Friday, December 16, 2011


Writer waiting for idea!
 Where do writers get our ideas? Everywhere! Mine for THE TEXAN'S IRISH BRIDE came partly due to my fascination with Ireland, and partly due to a very sad event that occurred several years ago in the Fort Worth, Texas area. This particular idea also required extensive research.

Perhaps you already know that Irish Travelers are descended from medieval minstrels and poets who traveled Ireland telling myths and stories. At that time, they were well respected and quite learned. Travellers claim that they even predate the Celtic invasion of Ireland, and are the oldest inhabitants of that Island. Travellers claim by oral tradition to be descended from the pre-Celts. Mab is an old pagan female goddess of the pre-Celts, who were known as the "fairies," "Fir Bolgs," and "Tuatha De Danann."

20th Century Irish Travelers
Modern Travelers have their own language or cant (also known in Ireland as Gammon), Sheldroo, which is linked to medieval language. At the the various times of English occupation, many Irish families were turned out of their homes. During periods of the 18th and 19th centuries, it was illegal for Irish to learn to read and write—only the English could attend schools and universities. Teaching an Irish child to read was even a crime. Hedgerow schools met--you guessed it--under the hedgerows where those displaced who could read taught some of those who could not. Most, however, did not learn to read and write more than their name, if that.

Restored Traveler wagon has a
surprising amount of storage
Homeless Irish families drifted in with the traveling minstrels and eventually became the Irish Travelers. They camped in fields. Later they acquired tents, then the colorful wagons that resemble gypsy wagons. Hero and I were fortunate enough to see several of these colorful wagons in Irish and Scottish museums and they are amazingly compact with a surprising amount of storage. Those we saw were in primary colors of red and green with yellow wheels. 

Even though their wagons are similar, Travelers are not gypsies. Gypsies are Roms and originated in India/Asia. Travelers are of Irish origin, although they have now spread throughout the Western world.

Legislation in Ireland has set aside special camping places for the Travelers. In Ireland and the UK, controversy continues over whether or not the children should be forced to attend school. In the U.S., they are supposed to attend school.

A large base of Irish Travelers is in White Settlement near Fort Worth, Texas and another in Los Angeles, California. There are other settlements thoughout the United States, especially in the Carolinas and the Appalachian states. In White Settlement, many Travelers live in RV’s or mobile homes at a park owned by one of the Travelers. The children don’t attend school, or if they go, it’s only sporadically. Most of the families are Roman Catholic and most wives attend mass.

Travelers were/are also called Tinkers because there was usually one among them who repaired pots and pans and metal wares. I first heard the word tinker as a child, used in the nursery rhyme I sang as I jumped rope. Wherever the jumper missed, that was who she or he would marry. The rhyme, in case your childhood was more sophisticated than mine, went something like, "Doctor, lawyer, policeman, thief. Tinker, tailor, Indian chief." Later, I read the word tinker in Louis L'Amour's books, referring not only to a man who worked metal, but one who made knives.

My first introduction to modern Irish Travelers—or Tinkers—came one January day when a terrible accident happened on Interstate 20 just west of Fort Worth, Texas. I've mentioned this before, but it made an indellible impression on me and many others. Hero and I were driving by as traffic was diverted by State Troopers. Paramedics spread yellow groundsheets over the last victims as we passed. From the several groundsheets spread on the ground, we knew the accident was a bad one, but learned from the newspaper the following day just how sad. A group of boys had been driving the new, red, double-cab pickup one received as a Christmas gift and going to visit their uncle west of Weatherford. The five boys—all cousins or brothers—were going so fast when the driver lost control that the pickup actually became airborne, sailed across a median, and landed on top of another pickup. All six people died. Three were brothers, cousins to the other two brothers, plus the man driving east toward Fort Worth.

Texas State Troopers, sheriff’s deputies, police officers, firemen, and paramedics were so moved by the deaths of these five young men from one extended family that many of them attended the funeral in White Settlement. At the funeral, they learned these young men were all much younger than they'd believed. Their drivers licenses were fakes! The ages were from 13 to 16, not 16 to 21 as the ID’s had indicated. Sadly, fake ID's are not uncommon for modern Irish Travelers. This accident sparked several in-depth columns about Irish Travelers and their culture in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

About three or four times a year, an Irish Traveler stops by our rural home and offers to pave our drive or repair our roof. The men are usually medium height and have startlingly clear blue eyes. If we were gullible enough—as one of our friends was—to let him resurface our driveway, in all likelihood he would use a mixture of fluid which might resemble asphalt, but actually would be oil which washed away in a hard rain. Another common ploy of dishonest Traveller (and other) roofers is to get a 50% deposit for roofing, then disappear.

I am not bashing Irish people. After all, I’m partly of Scot-Irish descent and love anything to do with Ireland!

I’m identifying a stereotype. I’m sure there are good people from this sub-ethnic group of Irish Travelers. As with many other groups, we only hear about the bad ones. (When's the last time you heard a feature news story about a happy Hollywood couple?) For a couple hundred years, Irish Travelers have been thought of as con men and their wives as beggars. In fact, some make a good living honestly while others live hand to mouth or steal.

They’re accused of “selling” their daughters at a young age to marry much older men. Is that true? I don’t know. I admit I've watched the tasteless TV show "My Big Fat Irish Wedding." What can I say? It's like a train wreck and I simply can't look away. 

Travelers have made national news because of their shoplifting rings. Are there honest Travelers? Of course there are, just as there are honest and dishonest people from any ethnic group.

In THE TEXAN’S IRISH BRIDE, the heroine and her family were among those turned off their land by an English landlord. Rather than starve, they joined a band of Irish Travelers. How did they end up trekking across the U.S. and in Texas?

Sure, now, and it's a lovely tale. I hope you’ll read the book to learn the answer. (Hint!)

Buy link: OR at Amazon and other online stores. Makes a great gift! (hint, hint, hint!)


Stephanie Suesan Smith, Ph.D. said...

This is a fascinating history of a displaced people. It would be hard to make an honest living if you were forbidden to learn to read and write and discriminated against at every turn. Eventually, what started as survival becomes culture. It is a shame that the bad apples taint the reputation of the whole group.

Shirley Wells said...

What a fascinating post. I love anything anything Irish and would love to visit again. Thanks for sharing!

katsrus said...

Very interesting post. I really did not know a lot of what you wrote. I look forward to reading this book. I am reading another of yours right now.
Sue B