Blindboy and the Atlanteans

I have to confess, I’m not a huge fan of Blindboy Boatclub. It’s not that I have any problem with his politics or social beliefs and I think ‘Horse Outside’ was a great song. However, readers of this blog might remember the incident a few years back when The Rubberbandits issued a list of words brought by Irish immigrants to America, which was composed entirely of lying Cassidese nonsense. When challenged to retract the garbage they had just injected into cyberspace, they countered that there was no need because people would have seen the objections online, which shows a certain arrogance on their part and a worrying naivety about how things work on the internet. (Since then, they’ve actually deleted it.)  

Anyway, I am still thinking about doing a piece on Bob Quinn’s Atlantean, so I have been doing a little background reading. I was looking for any real evidence of a musical connection between Ireland and North Africa, so when I noticed that Blindboy has done a podcast on this subject, I decided to listen to it.

It wasn’t great. For someone who claims to be fascinated by history and to work hard doing his research, there is precious little evidence of that in the podcast itself. He starts off with one of the central pieces of ‘evidence’ used by Quinn in his book, a 19th century article which questions whether Irish is spoken in North Africa. Obviously, the correct answer to this is ‘No, let’s talk about something else’.

The author of this Victorian article talks about how sometime in the 1790s a group of Tunisian sailors came ashore in Antrim and conversed with locals who could only speak Irish.  While Blindboy eventually comes to the conclusion that he doesn’t believe that this happened and that it is lumping the Irish together with other colonised peoples (which is probably right – he does have some bullshit sensors), there are other things you could say about it. How many Tunisian ships found their way to Antrim during the Napoleonic Wars? And how many other examples can you find of fake claims of mutual intelligibility? Lots, because it’s a kind of urban myth. For example, there’s the story about the Bronte/O’Prunty family being raided by Welsh soldiers in the 1790s and being able to speak to them. (Which couldn’t have happened, because Welsh and Irish are too different.) Or the story about Francis Xavier being able to understand Japanese using his Basque. (Also batshit crazy because they’re two unrelated languages.)

Anyway, he spends way too much time blathering about these baseless anecdotes (which is what they are) and doesn’t look up what linguistic and historical fact tells us about the Tamazight or Berber people. They didn’t speak Irish, or any form of Celtic. There are no mysterious Celtic-like words recorded in their language which would indicate that anybody there once spoke a form of Irish or Celtic.

He brings in the Lebor Gabála or Book of Invasions, which he describes as a book written in the 400s. Later he calls it a book written in 400. Not according to Wikipedia, which says it’s a book written in the 11th century. Apart from the odd bit of ogham, there were no writers and no writings in Ireland in 400 AD. But apparently, Blindboy just FUCKING LOVES history. Hmmm.

And so it continues. He harps on about the well-known fact of a Barbary monkey skull being found at Navan fort, dating to between 390 BC and 20 BC. (He says skeleton but it was only a skull, so we don’t know if there was ever a live monkey in Iron Age Ireland.) Personally, I don’t find this so remarkable. Items like gems and silk were traded vast distances in ancient times. Why not pets?

He mentions Bob Quinn’s theories and says that in DNA terms, Quinn is wrong, because the DNA evidence now tells us that the Irish came from Iberia. This podcast was made in June, 2021. In 2018, the world of European prehistory was rocked by a paper in Nature which completely reversed the paradigm that had existed beforehand about an Iberian origin for the Irish. The theory that Northern Europe was repopulated from the south after the Ice Age turned out to be totally wrong. In reality, genetic evidence shows there was a near-total genetic replacement of the Irish population (around 90%, and a major replacement in the rest of Europe) by a population originating on the Steppes. This change roughly corresponds (at least in Ireland) with the Bell Beaker Culture. It also seems to correspond with the arrival of the Indo-European languages in Europe. This is probably the biggest story in our knowledge of European prehistory EVER. Why, three years after it broke, is the history-loving Blindboy completely unaware of it? Probably because he wastes too much of his time on FUCKIN’ FASCINATIN’ shite like Atlantean and How The Irish Invented Slang instead of the real stories that are revolutionising our knowledge of the past.

