Irish Travelers's Con-Artist Image: Fair or Foul

The videotape of the mother beating her child has prompted a lot of interest in the Irish Travelers. Much of the attention focuses on their alleged illegal activities. I’m curious how prevalent these activities are.

I understand that there is a great deal of prejudice against the Travelers. (Even more so against their counterparts in Britain and Ireland). I realize that the Travelers’ only publicity occurs when one of them is accused of conning someone, which would inevitably lead to biased impressions. Most people don’t assume all Italian-Americans are crooks because of the activities of the Mafia. Last (and definitely not least), we all know how the media jumps in with both feet when it smells blood.

But I am wondering if there is something in the Travelers’ unstable and mobile existence that makes illegal (or at least shady) activities more likely.

For example, one site (I will post the link later) defending the Travelers justified their practice of paying cash for houses as good financial sense. Which it is. If you don’t pay taxes.

On the other hand, government does make some exceptions regarding societal obligations for insular groups like the Amish and Native Americans on reservations. So maybe the Travelers are getting a raw deal?

Thoughts are welcomed, facts even more so.

It is NOT my intention to turn this into a Pit thread. And I wish to sincerely apologize in advance if I have offended anyone with this post.


Some are con artists, just like us settled folks.

Of course it is unfair generalisation. (as this post probably will be too, unfortunately)

As you surmised, the only time the average citizen has any interaction with the close-knit community of travellers, it will inevitably be a confrontation over some issue.
This could be a theft (proven or implied) or an ‘illegal’ temporary settlement on someone’s land.

Of course they do break laws….but they are the laws of a government they choose not to recognise. They have no need of birth registration (generally) or social security numbers, marriage or death certification. The kids don’t (usually) attend school, at least not conventionally. Other more serious laws? Sure, but no more than anyone else.

Does that make them shady or unstable?
No, just different.

Actually, not following the laws they find “inconvenient” does make them shady, IMHO. How large does a group of people have to be before their actions are ethnic, and not simply illegal?

The first part of what Czarcasm said.

And the second too – I recall here Tom Wolfe’s definition of a cult: ‘a religion with no political power’.

I see a slight tilt to the replies, possibly biased by my use of the term ‘Irish Travelers’.

It is NOT my intention to slander any ethnic group (and despite my screen name, I am not the least bit English – I’m American, with an Irish immigrant grandfather). My curiosity centers on the cultural tenets of people who travel constantly in the year 2002, earn their living door-to-door, and claim to be law-abiding.

Whatever their ethnicity, or country of residence.

So I repeat my OP, but drop the word ‘Irish’.

So what we have here is a topic in which most posters know next to nothing about the subject, but have an opinion anyway? Okay, well, in the spirit of fighting ignorance…

Irish Traveler=? Turned into a debate before being locked. Read the debate-like parts of that thread, check out the links provided, learn.

Then you may like to read my thread in the Pit (complete with racist troll) about the bigotted attitudes of a sheriff’s department:

In which I’ve posted a ton of links. Check them out, learn.

Their cultural tenets would be the same as members of the same ethnicity who are, for example: Lawyers, doctors, professors and teachers - and who not only claim to be, but are law-abiding.

Kushti bok,


A law-abiding Romanichal

Enough already, I have to agree with Kal. See my own post in the Irish Travelers link which got locked .

FTR, tho I’m Irish, I knew next to nothing about the Irish Travelers until a few days ago. I did a google search and came up with those links.

In the interest of saving the hamsters, do the lookups on your own. Enough already. :rolleyes:

Having (inadvertently) sparked some of the debate in GQ, I’ll be foolish enough to wade back into the fray.

There may be a legitimate point in considering whether Travellers (qua Travellers), or Roma, play a distinct role in certain types of criminal behavior. The issue comes up at all only because there certainly does appear to be a problem with rings of tricksters (of whatever origin or persuasion) repeatedly performing roofing scams and driveway scams and sweetheart scams and shoplifting scams.

Anyone who is part of such a continuing criminal enterprise ought to be pursued, I suggest, as a matter of criminal policy – not because of who they are but because of what they do (and surely some of those doing it are non-Traveller even if some are Traveller).

