IRELAND-L ArchivesArchiver > IRELAND > 2003-01 > 1042385177
From: "Marian " <>
Subject: RE: [IRELAND] Travelers
Date: Sun, 12 Jan 2003 7:26:17 -0800
Thank you, Michael, for posting this story. It's informative, it's
powerful, and it's moving! I enjoyed every word.
Would you believe it! I'm a Carroll AND a Gorman! No Travelers though !!
Marian in CA
> [Original Message]
> From: Michael Gorman <>
> To: <>
> Date: 1/11/03 6:09:54 PM
> Subject: [IRELAND] Travelers
> Unwelcome Stares at Quiet Clan
> After Child Beating, Secret Life Ends for Irish Travelers
> By Lynne Duke
> Washington Post Staff Writer
> Sunday, October 20, 2002; Page F01
> EDGEFIELD COUNTY, S.C. -- In a puzzling little community of trailer
> Cadillacs, mini-mansions and kissing cousins, Rose Kathy Sherlock opens
> front door of her double-wide. She's breaking a long-standing taboo just
> talking to a stranger. Irish Travelers such as Sherlock are supposed to
> to themselves. Secrecy has ensured their survival for many years.
> But that all changed last month with the rogue act of an Irish Traveler
> woman caught on videotape beating her child. Suddenly, the Travelers felt
> their culture was on trial.
> A cocker spaniel named Spot scampers around the paneled sitting room
> Sherlock's trailer. Glossy porcelain statues of Jesus, of the Madonna,
> watch from side tables as Sherlock, 46, is saying her culture isn't
> as peculiar or lawless as some folks say.
> "We're like any other community, and in any other neighborhood there's
> and bad," Sherlock says, her arched eyebrows raised high as if she's
> speaking a gospel truth. She's talking to a reporter only because a
> friend has come along. No way will she pose for a picture. In the fast,
> clipped Deep South brogue that distinguishes her speech, she continues:
> "We're a close-knit society. We don't like to speak out. . . . We stay to
> Descendants of nomadic Irish traders and tinsmiths known as the Tinkers
> immigrated to the United States 150 years ago, the Irish Travelers have
> protected their archaic culture by keeping the outside world at bay. The
> older folks among them still speak a Gaelic-derived language called Cant
> that is unique to the Travelers' culture. Outsiders don't understand the
> Travelers' language or their ways, Sherlock says. They don't understand
> traditions that have kept the culture intact. Her life tells some of the
> She left school in the eighth grade, as is the fate of most Traveler
> When she was 15, her parents arranged for her to marry a boy from their
> village not far from the Savannah River. At 17 she wed. Her husband took
> the road doing home improvement jobs and other work, as Traveler men have
> done for generations. And her three children, now grown, were reared in
> Traveler tradition.
> In a village of roughly 3,000 people, there are but a dozen surnames:
> Carroll, Costello, Gorman, O'Hara, Sherlock and others. So many of the
> have the same names that they go by nicknames: "Black Pete," "White Man,"
> "Peekaboo," "Mikey Boy." Murphy Villagers are generally related, experts
> say. Cousins marry cousins, whether first or second, and always in
> arrangements that include a substantial dowry.
> Yes, Sherlock knows: Outsiders think this is strange. Defensively, she
> mentions Indian immigrants and others. Plaintively, she says: "In
> societies in America, their marriages be's arranged."
> But the baggage of the Irish Travelers is heavier than just that.
> The Unwelcome Traveler
> The folks of Murphy Village rue the day they heard of Madelyne Gorman
> Toogood. She is the 25-year-old Traveler who became infamous last month
> she slammed her daughter, 4-year-old Martha, into the back seat of their
> in a shopping center near South Bend, Ind., and proceeded to hit her over
> and over. A surveillance camera caught it all, and the footage was
> nationwide for days and days last month, even after Toogood turned
> in to police.
> But for the Travelers, the tragic and sensational saga didn't end there.
> Toogood did the unthinkable, in the eyes of her fellow Travelers. To
> shock, she held a news conference and announced her ethnic origins. The
> repercussions reached all the way down to Murphy Village, the largest of
> Irish Traveler settlements. Toogood isn't from here, but it did not
> It is here that police and journalists turned to seek clues into her
> Folks at Murphy Village don't like being associated with what Toogood
> Physical child abuse, say law enforcement sources, rarely if ever is
> discovered among the Travelers.