Finally, more than halfway through, he gets to the issue of similarities between Irish music and Berber music. And it wasn’t worth waiting for, I can tell you. He plays a sample of a Berber singer and then another sample of a sean-nós singer. They sound a little alike to me but there would be no problem recognising which is which. As he later admits, the Berber singer sounds a little like the Muslim call to prayer. He talks about melisma, which is the technique of singing one syllable using a number of ornamental notes. To me, this seems to be a fairly natural thing to do when singing. I don’t think it necessarily implies any great cultural contact. And if it does, many people have said that sean-nós is based on Christian liturgical music, which undoubtedly originated in the Middle East (as did Christianity, of course) and there is every chance that Muslim music and Christian liturgical music come from a shared root, which means that there is no mystery about any similarity.

Anyway, there’s more old bullshit. Some Berbers have a clan name that sounds like Magill. Wow! That proves they’re Irish!!! And there’s a mound called Msoura in Morocco which looks a bit like Newgrange and other ‘Celtic sites’. Newgrange? Celtic? What exactly is Celtic about Newgrange? Msoura is believed to be about 2000 years old, unlike Newgrange which is far older, dating back to before (as far as we know) there were any Indo-European speakers, including Celtic speakers, in Ireland.

Then he talks about Quinn’s terrible book and series, Atlantean, and how hard done by Quinn was. Apparently, Blindboy has historian friends who roll their eyes when Quinn is mentioned but the Blindboy thinks the way Quinn was treated was really unfair and that a lot of this response is down to racism. I’ve heard this argument before, not surprisingly, from Quinn himself. For example, here’s a piece from Wikipedia: He also asserts that a close-minded, elitist attitude among academics prevents a more sympathetic appraisal of his work. More controversially, he maintains that critics of his work are guilty of an unconscious racism, or in his own words, of being afraid of the idea that Irish people might have ‘a touch of the tar’ about them.

Which is utter garbage. The defence ‘if you disagree with me, you must be a racist’ is infantile, and cowardly, and intellectually lazy, and just so typical of pseudo-scholars. Cassidy did the same thing. Anyone who disagreed with Cassidy was immediately branded an Anglophile and a hater of the Irish.

Blindboy then says that although Quinn’s ideas might be 80% bullshit, there is the other 20% which contains bizarre coincidences that need to be looked at properly. Again, all pseudo-scholars and bullshit-merchants tend to come out with the same arguments, including this one. Personally, I am not seeing anything worth having in Quinn’s work, let alone 20%, but even if it does exist, would you be as kind about a mainstream history book that is four-fifths garbage? If an author has a fascinating theory, shouldn’t THE AUTHOR just make a bit of effort to present the facts they’re sure of rather than presenting something mixed with loads of total nonsense?

And finally, Blindboy says that we should examine it because if it proves it’s bullshit, then that is helpful. Yes, I would agree that establishing that something is bullshit is useful. But my argument would be that if something is badly done, why should sceptics be the ones to establish its crappiness?  If there’s any truth to the theory, someone will eventually do the research properly and establish that fact. Proper books will be written, by real scholars. So the responsibility is on Daniel Cassidy, or Graham Hancock, or Gavin Menzies or Bob Quinn to fact-check their own work and present something that isn’t full of crap. It’s not up to us to sift through the crap in hopes of finding something of value and it’s deeply unwise to waste your time looking for diamonds in a dungheap or encourage others to do so.

In other words, Blindboy, I would start listening to your eye-rolling historian friends (especially if it’s Liam Hogan) rather than going for nonsense because it’s SO FUCKIN’ FASCINATIN’. Develop those bullshit sensors! Learn to recognise pseudoscience and pseudohistory and common or garden bullshit and learn to think rationally and encourage other people to do the same.

Just look at what happened to Russell Brand, who turned into a conspiracy-loving, red-pill popping, rabbithole-exploring whackjob. I’m sure there’s a lot of money in that kind of thing, Blindboy, but is it really what you want to spend your life doing?

More on Kibosh and Caidhp Bháis

As we approach the tenth anniversary of my first post on Cassidyslangscam, it is natural to reflect on what I have achieved here.

The main target has always been, and continues to be, the ludicrous book How The Irish Invented Slang by the late Daniel Cassidy. Cassidy was a liar, a fraud and a narcissist, and his worthless book is full of ridiculous claims and invented Irish. However, I have also looked at other examples of fake etymology over the last decade.

One of the claims I have debunked is the myth that the phrase ‘to put the kibosh on’ comes from Irish. While I have dealt with it before in other posts, I feel that it would be timely to give another full account of the known facts about the word kibosh.

It is a fascinating story for anyone with an interest in etymology. It shows how easy it is to mistake a destination for a derivation in etymology and how bad native speakers of any language are at detecting interlopers and fake stories in relation to the words of their language.