The issue of there being a familial/clan relationship in these crime rings, or common membership in a self-defined group, comes up only because understanding the way members of a conspiracy or CCE operate is a key to understanding the “organized” part of “organized crime,” and to understanding how the “criminal enterprise” remains “continuing.” Put differently, the cops probably ought to know that Joe Bloggs has eight brothers in law who run the same pigeon drop scam as he, or that Joe is a member of a secret hierarchical crime ring with an oath of silence and a language of its own, when they arrest Joe in a particular (perhaps comparatively petty) crime, or else they’ll miss the opportunity to catch his cronies, or track down the big fish – and this is true regardless of whether Joe and his confreres are linked by their allegiance to common identity as Travellers, or instead as non-Traveller Irish (see the Whitey Bulger gang in Boston), Sicilian Americans, or members of Skull & Bones. I’m sure some Italian Americans have been less than thrilled by Sopranos stereotypes, but I don’t hear many people seriously questioning whether the FBI ought to be promulgating the charts it uses in court showing interlocking family (and “Family”) relationships among capos, or hiring Italian speakers for monitoring wiretaps or undercover work, or studying the code of omerta, when they try to tackle La Cosa Nostra (oops! unfair stereotype!) crime.

Kal about has me convinced that looking for statistical proof that would meet his rigorous standards for establishing any disproportionate participation by Travellers in recurring scams is difficult (among other things, Kal would want statistics showing that Travellers/Roma were offending at a rate higher than another group with “same socio economic status,” which makes a comparison nigh impossible since no other group really shares the distinctive social patterns of the Travellers/Roma). As someone who daily has to make economic and other decisions with experiential evidence similarly falling short of scientific-standard completeness, I tentatively believe from my experience and the admittedly-anecdotal evidence, that those who discern or refer to a pattern of Traveller participation in scams are not out of their heads. Assuming, arguendo, that there is some basis for perceiving such a pattern, the interesting (and I believe valid) questions that arise are “Why might this become a workable way of life for such people?”

I’ll skip over any moral questions, and certainly won’t assert Travellers are innately wicked, lazy, etc. (and hope we can in turn skip over the no doubt valid, but equally impossible to “prove,” issues of root causes of poverty, exclusion, racism as possible explanations for anti-social behavior) – I’m more interested in the practicalities. It certainly does seem that members of a group that (for whatever quite possibly innocuous reasons) finds itself with a culture based on multi-generation, close-knit clans and families, sharing a common language and moral code, prone to being itinerant, economically disadvantaged and alienated, would find that they were pretty well positioned to be very successful criminals. Opportunity is not destiny, and many would choose not to take advantage of the criminal opportunities that these circumstances (innocent enough in themselves) offered – but some would, and would find the practical advantages of applying their unique traits in this way could lead them to prosper in a continuing, multi-generation business. I’d view it as like finding yourself seven feet tall. You may hate basketball, but at some point you’re at least going to consider it as a career because the advantages are so obviously there.

When I first heard of the Irish Travelers, they were called the “Tinkers.” My first introduction to their existence was an Irish Rovers song back in the 1960s, “Bare Legged Joe”

Granted, discriminating aficionados of Irish song tend to despise the Irish Rovers; and granted, this song is a romanticized, sentimental tribute to that folk.

To me as a linguist, the Travelers are interesting for speaking their own language, known as Shelta. The film Snatch made something of this by having Brad Pitt speak in an impenetrable patois, but I don’t know if there was any genuine Shelta in it. The Shelta tongue was built from a cant use of dialectal English blended with Irish. (Cant is an in-group speech of the subclasses formed by recombining and giving new meanings to existing words.) I don’t know if any of the Irish travelers in America still speak it.

Huerta88’s post said what I was trying to say, only he/she said it more eloquently and with better information. Welcome to the boards Huerta!

Kal makes an interesting comparison of Travelers to doctors, lawyers, et al. One thing that increases my comfort level in dealing with a doctor or a lawyer: professional oversight. If I feel that a doctor or lawyer has dealt with me unfairly, I can complain to the AMA or ABA.

Which prompts me to wonder:

In this age of the internet, have any Travelers considered some kind of trade association, accessible to consumers via the internet?

This might help separate the con artists from the legitimate trade practitioners.

The Pariah Syndrome: An account of Gypsy slavery and persecution

Your attention is drawn to chapters 13, 14 and 15, also Appendix B.

I have no further interest in this thread.

Apart to quote from chapter 14: The Contemporary Situation of Gypsies in North America

I’ll repeat that “nationally-recognized Gypsy expert”, Terry Getsay’s quote again:

So, according to Mr Getsay, you do not have to be Romani to commit “Gypsy” crime.

Okay, now I’m done with this thread.

Kal: whats with the dinlo shot? Are you saying anyone who reads your link is stupid or anyone who does not read it is stupid (which begs the question of why you posted it to begin with).

