Irish Travellers in America

A future for Irish Travellers?

A look at published literature and newspaper accounts about Irish-American Travellers, a minority and famously itinerant ethnic group from Ireland who came to America, where they are little-known, poorly understood, and often misrepresented by the media.

FOR JOURNALISTS

If you are a journalist and have been tasked with writing about Irish Travellers, before you do so, please read the following:

A GUIDE FOR JOURNALISTS WHO WANT TO WRITE ABOUT IRISH TRAVELLERS

A lot of past writing about Irish Travellers fails at accurately and fairly representing the group. How to approach the subject ethically and with the proper diligence.

TRAVELLER HISTORY

SIUIL A RUN, TRAVELLERS, AND YALE
An 1874 article discovers that a popular Yale college song is an Irish melody sung by European Romany Gypsies.

THE IRISH TINKER
One of the first representations of Irish Travellers to appear in America, “The Irish Tinker” was a comedy about a Traveller who inherited a haunted castle.

PARKINS, A MANIAC
A story of an Irish Traveller who ran afoul of the law, and, like many later stories about Irish Travellers, the more it got told, the more details the press got wrong.

IRISH GYPSY CHIEF WILLIAM COSTELLO
The death of an Irish Traveller who married an English Gypsy; one of the few tales that connect the two groups in America.

CARROLL, RILEY & CO
A look at Irish Traveller horse traders in 1913, who lived an itinerant life but owned vast holdings of propety in American cities in the south.

THE KENTUCKY HORSE TRADERS
Likely the first story about the O’Hara clan, a successful family of horse traders who had legendary biannual funeral events.

THESE IRISH USE TRAILERS INSTEAD OF JAUNTING CARS
A story about a settlement of Irish Travellers in Belvedere, SC, in 1962, likely the origin of Murphy Village, now a suburban neighborhood largely populated by Travellers.

THE TERRIBLE WILLIAMSONS
A look at the way Irish Travellers have been repeatedly conflated with a semi-legendary group of supposedly Scottish con artists in the south.

THE IRISH PEDLAR
Early stories about Travellers can be hard to find, because they were so little-known and called by so many names. Stories about Irish “pedlars” offer some clues, and an important lesson in how dangerous the life of an itinerant worker can be.

SHELTA
The secret language of Irish Travellers, rarely discussed in the past, but something that increasingly appears in the press in troubling ways.

THE GIPSIE ENCAMPMENT
An encampment of new immigrants in Hoboken in 1851, identified by some as Rom Gypsies and others as Irish Travellers, creates an unaccountable furor in newspapers throughout America.

THE LOST CAGNEY FILM
In 1847, Jimmy Cagney announced he was going to make a musical about Irish Travellers in America. It’s hard not to wonder what that film might have been.

GOING TOWARD CADIZ
The first mention of Travellers as Irish Horse Traders, and the first mention of the annual funerals in Memphis and Nashville.

TRAVELLERS IN THE MEDIA

TRAVELLER
A 1997 movie starring Bill Paxton that represents Irish-American Travellers as itinerant con artists.

MY BIG FAT AMERICAN GYPSY WEDDING
A 2012 episode of the TLC series that purposed to give an inside look at the Irish Travellers in Murphy Village, but did so almost entirely without the participation of the Travellers themselves.

TRAVELLER’S REST
A website written by an author whose mother was a Traveller and who was raised with some direct experience of their word; currently down but accessible through archive.org.

SCAM: INSIDE AMERICA’S CON ARTIST CLANS
This 1996 book by RV enthusiast Don Wright cemented a lot of popular prejudices about Irish Travellers in America, but it is a badly researched mess that is closer to hate literature than journalism.

SCAMMED BY SOCIETY: THE CONTEXTUAL THEOLOGY OF CHRISTIAN ETHICS OF THE IRISH TRAVELERS IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Don’t let the academic subtitle scare you off: Author John M. Stygles is a Memphis pastor who has worked with Irish Travellers, and his book is one of the few to offer an unbiased, carefully researched look at the group, and how anti-Traveller prejudice has affected them.

PAUL CONNOLLY
The TV3 journalist has started to show up a source in stories about Irish Travellers in America, but as someone who has made a series of documentaries attacking Traveller and immigrant communities in Ireland, how much can we trust him?

THE THREE WISHES OF JAMIE MCRUIN
A novel by Charles O’Neal, father of Ryan O’Neal, which tells of an Irish youth, promised three wishes by the Queen of the Fairies, who comes to America and joins up with Irish Travellers in Atlanta; possibly the inspiration for James Cagney’s never made movie about the subject.