Folklore, — June 23, 2011 14:16 — 0 Comments

Gypsy Woman Calls

We had regular begging calls at home in The Meadow from the Tinkers – or gypsies or Travelling People – back in the 1950s.  

Political correctness in terms of designation was unknown then. We thought these moniker terms both interchangeable and bereft of pejorative connotations. One possible theory of the alleged difference is suggested a few paragraphs later here.

But we were taught respect for all people – bar only criminals or those who threatened our safety.

There was a regular stopping site down by the start of the Fathom Line – close to the Moores’ home. My friend Martin remembers them fondly as occasional neighbours and ‘good people they were in the main’.

But of course, like the settled population, they had their share of rogues.

Many families – or ‘tribes’ as they’d occasionally be called, or call themselves – had been peripatetic for generations, some, no doubt, made homeless by the land seizure and other privations visited upon the Irish by the British conqueror.  

From about the ’40s on, after the flight from the land in search of better-paid occupations in town – hastened by the introduction of labour-saving devices to the farm – there was little need of occasional agricultural labourers (Travellers?) and little other work available. Horse-dealing characterised the Irish ‘gypsy’, it is said, and mechanised transport and farm machinery put them less in demand.  Mending pots and pans and/or sharpening knives is remembered as the favoured occupation of the tinkers. 

The means of survival was always difficult.

Even the most ardent defender will admit that it was wise, especially in isolated areas, to take some protection against ‘thieving tinkers.’ 

One such ardent defender (and chronicler) was Dromintee’s Michael J Murphy and I lean on him for the gist of the tales that follow.

Rural areas lived in dread of the arrival of ‘van-loads of Tinkers.’ They’d come one day and fan out the next, in search of alms and anything else they could lay their hands on. They’d frequent the same areas and get to know the people, their habits, their kin and even their ailments. 

The womenfolk at your door would call down all sorts of prayers, imprecations and blessings on the house and its occupants, especially ‘the sick lady’ – though no one told them any ill person resided there. How did they know this?

The mantras would begin immediately and automatically, regardless of who had answered the door. I remember the first time, as a boy of about ten, being so addressed. I was beguiled. I asked the lady to wait – the front door left ajar all the time – while I’d fetch my mother.

Afterwards I was severely rebuked: ‘She cuda had the house stripped before we cud stop her’, I was told. I requested an explanation but got none.

Anyway, if you didn’t answer positively (i.e. offer her some money, or food or clothes) the ‘prayers’ would be of another sort entirely! Many women feared these curses, and men too, and the travellers exploited this fear ruthlessly.

‘Why don’t you work?’ someone asked.

‘I’ll work in death,’ the Travelling Woman responded.


… more later …





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