As for folks liking a mor mobile lifestyle, well I have only known one Gypsy family (not IT’s but Romanichal Gypsies). They were tenants in some townhomes I was managing and other than paying cash every month and having nothing come up on the Dunn and Bradstreet they were pretty normal folks. Mom, Dad, one daughter. Dad recycled metal from construction sights, as well as mostly any other odd job he could pick up. He must have done okay too as he had a new pickup truck and the townhouses were $840.00 per month, all in cash. Mom stayed at home and made me cookies all the time (good cookies). The only thing that ever concerned me was that I don’t think the daughter was enrolled in school, but mom could have been teaching her for all I know.

I do take some minor issue with one aspect of the lifestyle which is that it is possibly too easy to avoid paying taxes or registering with selective service (agree or disagree with selective service, it’s only fair if everyone has to register). Not I don’t know that this family avoided taxes, but I do know that all the jobs he did were ones that did not involve a payroll and the two times he did work for me he lowered his price to avoid signing a work order so I could get reimbursed by the CFO. If Irish Traveler’s live like this I imagine they are just like anyone else, no worse but possibly living a lifestyle that enables them to skirt some of our laws easily.

As a side note, both father and mother lost immidiate family in the Holocaust and I think this is one of the reasons mom was so nice to me (mezuzza over the door). I would rent to these people again. When they left after three years in residence the carpets were as new, he actually painted the walls (smokers) and tried to refuse his deposit return because of one minor ding where his car had rubbed the garage wall.

My only experience with the Travellers is that my parish (St. Patrick) in Nashville is the home parish for many of them. They don’t live around here anymore, but they come back here to bury their dead. There are Traveller dead going back over a century in the local Catholic cemetery. Their children tend to run around during Mass. Their little girls are always dressed to the nines. Their boys aren’t, although they wear okay clothes. When the parish needs money (and it’s a small urban church) they are always generous.


A good start would be any statistics at all. I’m not clear on what you’re trying to say here… gathering proof would be too difficult, so you’re going to press forward with totally unsupported assertions?

I’m sorry if I misunderstand you, but what I’m hearing is a very roundabout condoning of racism. It’s reasonable to make decisions in everyday life without the benefit of carefully gathered evidence until you start making decisions about people you don’t know based on their ethnicity. It’s a question of justice and ethical behavior, and practicality should not get any kind of priority. People deserve the benefit of the doubt no matter how inconvenient it is for you. I think your post was pretty offensive, considering who your audience was.

Kal, I wish you wouldn’t take off from this thread. I’ve read the Pariah Syndrome before.


If you read the locked thread that has been linked to here, you’ll see others interpreting Huerta88 to be saying exactly that.

When you also consider that he/she uses evidence of Roma criminality gleaned from (what appears to be) a German-written eugenics paper - that itself contains flawed and biased data from the Czech Republic, It’s safe to think that Huerta88’s posts are offensive. Bigotry, however eloquent, is still bigotry.

If this was a fair debate I wouldn’t mind staying, but I’ve got a lot going on in my life right now and a pit thread to look after, where I can swear as much as I like.

zen101: Ke rokker Romani?

In this thread, we have a couple of posters who know next to nothing about the subject but are going to debate it anyway. To consider debating something you know nothing about is stupid (IMHO).

All they have to work with is false (and offensive) stereotypes of the Roma and travellers and that will do for them. “Prone to being itinerant” is one of these. In the case of Romani-Americans, most of them are decended from those who suffered 500 years of slavery. If anything, that background makes them “Prone to being slaves”. Also, most Roma around the world are not itinerant, for the majority of those who are, their ‘Nomadism’ is because settled people keep making them ‘move on’. Combine that with just a hateful attitude and you have this thread.

Huerta88 is not interested in facts. He/She is happy with stereotypes, innuendo and supposition. I’ve met many people with that attitude and it seems to be a pretty dinlo one. My link (and other links I’ve provided in other threads) contains facts, something that Huerta88 and others like them sadly lack. I posted the link, and quoted from it, in the hope that after reading some facts the OP and others - however eloquent - would take the time to learn something about the subject they debate.

In the context of the OP ("But I am wondering if there is something in the Travelers’ unstable and mobile existence that makes illegal (or at least shady) activities more likely. "), what I have not said, inter alia, is:

  1. “Roma and Travellers have such an enviable lot in life.”
    Nope. They don’t. I don’t dispute a word of Kal’s recounting of the hard knocks Roma have taken down the years (and are continuing to take in E. Europe etc.). And whether Mrs. Toogood is a con artist/thief or not (she was re-arrested this weekend for using fraudulent identification in connection with her earlier bout with the authorities), whatever the spoils of her alleged crimes, nothing we’ve seen of her apparently-sordid lifestyle is apt to make any of us exclaim “Oh, for the carefree life of a Traveller!” But showing that you are hard done by (which no one disputes esp. as to the Roma) does not answer, one way or the other, the separate OP question of whether and why itinerancy, where it exists, might conduce to running a CCE. Great and demonstrable poverty and societal exclusion existed as to Sicilian Americans for much of the past couple of centuries (to return to my earlier example). Those who sought to fight LCN organized crime acitivity, which also existed during this period (and for all I know grew solely out of the root causes of poverty and exclusion) were not denying the bad, poor, maybe unfair hands that many Italian Americans (including possibly the very capos they were targeting) had been dealt; they were addressing the separate issue of crime organized along affiliational lines.

