Becoming conspicuous : Irish travellers, society and the state, 1922-70
This thesis gives an historical account of the official and popular reaction to Travellers
in independent Ireland. It describes the people who travelled Irish roads, outlining how
and why Travellers were distinguishable from settled people. This study shows that one
consequence of the developments in state and society from 1922 onwards was the
alienation and isolation of Travellers.
The urban and rural working class experienced massive social change, often as a
result of government policy. Travellers became socially and economically distinct from
the general population because of changing attitudes to the family economy and selfemployment
determined by legislation such as the School Attendance Act 1926. When
the introduction of planning redefined public space, campsites came to be viewed as
eyesores. Planning legislation also introduced the concept of an amenity, a landscape
designed for popular and tourist consumption. This had considerable implications for
Travellers' use of marginal land.
Despite complaints from local representatives, successive governments refused
to tackle the `itinerant problem'. Occasionally efforts were made to target Travellers for
public health reasons or on the basis of problems caused by vagrancy and homelessness.
However, the government believed that the legal implications for the whole population
of anti-Traveller measures were not worth enduring. While Travellers evaded repressive
measures, they were largely ignored in welfare provision. Social welfare was extended
in an ad hoc, piecemeal manner, with Travellers as a group among the last in society
whose entitlement to assistance was recognised. The publication of the Report of the
Commission on Itinerancy in 1963 marked a shift in the relationship between Travellers
and the state.
The report recommended settlement and assimilation as the solution to
widespread poverty among Travellers and the hostility felt by the settled community.
How the settlement programme was organised and directed, its successes and failures
are also analysed. Many Travellers were politicised by their experience in the settlement
programme of the 1960s. The thesis concludes when Traveller representatives were
included in organisations established to minister to their community.