Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Coláiste Ríoga na Máinleá in Éirinn

Member of the Traveller Community

Traveller Community Access Programme (TCAP)

RCSI provides a Traveller Community Access Programme (TCAP) which aims to increase the participation and success rates of members of the Traveller community in third level educational programmes. This programme commenced in 2006. Further information available on the RCSI Scholarships page.

Contact us:

T: +353 1 402 2106
E: tcap@rcsi.ie or access@rcsi.ie

Research

In February 2016, RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) and the University of Edinburgh, published a population-based genetic study which examined the genetic structure of the Irish Traveller community. This study, also featuring researchers from University College Dublin and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, explored the history and structure of the Traveller population in the context of 'settled' Irish, neighbouring European and Roma Gypsy groups. The study has been published in the journal Scientific Reports. This study confirmed that Travellers are very much of Irish ancestral origin and, for the first time, gives an objective estimate of when Travellers split from the 'settled' population in Ireland. This research, which helped to inform the history of the Traveller community, just Irish State is expected to formally recognise Travellers as an ethnic group.

Irish Travellers account for approximately 0.6% of the Irish population, consisting of between 29,000-40,000 individuals. They are a population with a history of nomadism, where cousin marriages (consanguineous marriages) are commonplace and they are socially isolated from 'settled' Irish people. This landmark research, using DNA from a sample Irish Travellers, European Roma and settled people*, has -

  • Found that at a genetic level, Travellers are very close to settled Irish people, but show significant differences
  • Found no evidence for a recent shared ancestry between Irish Travellers and European Roma
  • Estimated the time when Travellers diverged from the settled population: approximately 12 generations (360 years) ago
  • Shown subtle genetic differences between speakers of the Cant and Gammon dialects of the Traveller language
  • Found that the proportion of Traveller genomes where the maternal and paternal copies are identical was on a par with similar consanguineous populations in other countries

The research shows small but significant differences in the genomes of Irish Travellers and those of the settled population. It provides evidence, suggested by previous studies, that the genes of Irish Travellers are closer to the settled Irish population at a genetic level, as opposed to the common misconception that Travellers are a hybrid population of settled Irish and European Roma. The genetic distance that exists between Travellers and the settled population can be attributed to genetic drift, brought on by hundreds of years of genetic isolation combined with a decreasing population size.

The research also estimates for the first time when the Traveller population split from the settled Irish. Another misconception is that Travellers were displaced due to the Great Famine (1845-1852) however, by using several different genetic dating methods, the researchers' estimate that the separation began around 12 generations ago. This translates into approximately 360 years, dating back to the mid 1600's.

The full article is available here - Genomic insights into the population structure and history of the Irish Travellers - https://www.nature.com/articles/srep42187