> People here bristle at the possibility that the outside world will think
> that Toogood is one of them. She may be a Traveler, but the Murphy
> do not claim her. She's from Texas, from a different group.
> "We had never met her," says Sherlock. "She'd never been down here. We
> didn't know her family."
> The Irish Travelers who settled in the United States in the 19th century
> migrated to different parts of the country and established their own clan
> groups, often with little intermingling across regions. The Sherlocks,
> O'Haras and others settled here in the 1960s, on land around a Catholic
> church whose pastor, the Rev. Joseph Murphy, became the patron and
> of the growing community just outside the town of North Augusta.
> But Toogood hails from an Irish Traveler community in White Settlement,
> Fort Worth. Experts say it is smaller than Murphy Village. Those Texas
> Travelers are known as the Greenhorns.
> Another Irish Traveler group is settled outside Memphis and is known as
> Mississippi Travelers, after the river. There also are scattered and
> settlements of Irish Travelers -- say, six or eight families -- in
> northeastern states such as New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and
> especially in trailer parks.
> There are several thousand Travelers in the United States, including someof
> English and Scottish descent. Their precise numbers are unknown.
> Wherever they are, these Travelers share a distinctly suspicious view of
> world, one shaped by their people's history of persecution in Ireland,
> they were seen as an itinerant underclass. The Irish Travelers came to
> United States in the 1840s to flee the potato famine in Ireland. Here in
> United States, they often are taunted as "gypsies" because of their
> lifestyle. The Travelers view themselves at odds with outsiders. They
> have a word for non-Travelers. "Country people," they call them.
> Traditionally, the Travelers haven't even trusted the country people's
> "This is a community that, like the Amish, treasures its remoteness,"
> Larry Otway, a New York-based activist for the Travelers and other small
> marginalized ethnic groups. Otway calls them "very much an expression of
> American culture."
> 'Going on a Trip'
> Each spring, in caravans of trucks and trailers that have replaced the
> ornate covered wagons of yore, the men pull out of Murphy Village. They
> out across the country to ply their trade, as do men from the clans in
> and Tennessee. They are skilled driveway pavers, barn painters and
> often with regular seasonal customers.
> Sometimes their wives go along, depending on the ages of the kids and
> whether they're still in school. Sherlock calls it "going on a trip." She
> has gone out some seasons with her husband, Peter. While her husband
> this past summer, she went to Indiana and Illinois to shop with other
> Traveler women.
> But police in several states know some of these Travelers as something
> than honest, hardworking folk. Some of them have a reputation, backed by
> arrests and convictions, for being relentless con artists. Like grifters,
> they move around the country running home improvement swindles. And the
> women sometimes run shoplifting scams, police say.
> Joe Livingston, an investigator with the South Carolina Law Enforcement
> Division who is an expert on Traveler scams, estimates that perhaps 10 to15
> percent of the Murphy Village Travelers are thieves, or "yonks," as the
> Travelers label the wayward among them.
> However small the proportion, their impact is felt widely along the
> circuits they travel. Livingston calls it "nontraditional organized
> And tracking the phenomenon is a nightmare, he says, because of the web
> same-names and nicknames among the Travelers.
> Like others who have tangled with the Travelers, Livingston is both
> intrigued and mystified by their lifestyle.
> He can quote case after case of Traveler scams. The first he encountered
> in 1984, up in Rhea County, Tenn. Some workmen completed a small
> construction job for an elderly man, who went inside the house to get
> to pay them. They saw where he kept the cash, Livingston said, and
> later and stole it.
> Some of the scams are inventive. Several Travelers were arrested a few
> ago over a scam in which a Traveler wore a white lab coat and a
> and went door to door in rural South Carolina, telling old folks he was
> there to examine them for an increase in their Social Security benefits.
> During the "exam," other Travelers searched the house for cash.
> "They basically would go door to door seeking home improvement work,
> 'Hey, I was working down the street and noticed your chimney needs some
> and I'd be willing to do it for this wonderful price,' " says Tom
> Bartholomy, president of the Better Business Bureau in Charlotte and
> president of the BBB of Northeastern Indiana. Unsuspecting homeowners,
> charmed by the Travelers' seeming earnestness, would agree and let them
> on the roof. "Then they'd come down and say, 'Hey, this is going to take
> more than I thought. I need some more supplies. We're going to need a
> deposit.' And then they're gone.