  2. “My race is better than your race.”
    Never said it. Hazel-rah refers to “indirect condoning of racism” and Kal’s convinced that only a “hateful attitude” could explain this thread. “Racist!” being the ultimate argument-ender that it is, what I’ll say is simply the following: (a) the particular comment to which hazel-rah referred was about the Travellers, who (until politics made “ethnicity” the golden ticket to claiming rights through government-administered programs) most people thought were pretty much just regular Irish folk, bloodline-wise. I know the UK declared by regulatory fiat that the Travellers were to be treated as an ethnicity (mostly, as I understand it, to put them on an even footing with the Roma in administering social and equal opportunity programs), but that doesn’t make it so; if the UK’s stated rationale of a shared culture dating back to the 19th century and a tendency to intermarry were enough to establish a separate ethnicity, the Habsburgs, and no doubt any number of families from little hamlets in Appalachia, would be able to queue up as a minority ethnic group, and would probably have as much or more shared DNA than the Travellers. (b) In any event, I don’t think and haven’t said that being born a Traveller, or Roma, predestines anyone to commit crimes, to be itinerant, etc. Matter of fact, even if there were a pattern of ethnic group X’s participation in crime Y, I don’t think that pattern will be static, even when the crime is somewhat intergenerational by nature, as fraud rings appear to be. The discussion that one might reasonably have about Sicilian American involvement in organized crime in 1910 is not the same discussion you’d have in talking about the increasingly-attenuated links between today’s largely-assimilated Italian American population and the weakened LCN families. Similarly, there are of course settled and integrated (to a greater or lesser extent) Traveller and Roma families, and good for them – good for any as well who choose to (or have to ) remain itinerant; until and unless they exploit the advantages that itinerancy offers for fraudsters, at which point I do not believe it’s illegitimate for law enforcement to look, not only at their particular crime du jour, but at any family ties or organizing theme or origins behind their fraud enterprise. Which principle I would apply to any group of fraudsters – the Florida authorities spent a fair amount of time after Hurricane Andrew investigating and policing what were referred to as the “roofers from hell” – dubiously-qualified, often inter-related, opportunistic repairmen who did tricked desperate hurricane victims into paying for shoddy and overpriced roof repairs, and who were plain-old-redneck (non-Traveller, as far as I could tell) white guys. I say great – investigate them and any co-conspirators, find out if there’s more where they came from, and convict anyone running a CCE.

  3. “Let’s be mean to Travellers/Roma.”
    Unless you consider even raising the possibility of looking into affiliational links in investigating CCE fraud rings to be intolerably mean (and many activists do, as witness the vigorous campaigning in some quarters against even tracking offender ethnicity in crime statistics), I’ve not suggested doing anything mean, or for that matter, anything period, to Travellers/Roma, except leaving them in peace and hoping they’ll return the favor. If I ran the circus, I might think it was better for people to be settled rather than itinerant, and might hope that Travellers/Roma could increasingly become largely integrated on equal terms – but I don’t run the circus, and I know that some argue that they should have the right to remain itinerant, and I’ve got no problem at all with that, absent CCE participation, any more than I have a problem with RV’ers or square dancers or Christian Scientists or anyone else who’s chosen a lifestyle I haven’t.

Nah, only what I picked up gossiping with my tenant. I used to be able to pretty accurately describe what a slut one of the neighbors was in Romani just because it was a favorite topic.

Kal- If I were to pick a language to learn, so that I may converse in Romani, what would be a good one? Assuming of course that I don’t have a chance in green hell of actually learning Romani in a school environment.

Vlax Romani is the most widely spoken. “A Handbook of Vlax Romani” by Dr. Ian Hancock is in print and available on Amazon, and I see there’s a book coming out this month by Yaron Matras called “Romani: A Linguistic Introduction.” Might not be geared towards actually learning the language however.

You should have a lot of self-discipline. It’s not the easiest language for native English speakers, and it may be difficult to find native Romani speakers to practice with.

I actually did take a class on it, but was told by the professor (the aforementioned Dr. Hancock) that it’s the only one in America that is offered. Might not be true anymore, it was a couple years ago.