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6 Travellers as countercultural And for much more might the whole island be beholden unto it [i.e. the English conquest], in case upon a certain peevish and obstinate love they beare unto their owne country fashions, they had not stopped their eares and shut up their hearts against better governance . For, the Irishry are so stiffly settled in observing the old rites of their country, that not only they be with-drawn from them, but also are able easily to draw the English unto same. (Cited in Leersen, 1996: 46) Aside from the construction of Travellers as ‘degraded’ or ‘threatening /dangerous’ Other, the second primary discourse that serves to delineate Travellers within the Tinker Questionnaire material is that which ‘frames’ them as a culturally exclusive group, one who function completely ‘independently’ of the major organs of Irish society and who actually function as a countercultural group, forming ‘a society within a society’. This depicts Travellers in terms of a countercultural threat. They are seen to disturb the moral order because they are perceived to inhabit an exclusive and secretive society which operates in symbiosis with and yet on the margins of the settled community. This discourse implies the existence of a mutually exclusive ‘society’ which has a certain internal structure incorporating leaders/kings and a range of customs, superstitions and ceremonies that exhibit an absence of coevalness. This belief system incorporates constructions of Travellers that place them ‘outside of history’ and frozen in certain folkways that have been abandoned by the ‘civilised’ or ‘progressive’ settled community . According to these constructions Travellers are ‘Other’ because they are nomadic and allegedly engage in cultural practices that are considered anachronistic by the settled community, including a range of beliefs and taboos associated with social organisation, death, 06 Insubordinate Irish 080-090 13/6/11 14:25 Page 80 Travellers as countercultural 81 marriage, the use of a ‘secret’ language, and a refusal to integrate into the wider community, etc. Many respondents to the IFC Questionnaire constructed the ‘aloofness ’ and lack of integration of Travellers as indicative of the existence of a separate and mutually exclusive society with a distinctive internal structure and a form of leadership that involved kings. The notion that Travellers, Gypsies and other nomads had their own kings went back to the very first archetypal images of Travellers and Gypsies in the European imaginary. The German ‘gypsiologist’ Heinrich Grellmann considered this belief to be a projection of the social structures of the ‘civilised’ world: ‘Since their initial appearance in Europe Gypsies were said to have travelled about in bands under the leadership of chiefs. Down through the years these headmen were referred to in annals by such titles as woiwoden (a Polish term for governor or leader), knights, counts, dukes, and kings’ (Willems, 1997: 51). In Ireland similar notions of a historical Travelling ‘aristocracy’ were linked more with the concept that the Travellers were the remnants of ‘fallen nobility’ who had lost status during the various periods of dispossession associated with the conquest, confiscation, and colonisation of Ireland. The following rather romantic description of some of the ‘Simey’ Dohertys, the famous Traveller musicians from Donegal, indicates as much: Tig bean tincleora isteach agus dhá pháiste léithi agus mála líonta d’áráistí stain … Mar is gnách lena leithéid labhrann sí go deas séimh le bunaidh an toighe. De threibh na nDochartach í. Sin na ‘Simeys’ nó tá Simon mar ainm coitianta sa teaghlach i gcónaí. Bhí said i gcónaí ag obair ar an stán agus bíonn said uilig go maith ag seinm ar an bhfideal agus an seancheol ar fad acu. Siúlann said go stáitiúil ar an mbóthar agus deirtear go bhfuil siad síolraithe ó na ríthe. (A tinker woman comes in accompanied by two children; her bag is filled with tin items. As is usual for her type, she speaks in a nice gentle voice to the occupants of the house. She is one of the Doherty clan. One of the ‘Simeys,’ as they are called, because Simon has always been a common name in the family. They were always tinworkers , and they are all good at playing the fiddle, many of them being experts on the older tunes. They walk along the road in a stately fashion, and it is said that they are descended from the kings.) [my own translation] 06 Insubordinate Irish 080-090 13/6/11 14:25 Page...


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