DUBLIN — Terms like "multiculturalism" and "ethnic minority" are new for many Irish tongues, a product of the immigrants who came with Ireland's recent economic boom. Yet the country has long been home to a distinct ethnic minority of its own: a group called the Travellers.
It is unclear when and where the Travellers came from. Some say they are descendants of those evicted during the British colonial dispossession of the Irish in the 16th century. Others, who have studied the Travellers' traditional language, called "Cant," have found pre-Celtic linguistic traces, meaning the Travellers may be older than the Celtic-Irish identity most Irish people subscribe to.
Regardless of their origin, the reality is that they exist today — in numbers estimated up to 60,000. Many of them are no longer nomads but, they say, this makes them no less Travellers. Today, as they integrate further into mainstream Irish society, they strive to be recognized and catered to as both Irish and ethnically diverse — a challenge to the Irish government and policymakers.
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