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8 Anti-Traveller prejudice: The narrative within the Irish imaginary The folktales explored here are no longer as widely known or as widely disseminated as they once were. However their raison d’être – i.e. the ‘accursed’ or ‘disordered’ status of Travellers as a consequence of their perceived ‘punishment’ – continues to resonate strongly both in Irish popular belief and in the general public discourse concerning Travellers in Ireland. I argue that reductionist stereotypes as applied to Travellers in the folklore tradition and in Irish popular belief generally continue to have an impact upon the way in which the popular image of Travellers is constructed in Ireland. For the settled community reductionist stereotypes as elucidated in the folklore tradition have also become part of popular belief concerning Travellers, including current beliefs as to their origins and the origins of certain cultural attributes associated with them, in particular their nomadism. While little literature to date exists on the question it is generally accepted by both Travellers and the settled community that Traveller self-identity has been heavily influenced in a negative manner by the reductionism and stereotyping which has been attributed to them. Writers of Traveller and Gypsy background such as Hancock (1999) and McDonagh (1994) have only recently begun to discuss the stigmatising effects of the pathologisation of Travellers, a stigmatisation which as they point out often leads to an unwillingness on the part of Travellers to acknowledge their own identity. More damagingly still, popular (negative) beliefs concerning Travellers including possible explanations of their origins are likely to have influenced the official discourse of modern public policy makers and state policy vis-à-vis Traveller settlement and possible assimilation. In this chapter I show how the derogatory status associated with the term ‘Traveller’ but more especially ‘Tinker’ as outlined in the folklore tradition has also influenced in a negative way the culture of Travellers themselves. The pseudo-religious nature of these folktales which 08 Insubordinate Irish 103-151 25/7/11 12:42 Page 103 provide an explanation or alleged justification for the outcast position occupied by Travellers in Irish society has had a profound effect on Traveller self-identity and on the self-confidence of Travellers and probably acted as a partial explanation as to why they were, and continue to be, the subject of prejudice from Irish society. My primary goal here is to discuss the influence of these folktales in the Irish tradition and their influence on popular beliefs and attitudes regarding the Irish Travellers. I also make links to similar folktales as they exist in the European tradition. The mythic demonisation and ostracisation of nomadic people like the Travellers is not confined to the Irish tradition. Irish Travellers are only one of a pantheon of panEuropean nomadic groups who have been travelling in Europe since at least the seventeenth century and probably well before this date (see Acton, 1974, 1994; Beier, 1985). Kenrick (1972) notes that as early as 1243 an English law was passed aimed at curtailing the ‘wandering Irish’ then in England. It is also known that Gypsy (including Romanichal and Roma) groups travelled and worked in Ireland periodically. It is safe to assume then that reductionist or ‘negative’ stereotypes as outlined in the European folklore tradition were interchangeably applied to a range of different Travelling groups. This present chapter explores the folklore evidence for the depiction of the Traveller as ‘negative Other’. It acts as an important foil to a later chapter where I discuss an opposite strand of the folklore tradition, one where this negative depiction of Travellers is challenged. The assignation to Travellers of the status of ‘negative Other’ is only one facet of the tradition. The counter-tradition includes a number of folktales where Travellers are seen to subvert their ostracisation by the majority community and defend cultural values of particular importance to them including their nomadism. The folktales discussed here are tales which I refer to as the ‘Nail’, ‘Pin’ and ‘Bar of Gold’ tales. The Irish folklorist Pádraig Ó Héalaí is the first Irish scholar to have examined these ‘antiTraveller ’ folktales. In his seminal article ‘Tuirse na nGaibhne ar na Buachaillí Bó’ (1985) he examines the way in which elements or motifs from these different folktales influenced one another. The composition of this chapter is much indebted to this seminal work, and is in many ways an attempt to expand on many of the themes first outlined in Ó Héalaí’s article. Ó Héalaí (1985) concentrates particularly on motif...


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