The religion and social organisation of Irish travellers on a London caravan site (part I)
White Horse Press
Community Services, Education and Social Sciences
International, Cultural and Community Studies, Centre for Research in Entertainment, Arts,Technology, Education and Communications
Given Ireland's age-old reputation for religiosity, scholars have paid surprisingly little attention to the religion of Irish Travelling People. One fairly recent book on Traveller society (McCann et al. 1994), for instance, included only two index entries on religion in a list of over 400, and even these were minor. Other work, including some fine ethnography, remains unclear about whether the ritual data apply equally to Irish Travellers as they do to Romanies (Okely 1983), and some is of somewhat narrow scope·(Mends 1997).
This essay is the first in a series of two and is based on the experience of two years I spent with Travellers as site warden of an official Traveller caravan site in London, during the 1980s. It focuses entirely on Irish Travellers, even though a minority of families were British Romanies. This first paper is organised in two parts. The first section, Part one, distinguishes individual from collective religious behavior and looks at the existing literature on Traveller religion to argue that in England religion is important as a marker of identity in ways that it is not in Ireland. Section 2 unravels the nexus between social organization and communication and classification, and, in doing so, draws heavily on Douglas (1978) and Simmel (1964).