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Distrust Dogs Toogood's 'Traveler' Culture

ByABC News
September 26, 2002, 4:12 PM

Sept. 27 -- Madelyne Gorman Toogood's videotaped assault on her 4-year-old daughter had another victim: the family's reclusive, often-maligned Irish Traveler culture.

Toogood is a member of a reclusive, nomadic subculture that has survived for more than 150 years with little notice in America, with the exception of law enforcement officials who describe the Irish Travelers as a culture of con men and scam artists.

But others familiar with the Irish Travelers insist they are misunderstood and unfairly maligned, and worry over the impact of the now-infamous videotape of Toogood flailing away at the child in the back of her SUV.

A Centuries-Old, Isolated Culture

Since their ancestors arrived in America along with waves of other Irish immigrants during the Potato Famine of the 1840s, the Travelers have maintained their distinct culture, language and customs with little notice from the outside world.

Estimates of the number of Irish Travelers in America range from 10,000 to 100,000.

The largest groups are based in Texas and South Carolina, but there are also clusters in Mississippi, Georgia and elsewhere. Toogood is believed to be a member of the Greenhorn Carrolls, the Traveler clan based in Fort Worth, Texas.

The Travelers are a nomadic, insular group of laborers who travel most of the year, following the warm weather, experts say. Irish Travelers typically work as roofers, builders, painters and handymen. Most are very religious Roman Catholics.

They are sometimes compared to or confused with Gypsies, but the Travelers are ethnically and culturally distinct from other nomadic groups in Europe.

Because of their small numbers and reluctance to admit outsiders, marriage of first cousins is common, says Jody Rowland, the chief deputy of the Aiken County, S.C., sheriff's department. In the Traveler village outside Aiken, there are only a handful of last names among 3,000 people, he says.

The Travelers speak what is sometimes called a "secret language" called Cant, Shelta, or Gammon that is a mixture of Gaelic, English and other languages.