Anyway, let’s start at the beginning. Until recently, that beginning would have been in the year 1836, in the works of Charles Dickens. The existence of searchable newspaper archives has pushed that date back by a couple of years, to a comment by a chimney-sweep in London in 1834:

“It vos the Vigs vot passed this Bill, and what the Duke of Vellington put the kibosh on ’em for, and sarve ’em right.”

The substitution of v for w looks foreign, but was apparently common in 19th century London English. This is the first known instance of the word in use.

Various claims and stories have been made in relation to the origin of the word kibosh. Some think it is derived from kurbash, a heavy whip used by the Ottoman Turks.

There are other claims that it comes from a Yiddish word derived from Hebrew כָּבַשׁ‎ (kavásh, “to conquer, subjugate”) but no such word exists in Yiddish. Experts on Yiddish and Hebrew are also sceptical of claims that it is a Yiddish term meaning ‘eighteen pence’.

Others regard it as a version of Middle English cabochen, to behead. The Middle English word is said to have been adopted in Cockney slang but this seems unlikely.

David L. Gold (an excellent scholar who has been generous with his advice, expertise and support on this blog) traces it to the clogmakers’ term kibosh ‘iron bar about a foot long that, when hot, is used to soften and smooth leather’. Putting the kibosh on a clog might perhaps mean ‘finish the work’.

In other words, there are many possible theories but no agreement yet on the origin of this tricky word. Of course, as we know, when the origins of an English word are mysterious, someone will inevitably invent an Irish angle. The Irish theory is almost certainly nonsense and unusually, we have firm and definite evidence to prove this, as I will show below.

Anyway, let’s construct a brief timeline about the Irish theories of the origins of kibosh. As we have said, the word first makes its appearance in London in the year 1834.

At some stage in 1909, 75 years later, a book was published called Mac Mic Iascaire Bhuidhe Luimnigh (The Son of the Son of the Yellow-Haired Fisherman of Limerick). The author was Mícheál Mac Ruairí and the editor was a scholar called Seosamh Laoide or Joseph Lloyd. The story uses the expression ‘ar thobar a bhathaise’ (on his fontanelle or on the crown of his head – modern standard Irish spells it baithis) and apparently Lloyd in his vocabulary notes offers the suggestion that English kibosh could derive from caidhp bathais (sic – see note below) which could be a lost Leinster Irish expression meaning ‘coif or cape of the crown’.

Later in that same year, there was an interesting exchange in the pages of the Freeman’s Journal, an Irish paper. In an article called An American Professor on England published on November 29th 1909, an anonymous staff author of the Freeman’s Journal wrote:

Many expressions familiar in American-English are clearly translations or adaptations from the Gaelic: not a little slang was good idiomatic Gaelic, and such an extraordinary word as kybosh – “to put the kybosh on a man or a scheme” – takes a very curious interest when, as Mr J.H. Lloyd tells in one of his invaluable vocabularies to Irish poems or stories – it is traced to the extinct phrase “the cap of death” – i.e. the black cap of the hanging judge.

J.H. Lloyd, or Seosamh Laoide, then replied to this on the 2nd of December 1909 in the Freeman’s Journal, complaining that his views had been misrepresented:

Dear Sir – In your issue of 29th November, one of your leader writers, towards the end of the article “An American Professor on England”, quotes me in connection with the word “kybosh”, to put the kybosh on a man or a scheme. So far, he is correct. When, however, he adds the explanation “the cap of death,” apparently attributing this to me, he is very much astray. 

In the vocabulary to Mac Mic Iasgaire Bhuidhe Luimnigh, published by the Gaelic League, I set down that caidhp bathais, to my surmise an expression of the lost Leinster dialect of Irish, was the probable etymon of “kybosh”.

He goes on to say that kibosh could not come from caidhp báis because the o of kibosh is a short vowel.

In other words, Lloyd publishes his notes on Mac Mic Iascaire Bhuidhe Luimnigh and suggests that kibosh is from caidhp bathais, coif or cap of the crown, a phrase which sounds a bit like caidhp bháis (cap of death) but is not the same. (Lloyd’s claim is also very unlikely and there is no evidence that this coif of the crown ever existed. As he himself says, ‘I have failed to find the word in use in an Irish dress’.)

