Travellers and Systemic Racism in Ireland
Since the founding of the Irish State and even before when the Brits controlled Ireland, Ireland had a Racism problem with the Travelling Community. Racism is Ireland’s “original sin.” plain and simple, the horrendous treatment of the Travelling Community is widespread throughout Ireland. Talk to most Irish people about the Travelling Community and listen to what they say-
Racism fuelled Catholic ideology and policies. The Irish Catholic Church viewed the world as being divided up into competing inferior and superior races, each struggling for survival and dominance. Many Catholics believed that the Irish Travelling Community were not a religious denomination, but a dangerous non-European “race.” The Irish Catholic Church racism would produce, brutality, confinement, hatred and even murder on an unprecedented scale.
From the 1920s to the present day, both the Irish Government and The Irish Catholic Church began a more rigorous campaign against those who followed a lifestyle labelled "Gypsy." Travellers, or Roma, and the dozen other derogatory names, like Tinkers, Tramps, Pikey, Knackers.
Irish Travellers or "the walking people", also known as Pavees or Mincéirs are traditionally itinerant or travelling groups in Europe whose families maintain a set of ancient traditions and are one of several groups identified as Travellers. Although they are often referred to as “Gypsies” - Irish Travellers are not genetically related to the Romani.
Both the Irish Government and The Irish Catholic Church judged such people to be racially "undesirable" and enacted systematic measures of persecution against the Travellers. Both the Irish Government and The Irish Catholic Church orchestrated a plan to settle forcefully and contain Irish Travellers, especially their children. Most Travellers children were forcefully removed and thrown into the forced labour camps of the Religious run Industrial Schools in Ireland. Where most children of Travellers were systemically beaten, humiliated, raped and murdered on almost a daily basis by the Religious Orders that ran these Gulags in Ireland.
The ignorant stereotyping of the Travellers Community, as subhuman, supported by ecclesiastical records, starts with that they are carriers of "degenerate" blood not Irish blood and inherited criminal characteristics which constituted a danger to Irish society at large.
From secret documents kept in the Irish Catholic Church’s archives. The Irish Bishops in the 1940s established a Central Office for the Suppression of the Gypsy/ Pavee problem. The Irish Catholic Church made plans and took measures to systematically persecute and lock-up most children of Irish Travellers. Young unmarried girls of the Travellers Community were secretly sterilized, in the Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland. The Catholic Church was shocked that young girls of the Travellers Community, as young as 12 or 13 were having children within their communities. Once the child was born, the child was forcefully removed from its mother by the Nuns, the young mother was then forced-into a network of labour camps of The Magdalene Laundries of Ireland, never to see their child or family again. Sadly, many of these new mothers died from ill-treatment and lack of medicines. Their stolen children, treated as "asocials" or "habitual criminals" and sent to the concentration camps of different brutal Industrial Schools, to a life of racism, humiliation, beatings, and even death.
Every concentration camp of Industrial Schools in Ireland had Children of Travellers in the Industrial Schools system. All Children of Traveller were singled out by the Religious Orders that ran these camps, which identified the children as less than human to be humiliated and beaten on a daily basis. The Industrial Schools grievously harmed Children of Travellers significantly more than other vulnerable children of unwed mothers. Purely by the fact that they, the children were of the Traveller Communities.
These Children were degrading more at every opportunity and not just in removing them from their families, but depriving them of their culture, their unique way of life, exposing many of the children to physical and sexual rape. I was in St. Joseph’s Industrial School in Tralee, I was treated just as bad, but a child of Travellers was treated worse. The Christian Brothers carried out barbaric acts in the name of Christianity, their hatred of the Children of Travellers bordered on the psychotic in melting out cruel, murderous and barbaric torment.
The system ultimately proved successful in disrupting the transmission of the Traveller Communities way of life, practices and beliefs across generations. The legacy of this cruel system has been linked to an increased prevalence of post-traumatic stress, alcoholism, drug abuse and finally suicide which persist within the Traveller Communities to this very day.
It’s a fact that the mortality rate of Children of Travellers was more than double that of the whole Industrial School system in general in Ireland. Due to their ill-treatment, like beatings, rape and denial of medicines. Residential Industrial School deaths were common and have been linked to the childhood diseases, appalling hygiene which were always poor, and yes the very lack of basic food.
The actual number of Children of Travellers deaths remains unknown due to inconsistent reporting by school officials and the deliberate destruction of medical and administrative records. My estimates while low and from studying available known records is as low as 3,500 Children of Travellers to as high as 9,500 since the foundation of the Irish State in 1922. I accept that many Children of Travellers died, mostly from disease, like tuberculosis within the Industrial Schools of Ireland. The point I’m trying to make is many of the deaths of Children of Travellers were needless, many died simply because they were Children of Travellers, and treated with utter contempt, less than human by the Irish Catholic Church and the Religious Orders that ran the death/labour camps in Ireland.
In my class of 46 boys, 12 or 14 were Children of Travellers and most were below even a passable standard of health, with lack of basic food, lack of basic medicines, some of the Children of Travellers were infected with Christian racial hatred, akin to some form of fatal tuberculosis. In my classroom, Children of Travellers lived in fear, and abject poverty, forced to sit through a brutal religious lesson on hatred, or twisted history of privileged people.
The Christian Brothers didn’t care when it came to a child known as a Traveller, the child would be sought out for extra beatings, purely because he was a Traveller. Yes, we were all beaten and raped, but the Christian Brothers' hatred knew no bounds when it came to brutal pain inflicted on Children of Travellers. I cried for the few I knew, I didn’t and couldn’t know the difference, to me we were all Travellers, Patsy was a boy of my own age, I played with, I didn’t see a Traveller, I saw a boy, a friend, as vulnerable as me. I liked Patsy, he made me laugh, we played, prayed, shared and stole food, tears, shared clothing to stay warm, smoked bootlace cigarettes, played sports, fought with our common bullies, dreamed of running away together. Patsy and I didn’t know how to discriminate, we didn’t even know how to hate, all this we learned from our tormentors, the Christian Brothers. All we wanted to do was survive. I survived, Patsy hung himself, he learnt on a daily basis that he was subhuman, by his haters, the Christian Brothers.
Children of Travellers as Survivors of Industrial Schools, Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby Homes and their families have been found to suffer from historic trauma that has had a lasting and adverse effect on the transmission of their unique culture between generations. Historic trauma as the process through which "cumulative stress and grief experienced by the Travellers Community is translated into a collective experience of cultural disruption and a collective memory of powerlessness and loss”. It has been used to explain the persistent negative social and cultural impacts of the Catholic Church and their Forced Labour Camp rules, including the prevalence of sexual rape, alcoholism, drug addiction, lateral violence, mental illness and suicide among the Travellers Community. Children of Travellers who attended the brutal Industrial Schools were more likely than those who did not to have been diagnosed with at least one chronic medical condition.
Many Children of Travellers as Survivors of Industrial Schools, 89% went on to have criminal records, simply because they were of the Travelling Community. 96% Children of Travellers as Survivors of Industrial Schools have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. 87% have been diagnosed with major depression; 78% have been diagnosed with anxiety disorder, 35% have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. In reality Children of Travellers as Survivors of Industrial Schools, felt ashamed for being Children of Travellers as they were made to view their traditional identities as subhuman, ugly and dirty animals. This was the Christian teaching taught in all the Religious run Institutions in Ireland, hatred of being different, in this case simply being human, and Travellers are human, not subhuman as was taught and is still shamefully taught in Irish Society to this day. Owen Felix O'Neill