went hawking but they never did Northern Ireland because of the Troubles,” says one Traveller in the report. “We travelled through the north but never lived there. “We were always feared of the north and of the guns. Once the (British) Army came to the campsite, they talked to my husband. I was scared and I never felt safe in the north after that.”
Dr McVeigh told Voice of the Traveller the border had a massive impact on the community. “I think the border affected Travellers as a nomadic group in ways that were profoundly different from settled people,” he said. “The border completely invented a false distinction between Travellers whose whole identity was about Irishness – not ‘northernness’ or ‘southernness’.”
He thinks the border led more Travellers to become sedentary and settle. It was harder for people to travel north and south freely. Looking back on the early part of the ‘Troubles’ one person said “My family settled because of the Troubles as it was safer to be settled- safer when in a community as opposed to being on the side of the road.
“In those times you were always afraid, we had no protection.” However with the peace process movement across the border has become easier. “Just the last couple of years there have been more Travellers coming down across the border,” says one Traveller living close to the border. “We would see more Travellers coming from Derry and Strabane and Omagh. There are some coming now from Belfast although not so many. And more of us from this side going over too.” Centres like the Tara Workshop in Dundalk have many years of cross-border work within the community. And this type of cross-border co-operation seems set to become even stronger. Dr McVeigh agrees. “We see an increase in movement certainly – but not necessarily a return to some of the nomadic patterns of movement that were disrupted by the border.

Hope that ‘history does not repeat itself’
The shootings by ‘dissident republicans’ which happened in the North in March has left Travellers “very worried”. That is according to one Traveller in Belfast contacted by Voice of the Traveller. “It has not just been those shootings, there has been cars and trucks burnt out in West Belfast, bomb alerts and other things going on here in recent weeks,” said the man who wanted to remain unnamed.“ Travellers are the same as settled people around here, we just hope history does not repeat itself. Life can be hard anyway and no one wants the violence back again.” Dr McVeigh said there is concern across the community. “My observation would be that Travellers have seen few tangible benefits of peace – apart from peace itself. At the same time, all the negative aspects of the Troubles and their effect on Travellers detailed in my report would be likely to kick in again. So the general trepidation felt across the settled community would be shared specifically among Travellers.”
‘Irish Travellers and the Troubles’ is available from the Donegal Travellers Project. You can contact the Building, Ethnic and Peace team in Donegal at Mountain Top, Letterkenny, Co Donegal. Phone: 074 91 29281. Or contact the project researcher Dr Robbie McVeigh at robbiemcveigh@hotmail.com