I’m sitting in Terminal 5 of JFK International Airport as I write this, and I look around to see hundreds and hundreds of people bustling by to get to where they need to go. The sound system rattles off boarding instructions in languages that I can’t quite place. The girls sitting across the Charging Station from me can’t stop taking selfies and talking about how they missed their flight and have been stuck in the airport for thirteen hours. I have a pounding headache and the way these girls talk keeps distracting me from my work, getting me even crankier than I would be in this crowd, but that’s just how the world works. All these people surrounding me are people I’ve never seen before and will likely never see again. People from all over the world, in all colors and walks of life, pace past me, and I realize that the small town I grew up in is miniscule compared to the rest of the world.
Starting school at Geneseo was a culture shock to me because it was much more diverse than what I was used to growing up in a largely white, rural town. Just sitting in this airport for two hours, I’ve seen more people than I’ve probably seen all summer (my job doesn’t deal with customer service, I work with the same people every day). Wanting to get away from the crowd, I’m thinking of getting food before my six hour flight, but I’m too afraid to get up and look for a good place to eat. These small fears and annoyances are something I hope to move past, as I grow older and gain more experiences in places like this.
My first thought that popped into my head when I stepped off the plane from Rochester was: This place is too damn big, but now I sit here and think about the people that work here and the people that fly for business or vacation or any other manner of travel. I’ve only ever travelled by plane twice before; both were school band trips, the first time to Disneyworld and the second time, you guessed it, to Disneyworld.
Fast-forward to the fifth day of our trip; we arrive in Sligo, which is seated on the west coast of Ireland, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in all its cruel majesty. The cool temperatures and overcast skies were a welcome change to the sweltering heat of Dublin. We stood and waited, sunburnt and exhausted from our cross-country bus trip, for our professors, Rob and Joe, to check us in at Milligan Court. It was then when we looked across the road to see a slummy parking lot. It didn’t look like much more than a garbage dump, until Joe informed us that it was a lot designated for Irish Travellers, a nomadic sect of people. When we first stepped off the bus, I thought that the people who had parked their campers there were squatters who lived in an empty lot. The parking lot sat in stark contrast to the apartments at Milligan Court, with its clean cut and manicured courtyards and nearly spotless interior. Up until this trip, I did not know that such people existed in Ireland. I saw shirtless children running in and out of one of the trailers, chasing each other. That’s when Joe explained to us who they were. He called them the Irish Travellers, because that’s what they called themselves: a nomadic people who can trace their lineage back generations. You don’t become a Traveller; you’re born one.
I admit that I was still confused about who these people were, these “Travellers.” I understood that they were a nomadic people and that their culture had been around for centuries; however, there was not much literature I could find that really explained who they really were. As I situated myself in the apartment where I would be staying for the next week, my curiosity got the better of me, and I looked up the Travellers. A quick search revealed that they were actually an ethnic group and were often mistaken for gypsies. However, gypsies and Travellers originated from two completely different continents. Travellers used to live out of horse-drawn wagons, but have moved on to living out of campers and caravans. In March 2017, the Travellers were officially recognized by the Irish government as an indigenous minority, the only one in the country. However, due to their separation from “settled” society, they face heavy discrimination that comes in the form of ostracism and racist stereotypes.
The Travellers lack any kind of public written history, so it is hard to tell what their beliefs and values are. A study conducted in 2017 revealed that the Travellers split off from the general population in the mid-1600s and have continued to exist that way today. Recently, the government has tried to force Travellers into subsidized housing and enforce school attendance.
I have always enjoyed learning about new people and new things and I am so intrigued by the lives of the Irish Travellers. I had never heard of them until I went on this trip and even now I wish to learn more about them and more about the discrimination they face as a collective people.
Lauren Lambie is a history and adolescent education major who graduated in May 2021. She is a member of the Phi Lambda Chi sorority, the Geneseo Pep Band, Geneseo Flute Choir, and the Festival Singers. She is from Ontario, New York and plans to go to get her Masters in Education after she graduates from Geneseo. In the summer of 2019, she, along with 11 others from Geneseo, went to Ireland as a part of a three-week-long study abroad program headed by Dr. Joe Cope and Dr. Robert Doggett. The main purpose of that trip was to partake in the 60th anniversary of the Yeats Society in Sligo, a week-long festival of poetry from scholars all around the world in memory of the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats. She remembers this trip fondly as her first time leaving the U.S. and the great friends and lasting memories she made while in Ireland. Photo credit: Lauren Lambie