The first time American television audiences were introduced to Murphy Village in North Augusta, S.C., it was via the news and a young woman who was part of the culture, but not the community.
Madelyne Gorman Toogood, an Irish Traveller like the residents of the village (of which she was never a resident), was caught by security cameras savagely beating her 4-year-old daughter in the parking lot of an Indiana department store in late 2002. And suddenly every major news outlet wanted to know what went on inside this highly secretive society that — contrary to Toogood’s actions — prides itself on protecting and indulging its children and upholding the same rigid moral codes, gender roles and traditions of their Irish ancestors who came to America to escape the Irish Potato Famine.
Sunday night, on TLC’s My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding, viewers will gain an even better understanding of the lengths to which to the Irish Traveller community will go to keep their bloodlines pure and their culture intact via the story of 18-year-old pregnant non-Traveller Tamara who is planning Murphy Village’s first-ever “mixed” wedding to her 23-year-old Traveller fiance Bill.
Because most Irish Traveller marriages are arranged from birth, Tamara has a tall order ahead of her in order to gain the acceptance of the entire village that is required for her to live there. And at the top of the list is to plan, almost entirely by herself, a traditional Murphy Village wedding — an over-the-top event complete with a spotlit stage, choreographed dances and poetry readings that overwhelm her abashed family. And, of course, dazzling dresses from Sondra Celli for her and her bridesmaids.
In the meantime, West Virginia Romanichal gypsies Nettie and Mellie and their raucous clan from last week’s episode are planning their next blowout — a baby shower for Nettie’s 16-year-old daughter Dallas, who is married and expecting her first child. And it’s no party games and tea cakes for this clan — they head to a department store to purchase bras they will wear as tops, then head home to “gypsify” them with rhinestones and glue guns.
And on the subject of babies, Bill and Tamara’s boy arrives, so to gauge the crowd (or lack of one) they might expect for the wedding, Tamara hosts another gathering called a jewelry party. If you’re thinking Lia Sophia soiree gone gypsy, think again. A Traveller tradition three decades in the making, jewelry parties allow a young mother to show off her baby’s clothing and jewelry to demonstrate that the child will be safe, protected and provided for.
Will Tamara’s parties win over the villagers? Will Nettie’s latest bash be uninterrupted by the cops this time around? And will be you be adding the gypsies’ sour secret to staying slender to your diet regimen?
Find out when My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding: “Murphy’s Secret Village” airs Sunday night at 10/9CT on TLC.
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