Gypsy brothers. Photo by Emily Stein
Do you hate gypsies? Me and my brother Gary were walking past this settlement of Gypsy children in Bristol recently when he came out with, “Y’know what, Jack? I fucking despise Gypsies and think they are the scum of the earth. Sending children out to beg by the highway until they are black with exhaust fumes is not a culture. It’s a breed of animal. They are lazy fuckers and lying thieves but somehow they’ve convinced the bourgeoisie that Gypsydom is a culture of charming nomads. Let’s get out of here before I start throwing rocks.”
And I was like, “Gary, dude, that’s such a blinkered way of looking at the Gypsy phenomenon. Sure, the latest figures confirm that Gypsies—both Irish and Romany—suffer from high infant mortality rates, low life-expectancy, and high illiteracy, but your supposedly ‘down and out’ Gypsy family unit hardly ever adds to mainstream society’s social ills. There’s almost zero unwanted teen pregnancy thanks to strict Gypsy law and caring family values, there are no drug problems, hardly any interference in mainstream society, and, what’s more, scrap-metal collecting isn’t begging, it’s a form of recycling!”
Gary hated the “no interference” part because he had to beat off a pack of Gypsy kids in Italy once and I could tell this was going to end up in another three months of not speaking, so we walked into the settlement and decided to ask them first-hand. I grabbed the attention of Mother McCready, queen of the Bristol Irish Gypsies and the owner of a brogue so thick, we had to hire a leprechaun from Donegal to translate what she was feckin’ talking aboot! (Almost.)
VICE: Mother McCready, people like my brother here think Gypsies do nothing but sit around all day plotting schemes while their children beg and their wives wash.
Mother McCready: Oh no, dear! During the day we’re busy cleaning the inside and outside of the caravans, washing the clothes for the family (there are nine of them), and cooking. But in the evening we do watch television.
So how does it make you feel when people call you “filthy lazy gyppos” and all that?
Sometimes I lose my temper and shout at them, but normally we just get on with it and think they’re stupid.
None of you can read that well, though, can you?
We try to make our children go to school until the age of sixteen. We want them to have an education and have a nice career, y’know? It’s hard to make some of them go because they get bullied by the other kids for the way we are. But it’s not a choice for us to be this way. We want to keep our traditions. Our parents in Ireland still have horse-drawn wagons but the problem is there’s nowhere to go anymore; you can only stop in caravan parks.
Are there conflicts between different gypsy sects? How and when do these conflicts arise?
The only people we don’t like are Stone Age Travelers (read: those hippies that call themselves New Age Travelers). They are not real travelers. They grow up in houses and buy a caravan and grow their hair long and take a lot of drugs. That’s not what we’re like. They’re dirty and don’t wash. So yes, sometimes there are conflicts between groups. But generally we’re interested to see how different Gypsies live, to see their caravans and the women’s clothes.
Do you consider yourself a happy family unit?
Family and health are the most important things to us. As Gypsies we live very close together, so we know everything about each other. We always protect our own.