> "I've been with the Better Business Bureau 20 years, and it's happened
> year, like clockwork, like the swallows of Capistrano," he said. "When I
> in Fort Wayne, they would usually come in RVs and stay at a campground,
> trailer-park-type area. The men would go around in pickup trucks to the
> neighborhoods, and the women would go to stores and steal merchandise.
> go steal it, and then take it back for cash refunds." Investigator
> Livingston says, "There's always been speculation that women do things,
> we haven't uncovered a big-time network yet."
> Officials in St. Joseph County, Ind., say Madelyne Toogood and her
> Johnny, appear to fit the pattern of "yonk" Travelers. Johnny Toogood hasa
> long record of arrests under several names in several states, said Randy
> Cleene, spokesman for the county prosecutor's office. He is wanted in
> Montana on a felony warrant for a home improvement scam. And Madelyne
> Toogood had a previous arrest for shoplifting at a Kohl's department
> in Texas, he said.
> Steven Rocket Rosen, of Houston, is the Toogoods' lawyer. He is among a
> small network of attorneys to whom the Travelers turn for help. Known
> widely for representing a member of David Koresh's Branch Davidian cult,
> Rosen said he has represented about 50 or 60 Irish Travelers over the
> 14 years.
> Asked about the prevalence of theft among them, Rosen said: "I don't know
> the statistics, but I know the reputation. Part of it's true. But on the
> whole? I would say no. On the whole there's a lot of good, hardworking
> people who belong to this Irish culture of traveling from community to
> community and doing good work."
> Back in South Carolina, even the police chief of North Augusta has kind
> words for the Travelers' work ethic. A Traveler crew painted Chief Lee
> Wetherington's roof and paved his driveway. Sure, he says, there are scam
> artists. But the scoundrels among the Travelers are about the same
> proportion as in society at large.
> "They did good work," Wetherington said of the Travelers he hired. "I
> trust Mikey Boy Sherlock with anything I owned."
> End of the Rainbow
> Along Highway 25, the evolution of the Irish Travelers is obvious. Where
> trailer homes once stood, today there are sprawling ranch houses and two-or
> three-story houses as large as any suburban McMansion. You can still see
> old trailers parked out back, or deeper into the woods, with aluminum
> over the windows for insulation. But the wealth of some Travelers is what
> catches the eye. These nomadic people who once scraped out a meager
> now are driving Benzes and Lincolns and Caddies, all brand-new, and
> them in front of homes with beautiful brick masonry and ironwork.
> At a nearby supermarket, which the local non-Travelers call the
> "Winn-Gypsy," the Travelers are known as big spenders, and non-Travelers
> accustomed to seeing Traveler children out and about in expensive Tommy
> Hilfiger clothes. For special occasions, Traveler mothers garb their
> daughters in shiny, sequined dresses and complete the picture of a child
> beauty queen with bouffant hairstyles and makeup. Traveler women are
> Wetherington said, for "that glamour-shot look: poufed hair, lot of
> Inside one of the newly built houses, pink sets the tone: pink leather
> pink curtains and swags and valances. The cape around the shoulders of
> baby Jesus statue is pink too. And a six-foot-high floral arrangement of
> pink and blue artificial flowers, trimmed in gold, stands in the
> foyer, beneath a huge chandelier.
> The women of this house, a mother and daughter, did not want their names
> used. They know the "country people" drive by and wonder where the money
> comes from.
> But it's simple, the older woman said: Members of the extended family
> contribute to the dowry that ensures a proper marriage. And people work
> and hard to make life better for the next generation.
> "It was something we prepared for for a very long time," the older woman
> said softly of her home.
> These women are ready, though, for change. Neither of the women went past
> the sixth grade. Both were married off as preteens. (How did you meet
> husband, the younger one is asked. "Well, he's my cousin," she says.
> known him all my life.")
> They want the next generation to have more opportunities in life, more
> choices. They boast of a Traveler who has gone off to law school. And of
> Traveler who has become a doctor. But those are the exceptions.
> The younger women recalled a childhood of stigma. Not being invited to
> birthday parties, being singled out for being different; being excluded
> during recess at school. She watches it changing in her own children's
> and happily announces, "Some of my daughter's best friends are country
> 2002 The Washington Post Company
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