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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2009, Vol.1, No.1 .


Irish Travellers: Tinkers No More
Alen MacWeeney

(New England College Press, Henniker, NH, 2007) 132 pp, HB, £51.50, ISBN 978-0979013003

Alen MacWeeney?s Irish Travellers: Tinkers No More uses photographs, songs and stories to present a descriptive account of the lives of Travellers in Ireland in the 1960s. The author is a photographer - who trained with the renowned Richard Avedon - and uses pictorial representation of Travellers, resulting in a fairly short narrative. The introduction, written by Bairbre NíFhloinn, outlines who Travellers are by focussing on cultural idiosyncrasies and contested claims of origin. The book advances no clear argument or contribution to theory as such but does provide rich ethnographic data to help us understand the everyday lives of Irish Travellers in the 1960s, and makes a valuable contribution in that respect.

Issues relating to ethnic conflict are not directly relevant to Irish Travellers given that they make no secessionist claims and are not in competition with other ethnic groups for material resources. Any tenuous claims to ?conflict? can be found in Travellers? relations with the majority society but this crucial aspect is not investigated. The political claims of Travellers are not addressed although it is questionable whether Travellers had any political claims in the 1960s given their lack of political leadership, and apparent resistance to mobilization efforts (36). Travellers are an ethnic community - though still not recognised as such by the Irish state - and this book provides an insight into everyday practices which sustain and reproduce Traveller identity.

The photographs are certainly arresting in their beauty. These stark black and white images of life in Traveller camps play on external perceptions of the Traveller ?way of life? which social anthropologists appear keen to propagate. The title suggests challenging perceptions, yet we are presented with predictable representations of Travellers: swollen families packed with grubby-faced children; horse-riding; tin-whistle playing; a young bride and groom; and world weary faces staring back at the camera lens. MacWeeney states, ?I was aware of the appeal of poverty to a camera, especially when dressed up with romantic notions of horses, caravans, and campfires? (2), yet he does nothing to dispel these romanticised notions of Traveller identity. The real value of this book lies in the insight we are given into the lives of Travellers as outsiders looking in, like MacWeeney himself. Laced with songs - a CD is included featuring songs and music - and stories, the photographs describe a life of poverty and marginalisation. This book will be of primary interest to social anthropologists, photographers and musicologists.


Dr. Aidan McGarry, University of Brighton



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