FORBIDDEN from living with a man before marriage, barred from going to social events unaccompanied and having to avoid any scandal which could put off potential husbands.
This may sound like the lives of Daphne and Eloise in the hit 1800s Netflix series Bridgerton, but it is how TikTok sisters Caitlin, 18, and Lizzy Mac, 19, describe their world as travellers.
Caitlin (left) and Lizzy Mac are lifting the lid on life as travellers[/caption]
While their caravan home on a traveller site in Hertfordshire is a far cry from the mansion occupied by the Bridgertons in Regency London, these Irish siblings say the traditions they follow are just as strict.
The girls, who have racked up more than 411,000 followers on TikTok, have never had boyfriends.
Lizzy, who has 13,100 Instagram followers and 269.6k followers on TikTok, says: “We have many traditions and it is important that we follow them. We say it is very similar to the show Bridgerton.
“We have the same rules and morals, things like it is important to respect our elders and girls are never to go to an event alone.
The sisters have to follow dating rules which wouldn’t be out of place in Netflix’s Bridgerton[/caption]
“We always name our first son and daughter after your husband’s parents and you can’t live with a man before marrying him.
“If a girl runs away with a boy she would have to marry him as soon as she returned home or she would be disowned from her family.
WE WANT INDEPENDENCE
“In my family you have to get married before you have children, but I’m not saying that is for every traveller family.
“Neither of us have had a boyfriend, and we would rather focus on our careers right now.”
While Lizzy has worked at Sainsbury’s, the sisters want to get into showbusiness.
Caitlin says: “I feel like one out of 100 traveller women actually have a job, because they mostly leave it to the husbands.
The TikTok stars, who live in a caravan home, say the traditions are just as strict[/caption]
“Some become housewives, whereas others, like me and Lizzy, want to strive in their career and gain independence.”
Lizzy adds: “Not many travellers are like us and have a huge social media following. We are trying to do what is best for us.
“We are both trying to get into the acting and singing world, so we are working hard on that.”
But when it comes to finding love, the girls are likely to follow tradition and will look for a partner at an organised event — just like the young women on Bridgerton.
Caitlin and Lizzy have never had boyfriends and won’t date before marriage[/caption]
Lizzy says: “The girls will get dressed up and go to events to find their future husband. That is mainly how girls meet boys.
“People will hire make-up artists and dress designers. These days are important to us.
“Many venues don’t hold traveller events because they think there is going to be trouble, so when they do it is really great.
“The Irish women don’t drink alcohol, but they might after marriage. And you will always bring your sisters and family with you, whereas we know a country person (non-travellers) will just go with their friends.
Lizzy, pictured giving a tour of their home, says it’s important that they follow their traditions[/caption]
“Epsom races is the biggest excursion of the year for young travellers and Ladies’ Day is the main event where girls will prepare and get dresses made months in advance.
“Travellers come from all over the country, from Scotland, Wales and England, whereas Appleby (the summer horse fair in Cumbria) is more of a family gathering for everyone.
“There the women check out the stalls, the men are usually with the horses and the children at the carnivals.
“Other big occasions include going to the London Eye on Bonfire Night, Winter Wonderland at Christmas, London on Boxing Day and the Cambridge Fair in June.
“If you like someone, your friend might know them and tell him that you are interested, then he will message you on social media.
“It is up to the guy to introduce himself, but you will never be left alone with a boy.”
In another parallel with Bridgerton, where the anonymous Lady Whistledown writes gossip “scandal sheets”, the sisters say that word of a girl misbehaving quickly gets around in their close-knit community.
Caitlin says: “If you think your secret is safe, it is really not, everyone knows everything.
They both hope to one day work in showbusiness[/caption]
“A scandal can ruin a girl’s reputation and could tarnish her prospects of a future suitor. Everyone will know about it.
“One person can say something to their friend, and then their friend will tell their mother, who can tell their sister, who can tell their children and the cycle will just go on.