Then someone reads this carelessly or misremembers it or misreports it and suddenly kibosh is from ‘caidhp bháis’, the cap of death. And what is a cap of death? Oh, yes, it must be that black cap that judges put on to condemn someone! So, this fantasy version ends up in the pages of the Freeman’s Journal and is attributed to Lloyd.

A few days later, Lloyd writes to the Freeman’s Journal and objects. No, that wasn’t what he said. He was misquoted, so the Irish death cap story isn’t true.

In etymology, the evidence doesn’t get much better than this. We can trace the Irish ‘cap of death’ to 1909 and to a mistake. And we have a supposed author who says that he didn’t say what he was supposed to have said at all!

However, when you’ve got an interesting and colourful etymology, it’s bound to spread. Even if there’s a retraction or denial (and as we’ve seen here, not everyone has the decency to issue retractions when they screw up), not everyone sees the retraction or chooses to heed it. So, the story that kibosh comes from an Irish ‘cap of death’ continues to spread.

By March 1924, we can prove that caidhp bháis was being used in the Irish language, when the phrase Cuireadh an caidhp bháis air mar sgéal was used in a publication called An Sguab. (Hard to translate but it literally means ‘The kybosh was put on it as a story’ but in idiomatic English, you would say ‘That put the kybosh on the matter’. Cohen, Little and Goranson’s version ‘The kybosh was put on your story’ is a mistranslation.)

And since then, it has continued to take root in Irish and there’s really no reason to reject it. It sounds good and it does the job. But there’s absolutely no chance that kibosh comes from caidhp bháis. Caidhp bháis is an Irish re-imagining of kibosh, not the other way round. We should remember that native speakers have no innate sense of the history of words. They can’t tell an interloper or new invention from an ancient and intrinsic part of the language, as we’ve seen with words like craic and spraoi.

In subsequent decades, several alternative explanations for the meaning of the fictional phrase caidhp bháis were invented. A man called Rice in Leitrim wrote in a letter in the Irish Press of 25th April 1934 that it means ‘that portion of the cowl which is pulled down over the face of the dead immediately before interment’.  And on the tenth of February 1943 a letter from John Grogan of Dublin appeared in the Irish Independent, stating that the caip bais [sic] refers to the pitch cap used by the British in the late 18th century as a torture/punishment. This is usually called the caipín pice in Irish. And recently, claims have been made that a caidhp bháis is a candle-snuffer in Irish. (The real word is smóladán.)

By 1977 (in Ó Dónaill’s dictionary), it had also been adopted in the written language as the Irish equivalent to deathcap in terms of fungi.

So, wherever kibosh comes from, I think we can safely say that it doesn’t come from Irish. While caidhp bháis is a part of our language now, and has been since the 1920s, it came into Irish in imitation of English kibosh, and not the other way round.

A Smashing Mot

I came across an interview with a historian called Cathy Scuffil the other day on an RTÉ radio programme fronted by Myles Dungan. This is the man who did the terrible interview with Cassidy in San Francisco where he allowed Cassidy, probably the greatest dork in the history of Irish America since Senator McCarthy, to bullshit continuously for half an hour without bothering to correct or challenge, so he has form in producing really bad content about etymology. Bizarrely, he still insists that Cassidy was a serious scholar, or at least, he was still doing so in 2020, when he tweeted: As outlined by the great Dan Cassidy in his dictionary of Irish American slang.

Scuffil was talking about the Irish language and much of what she said was fine but there were several claims in her interview which were obvious nonsense. I had heard both of them before and one of them I have dealt with in detail on this blog, but it is always worth tackling this kind of nonsense and misinformation and bullshit wherever you find it.

The two claims she made were: that the English word smashing comes from Irish ‘is maith sin’; and that the Dublin slang word ‘mot’ comes from ‘maith an cailín’.

Admittedly, there is no smoking gun with these claims and it is impossible to prove them wrong 100% but we can certainly show that the odds are at least 99% that these are bullshit.

Here are some good reasons why these claims are unlikely to be true.

The claim that Dublin ‘mot’ (=girl, girlfriend) comes from Irish ‘maith an cailín’.

(1)  It contradicts everything that we know about the way that words and phrases are borrowed between languages. The phrase ‘maith an cailín’ only means good girl in the sense of praising someone, not talking about someone. The maith an part means ‘good the’. You could equally well say ‘maith an fear’ (good man!), or ‘maith an bhean’ (good woman!), ‘maith an buachaill’ (good boy!). You would NOT say ‘Is í mo mhaith an cailín í’ for ‘she’s my good girl’. In other words, it is hard to understand how this could ever have crossed from Irish to English and taken the meaning of ‘girl’ rather than ‘good’.

