Travelling communities in Scotland

Learning about travelling communities in Scotland

Good relationships depend on all parties having a good knowledge and respect for the other’s vision, values and cultural background. STEP’s recent research highlights the need for educators and mobile families to work together in partnerships to achieve better educational outcomes for young people. This section provides information about some of the people  currently living in Scotland who have experienced mobility or have a tradition of mobility.  The information has been provided by people from the communities.

Travelling communities in Scotland are not a single group. There are many different groups. Each is defined by its different history, culture and lifestyle.  While each group is made up of extensive family networks, these may have little or no connection with other Traveller groups. Central to each community is its right to self-identity, and to be recognized and respected by the society it lives in. Written references to Traveller groups should use non-derogatory terms and capitalize the first letter, e.g. ‘Gypsy’, ‘Roma’, ‘Traveller’ or ‘Showmen’. more






The Romani people arrived in Europe from India over 700 years ago (Roma refers to a group while Romani is singular or referring to an individual).  The Roma are thought to be the largest ethnic minority in Europe and it is estimated that they number 10 to 12 million people.  Despite consistent negative attitudes towards them, they have maintained their culture and language wherever they have settled. more




Showpeople or Showmen bring fairgrounds to urban and rural settings all over the UK. Many Showpeople also travel further afield to attend European fairs. Wherever they travel there is an expectation that the whole family will contribute towards the life of the fair.  Showpeople make up a business/cultural community who self-define in terms of their livelihoods. Showpeople’s distinctive identity is built on their tradition of bringing entertainment and other services to local communities. Scottish Showpeople share in this strong cultural identity and have a long, proud history of living and working in Scotland. more




Mary Hendry provides some background to Gypsy/Traveller culture.

The complex and proud history of Gypsy/Travellers in Scotland is not fully understood. Historical records of Romani people, whose ancestral home is India, date their arrival in Scotland as the late 15th century. Over the centuries, Romani people mixed with indigenous groups in Scotland, some of whom may also have had nomadic traditions. It is suggested that some Gaels, displaced from their lands following the Jacobite Uprising and subsequent Highland Clearances in the 18th and 19th centuries, joined communities already travelling in Scotland. This complex history is reflected linguistically in the ‘cant’: a language used by Gypsy/Traveller people, which draws on Romani, Scots and Gaelic words. An indigenous, nomadic ethnic minority Gypsy/Traveller history has been entwined with, but distinct from that of the wider Scottish population for many centuries. more

Find out what how a Scottish mum feels about being a  Gypsy/Traveller here.





Irish Travellers are said to descend from ancient pre-Celtic tribes of travelling metal workers although an alternative story suggests that the Travellers were made homeless as a result of Oliver Cromwell’s military campaign in Ireland in 1649.  They were commonly known as ‘tinkers’ based on their tinsmithing trades, however the term ‘tinker’ is now considered to be offensive. Irish Travellers speak variations of “The Cant’ or Shelta, similar to other Gypsy/Traveller communities. The diminishing need for traditional trades has forced Irish Travellers to travel to England, Scotland and Wales. In Scotland, Irish Travellers can settle on sites for extended periods in response to seasonal work or often to allow their children to attend school. Many families return to Ireland over the winter.