“Word gets around really fast, because we are a tight community, so all the scandals are just like the ones in Bridgerton.”
The sisters, who have set up their TikTok accounts to raise awareness of what it is like growing up in the traveller community, say weddings are momentous occasions which mark the end of childhood and the start of womanhood.
In the Irish traveller community, ceremonies are held in a Catholic church.
Caitlin, who has 6,489 Instagram followers and 148,500 followers on TikTok, says: “Everyone assumes all travellers get married at 14 or 15.
“But many will actually get married at 16, which is the legal age. Others get married at 18, 19, 20 and even 30.
“And to marry a non-traveller depends on what family you have. Some families accept non-travellers but others are very strict. We would probably have to stay with a traveller.
“But there is a difference between the Irish travelling community and the English gypsies.
“Usually the Irish girls will know the boy for a short time, say around six months to a year, and then marry but the English might have boyfriends for many years.
“With relationships, an English gypsy boy will go and ask her dad, ‘Can I court her?’ and that means, ‘Can I date your daughter?’, it doesn’t mean marriage.
“An Irish boy will ask for a hand in marriage when he goes to meet her dad, or the eldest male in the family, for the first time.
“He won’t go before in case it doesn’t work out. The girl won’t tell her father about her relationship until the boyfriend goes to propose, but she will tell her mother about it.”
For now though, marriage is the last thing on Lizzy and Caitlin’s minds.
They still live with their mum and four siblings on their caravan site and Lizzy says: “We have always lived in the same area on our site for years with not many other families. It is a small site and people come and go all the time.
“It’s in a really nice area, in a big field surrounded by lots of trees and our home is fenced off.
“Every caravan is different when it comes to size. Me and my sister live in a trailer, and my mum and younger siblings live in the caravan.
“One caravan would be way too small for all of us. Around 80 to 90 per cent of travellers are now settled in their own yards, houses or caravan sites.
Caitlin says ‘we want to strive in our careers and gain independence’[/caption]
Some do travel around, but usually in the summer for fairs or Christian conventions.
“Irish traveller families are big and we have hundreds of cousins all over the country. We even have family in America.
“Both our parents have ten siblings each, who then went on to have at least five children each and then their kids have children too.
We also want to show everyone that travellers are not what they used to be.
“We are family oriented — the bigger the family, the bigger the community, and we always have each other’s backs.”
Caitlin and Lizzy both went to primary school and an all-girl Catholic secondary school, where they got ten GCSEs each, grades A to C.
Lizzy finished sixth form last year, while Caitlin is now studying hair and beauty at college.
The sisters also earn money through social media and have a large following on TikTok[/caption]
Lizzy says: “A lot of people say travellers can’t read but that was like 100 years ago. Everyone can read or write, or they wouldn’t know how to use social media.
“We went to school and had the best of both worlds. It was important to my mum and her generation to get their children a full education. Some travellers won’t go to school because of bullying and prefer to get home-schooled instead.
“Lots of people in our secondary school just thought we were Irish, it was only our close friends who knew we were travellers.
“My mum always told us, ‘Girls, just say you were born and raised in Ireland, that’s why you have that voice’.
They make informative videos about the travelling community [/caption]
“Boys are more likely to have home tutors, and in our community the girls wouldn’t be able to go to a mixed school.”
The Irish travellers are believed to have diverged from the settled Irish community as far back as the 1600s, and estimates suggest the population in the UK is about 15,000.
Now the sisters are using their social media presence to show how their generation lives — and to dispel a few misconceptions about their community.
Lizzy says ‘we want to show everyone that travellers are not what they used to be’[/caption]
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Lizzy says: “We never realised how interested non-travellers are in the travelling community.
“Not many people know about us, they get their information through stereotypes and false information. We want to spread awareness of what we are really like, that we are normal people.
“We also want to show everyone that travellers are not what they used to be.”
Follow the sisters @caitlinkmac & @lizzymac for more updates
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