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5 Mapping ‘difference’: Irish Travellers and the Questionnaire I have briefly traced the development of the Irish ‘Othering’ tradition as encompassed in a reiterative and reductionist discourse because Ireland’s history of colonisation has meant that the ‘official’ version of the Irish people (including Irish Travellers) and Irish history is, it can be argued, itself a form of ‘Othering’. Healy’s statement regarding the ‘manufactured’ or mediated nature of much of the historical record can be seen to be particularly pertinent to Irish history: ‘History is a construct, often a narrative of interested parties who seek to prove a thesis’ (Healy, 1992: 15). That the interpretation of history and definitions of nations or self are the subject of competition or struggle on the part of various contending interests has been outlined by a number of historians. Hawthorn (1994) has outlined the way in which these competing interests condition ‘processes of definition (of self and others), perception and interpretation’ (1994: 116). Competing interests in the form of the colonial discourse have also resulted in the probability that a realistic depiction of Ireland as it was in the past is extremely difficult to recreate. The only records that we have – written representations of Ireland as recounted by primarily colonial chroniclers – are confusing and suspect. Discussing the dubious nature of representations of Ireland in both the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, for example, Kiberd (1995) has pointed out that the ‘notion of Ireland’ as depicted in the writings of this era can be viewed ‘largely as a fiction’ (1995: 83). This discursive and often false discourse concerning Ireland and the Irish can, I argue, be extended to encompass an equally discursive depiction of Irish Travellers that is available in Irish popular tradition through the lens of folklore. The primary subject of this book – the discursive image of Travellers as defined by the ‘settled’ community – is intimately intertwined with this anti-Irish ‘Othering’ tradition that I have briefly outlined. Travellers were Irish people who were subject to the same cultural conditioning 05 Insubordinate Irish 050-079 13/6/11 14:23 Page 50 and discursive stereotyping as others. The colonial tradition made no distinction between Travellers and other Irish people with the result that they are largely invisible in the historical record. Travellers are also situated within the historical framework of colonial ‘othering’ because the dominant view of their origins today is that they are people who left a previously settled existence and are most likely the product of Ireland’s colonial past, colonial violence and eviction in particular. In addition to this it can be argued that the negative stereotypes and constructions of Irish Travellers which became dominant in the twentieth century are simply an extension of the anti-Irish ‘Othering’ tradition which existed during the centuries of British colonisation. The ‘Othering’ of Irish Travellers as evidenced in modern Ireland can, as with the Othering of groups such as the Jews in Europe, also be linked to the formation of the new nation-state in Ireland. The formation of the nation-state in twentieth century Ireland involved a new mediation on the part of the Irish people with the question of selfdefinition . A political agenda had motivated the propaganda-driven representations of the Ireland of the era prior to independence. The English had ‘translated’ the Irish using self-interested and essentialist representations. However, a new essentialism manifested itself in the discourse of self-identity that appeared in the early years of the twentieth century and on independence. Colonialism’s efforts to deracinate, assimilate, and ‘civilise’ the Irish meant that the new discourse of Irish identity became bound up with notions of authentication rooted in a pre-colonial, prelapsarian past that was equally essentialist. I argue here that this ‘new’ Irish essentialism which accompanied the discourse of the emergent nation-state employed an ideological framework of ‘control’ or ‘representation’ that was quite similar to that which had accompanied British imperialism. This new essentialism was reductive by nature and consequently it obscured the existence of heterogeneity in Irish culture including subaltern groups such as Irish Travellers. As a marginalised and stigmatised group within Irish society Travellers became a useful projective outlet for those stereotypes and types which the ‘newly nationalist’ Irish population wished to jettison and to categorise as ‘not us’. The 1952 Tinker Questionnaire was one small part of the emergent nation-state’s attempt to re-nationalise and ‘re-Gaelicise’ Ireland. The representations of Travellers as outlined in the Irish Folklore Commission material are...


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