Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Walking People

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Walking People

by Mary Beth Keane

The Walking People by Mary Beth Keane
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    May 2009, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2010, 416 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers

Buy This Book

About this Book

Beyond the Book

Print Review

Irish Travellers
Among themselves, Travellers refer to themselves as Pavees.  To outsiders they are often referred to as pikeys, knackers or tinkers (the latter two descriptions refer to traditional crafts in which they were employed, rendering animals and tin-smithing; the first two are considered particularly derogatory). In Irish, they are known as Lucht Siúil - the walking people - hence the title of Mary Beth Keane's novel.  Sometimes they are also referred to as diddycoys - which is a Roma term for a child of mixed Roma and non-Roma parentage; when used in the context of Travellers it refers to the fact that they are not "Gypsy" by blood but have adopted a similar lifestyle.

A 2006 Irish national census recorded 22,400 Travellers in the country, about 0.5% of the population (but many believe the numbers are larger), with 95% living in urban areas (these days, many choose to settle in one location but may travel for seasonal work). It is estimated that there are a further 15-30,000 Travellers in Great Britain and about 7,000 in the USA, particularly based in Murphy Village, South Carolina; and the Fort Worth suburb of White Settlement, TX.

The historical origins of the Travellers are disputed.  Travellers themselves claim ancient origins, even though it is clear that some adopted Traveller customs recently.  A long held believe is that Travelers are descended from landowners made homeless by Oliver Cromwell's military campaign in Ireland and the 1840s famine, but now it is thought their origins maybe older and more complex - but with no written historical record it is difficult to know.

Travellers are distinctly different from the Roma (sometimes known as Gypsies); for more about the Roma People see the sidebar to Jacqueline Winspear's An Incomplete Revenge). Whereas the Roma are considered a unique ethnic group (studies of traditional Roma show that they are genetically different from the general population), in Ireland the Travellers are considered a social group, that is to say they are genetically one with the general population but choose to live differently.  Recent research has identified that certain genetic diseases are more common in the Irish Traveller population but it is not clear whether this is a result of a distinct ancestry or simply the effect of intermarriage. 

Travellers have their own customs and language, which is known to the linguistic community as Shelta but often referred to as Cant by the general population (it is believed to have developed, in part, as a means of excluding outsiders from understanding their conversations). They tend to be keen dog breeders, particularly of greyhounds and lurchers; and, despite having given up their horse-drawn carts, have a long-standing interest in horses - the annual horse fair at Ballinasloe continues to be a big draw for the community.

Although their birthrate is possibly the highest in Europe and double the Irish national average, apparently a third of Travellers die before they are 25, and four out of five are dead by 65.  They are 10 times more likely to die in road accidents and their infants are ten times as likely to die before the age of two.

Interesting Links:

  • A comprehensive source of articles about Irish Travellers in the USA at RickRoss.com
  • A 2002 article in Time
     

This article was originally published in May 2009, and has been updated for the May 2010 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This article is available to non-members for a limited time. You can also read these articles for free. For full access become a member today.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Good Me Bad Me
    Good Me Bad Me
    by Ali Land
    Is a psychopath born or made? This is the terrifying question that author Ali Land explores in her ...
  • Book Jacket: Five-Carat Soul
    Five-Carat Soul
    by James McBride
    In the short story "Sonny's Blues," from the 1965 collection Going to Meet the Man, African-...
  • Book Jacket: This Blessed Earth
    This Blessed Earth
    by Ted Genoways
    For the Hammonds, a farming family in Nebraska, the 2014 harvest season started with a perfect storm...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

An eye-opening and riveting look at how how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Seven Days of Us
    by Francesca Hornak

    A warm, wry debut novel about a family forced to spend a week together over the holidays.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Wisdom of Sundays

The Wisdom of Sundays
by Oprah Winfrey

Life-changing insights from super soul conversations.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

A Good M I H T F

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.