I'd better do an answer session to the week's blogs...the Traveller one anyway.

Travellers and Gypsies are one and the same here in Ireland...they consider themselves to be direct descendants of the true Romanies who had their own language...some of the younger Travellers are beginning to learn the Romany language in an attempt to keep it from dying out altogether. The original Romanies are thought to have come from India many centuries ago...probably as traders...

The term 'Traveller' is something of a misnomour because most families live in houses...either bought themselves or Corporation housing provided by the local councils in an attempt to get everyone settled...there are some truly spectacular houses on the main road into Dublin built by wealthy Traveller families...but they continue to actually live in their caravans behind the house. The house serves as proof that they've come far and is a way of flaunting the money they have but old habits die hard and most much prefer life in a 'van.

A point Gracie made was about the weddings and the television series called My Big Fat Gipsy Wedding which we watched and thought so much like the weddings we've seen...vastly expensive frocks and stretch limosinines...when Martins daughter was married a couple of years ago, she had a Cinderella coach pulled by four grey horses...the bridesmaids travelled in another coach pulled by black horses with white ribbons in their forelocks...Chris was correct in that I posted some photos on Multiply...I thought it lovely actually...all those totally over-the-top frocks...and sooo tight! and the little children looked good enough to eat...toddlers wearing yards of frothy lace and tiny boys in suits with buttonholes...the only person who looked as though he'd rather be somewhere else entirely was Martin...

Traveller girls are married as soon as they are sixteen to a lad they've probably known all their lives and isn't much older...the more 'modern' families allow the girls and boys to choose their own partners now but most stay with the almost 'arranged' marriage idea. It seems to work.

And it was also Gracie who wanted to know whether the rough Travellers still exist...they most certainly do and in droves unfortunately. Our council in conjunction with one of Dublin cities councils sent several families to live on one of our empty estates and they caused pure havoc...the Guards practically lived on that estate until they'd put their foot down and said enough was enough...they stripped the still empty houses of anything that could be sold...rode their gigs at breakneck speed round and round the roads...a gig is a small light cart for one person pulled by a specially trained horse or pony to travel at great speed...the ponies gallop with a high stepping gait.

The town 'pubs used to close if there were gangs of the men or lads about and all in all they were a feckin' nuisance. It's calmed down now they've settled in...in fairness it must have been a real shock to find themselves virtually in the middle of nowhere after living in inner city Dublin.

There are so-called halting sites which are used by those Travellers who move around the country...and they are not good places to venture. They are provided by the local council again in an effort to keep the Travellers from camping in laybys on main roads. Most are now being closed down and those families who are willing to leave life on the road are rehoused in permanent homes.

I haven't seen a hoop tent, or bender, as they are sometimes called, for many years...the last time was on the Isle of Arran off the coast of Scotland about twenty years ago. Many Traveller families still own the beautifully decorated bow top 'vans but they are kept for special occasions in the way a settled family would use a vintage car. One of the best places to see stunning bow tops and watch as horses and ponies are bought and sold is at Appleby Fair in Westmoreland in England.

It is illegal to discriminate against a Traveller...so you cannot refuse him or her a job on the grounds they come from a Travelling family and publicans cannot refuse to serve them on those grounds either...but every year there will be at least one case of a hotel suddenly cancelling a wedding booking for instance when they find out it's a reception for a Travelling couple. They, the Travellers, are beginning to realise they can fight back against wanton discrimination and usually take the offending party to court.

Many of the Traveller boys become boxers and some become famous for the bouts they win...there is little or no discrimination if a person is good at a sport!

And some become actors...there were two men who acted in a long-running soap opera here in Ireland and others become professional musicans, shopkeepers and dressmakers. But change happens slowly for the Travelling community...it is still the norm for the girls to become experts at cleaning their houses...Martins wife scrubs the pathway in front of their home on her hands and knees and if you were to tell her she's daft to do so, she'd be horrified. It's her job. She has an array of cut glass vases in her front windows which sparkle when the sun shines and she also has fifteen children including several small boys...how those vases remain in one piece heaven knows. And they always look as though they've only just been scrubbed...the little boys do I mean.

And the men and older boys wear spotless white shirts and stand about talking...they sell horses and hunting dogs and scrap metal and old machinery and tools and rarely if ever, play any part in ordinary family life. Charlie will go into the butchers on the main street to buy his dog meat but he'd rather die than go round the supermarket with Tina and she doesn't expect him to either. The Traveller men are rather aloof and appear to be unapproachable but when they are not in a group then they will talk away...actually I dread meeting with Martin, especially if he's in the waiting room at the Doctors, because he speaks rapidly in Traveller patois and I often only catch one word in six...so I tend to smile a lot and hope he doesn't think me a total loon.

In the same way as settled people there are good and there are bad in the Traveller community...there are some who'll try to swindle you and others to whom it would never occur to...some who teach their children to shoplift and others who wouldn't dream of not paying for the goods they have chosen...there are many who give the Travellers a bad name I suppose...they fight and squabble, often in public places, and the long running feud between the two main Traveller families does cause problems...usually at the bigger events like weddings and funerals.

We, personally have no axe to grind with the Travelling people...apart from that boy who stole Himself's bicycle...he was one of those transferred from Dublin...not a local lad...

There are names which the ignorant give to the Travellers which are considered offensive by the more liberal...Pikey, is probably one of the most rude. Itinerents is one...and Knackers is another, which Himself has just said is quite probably the very worst and would earn you a smack in the mouth if you called a Traveller that. The term 'Tinker' is not thought to be offensive in the least although it is used that way nowadays...it was the Travellers who would mend the pots and pans and tin buckets for households who couldn't afford to buy new...there is a man who has the skill of both making and repairing tin buckets which he demonstrates at the fairs and who always draws a crowd of people to watch and remember the days of their childhoods when the Tinker would call to mend the household pans and feed buckets and would be made welcome.

And then away from the subject of the Travellers altogether...Jenny asked how old the carvings are in Boyle Abbey...there is someting of a disagreement going on there among the experts...most say they were carved to be placed in the newly built abbey...about 1500 or so...others say they came from elsewhere and date back to the 1400's...so the answer to how old they are will have to remain a bit of a mystery for now...