EUGENE FRANCIS O'NEILL, Fordham University


In recent years, Irish Travellers have been the subject of government efforts at settlement. Many have settled in standard housing, in non-Traveller communities. Have these Travellers assimilated into the mainstream of Irish life? What are the implications of settlement regarding poverty studies? Such questions are answered in light of recent work on the subject of assimilation, and the role of identity in the assimilation process. Featured is the work of Milton A. Gordon, who delineates several "assimilation variables." Primarily ethnographic in method, the study was conducted in a town in Ireland's Midlands, which is a popular site for Traveller settlement. Six months were spent in the field, among Travellers, with two brief follow-up visits. Published works on Travellers, government reports, and related works of Irish Sociology were utilized. Among the study's findings are that significant cultural assimilation has taken place regarding sex roles within the family, in commitment to religious practice, and in the economic sphere. Structural assimilation has been negligible; virtually no Travellers have entered into cliques, clubs, or institutions of the host community on a primary group level. Intermarriage with the established population is rare. Although tolerant, members of the host community are by no means free of prejudice. Owners of public accommodation facilities continue to discriminate. Significantly, Travellers exhibit virtually none of the traits conceptualized by Oscar Lewis, as forming the Culture of Poverty. This is primarily due to their sense of clan identity, augmented by a deep religious commitment, and enforced by widely accepted moral norms. Persistence of this clan identity has also prevented the establishment of a common identity or interest with the host society. Despite the limited extent of assimilation, however, the Irish Government's Traveller Settlement Program has been successful as a matter of public policy. It has enabled settled Travellers to improve their economic status, while retaining their individual and community identity as Travellers.

Subject Area

Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

O'NEILL, EUGENE FRANCIS, "IRISH TINKERS: A STUDY IN ASSIMILATION" (1987). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8716210.