(2)  No scholar of language or expert on these matters, to my knowledge, has ever endorsed this claim. The leading expert on Irish English, Dolan, says that ‘the connection with Irish maith … seems unlikely’. Ó Muirthile is even more dismissive.

(3) There are at least two more convincing origins: from a word meaning ‘an atom or a small creature’ in the Yola language of Wexford; mort, a thieves’ cant expression for woman recorded in the early 19th century. (By Francis Grose, who spent a lot of time in Dublin.)

(4) There is no t at the end of maith. The t is present in mot. It may sound unlike the t of standard English but it is indisputably there. Think of how a very Dublin speaker of English says ‘Ballyfermot’.

(5) It seems to be a very recent invention. The reference in Dolan’s Dictionary of Hiberno-English is the earliest I can find.

(6) Because the policy of making the Irish population Irish-speaking has largely failed over the last 100 years, most Irish people know very little Irish. It is probably no coincidence that someone invented this claim because almost all Irish people will readily recognise the very basic and well-known word maith, so they will be more inclined to accept the premise because of this familiarity.

The claim that the word ‘smashing’ comes from Irish or Gaelic is maith sin.

(1)  The only reason for thinking this is that there is an expression ‘is maith sin’ in Irish which can be used in a similar way to ‘smashing’. However, as linguists say, ‘Etymology by sound is not sound etymology.’

(2) Smash was first used in English (as a noun meaning a blow) in 1725 and it was first used to mean a success in the early 20th century. There are many metaphorical expressions using terms for breaking and hitting in the sense of success. We have a thumping good film, a hit, a belter, or bostin’ (busting, a Midlands English expression) and of course, cracking, a term which has been used in just the same way as smashing since the 1820s. In other words, smashing coming from English smash is perfectly reasonable as an explanation.

(3)  There is no evidence of an Irish or Gaelic origin. Smashing does not occur first in Irish or Scottish contexts and there are no conscious references to it as an Irish or Gaelic expression. This is not what we find with hubbub, or shebeen, or banshee, or Tory, or claymore, or slogan.

(4)  The earliest references to ‘smashing’ in the sense of ‘wonderful’ come from the Americas, not from Ireland or Britain. For example: ‘Lord Dundas is our brave commander, and the Thunderer is a smashing ship’ – Alexandria (Virginia) Gazette (December 10, 1835).

(5)  The phrase ‘is maith sin’ (means ‘that’s good’, not ‘that’s wonderful’),

(6)  When smashing is used as a stand-alone phrase (Smashing! I like it!) then it’s reasonably close to the way is maith sin is used. However, a bilingual Irish or Gaelic speaker would not say “That’s really is maith sin!” or “We had an is maith sin time!” These make no sense. And when we look at the history of the word smashing, it is used as an adjective first and as a stand-alone phrase later, which we would not expect to find if this were a word of Irish or Gaelic origin.

(7)  Terence Dolan described the claim as ‘improbable’.

More on Shanty

I have already discussed the origin of the word shanty and its claimed origin from Irish on this blog. As I said before, the standard explanation among scholars is that shanty comes from chantier, which is a Canadian-French word meaning a lumberjack’s headquarters or a timber-yard or dock, originally deriving from the Latin cantherius, meaning a rafter or frame. This derivation makes sense and is certainly more credible than the Irish claim. I notice that there was a brief exchange a couple of years ago about this subject on Twitter, when a tweeter called HibernoEnglish posted the following:

Shanty – a word known around the world from its association with the Shanty Town – a settlement of poor people – comes from the Irish seantigh – Old house. Shanty itself in Hiberno meaning a ramshackle dwelling.

Another tweeter, Coiste na bhfocal, took issue with this claim:

100% cinnte nach ón nGaeilge a thagann sé [100% sure that it doesn‘t come from Irish]

This is a false etymology. Níl bunús leis. [There is no basis to it]

They also cited this blog in support of the idea that shanty is not from Irish. HibernoEnglish rapidly replied, pointing out that Terence Dolan had supported the idea that shanty came from Irish:

Céad faoin gcéad? Disputed maybe, not 100%. This is the entry in T Dolan’s Dictionary of Hiberno-English. Probably the foremost expert on the dialect, could be wrong but unlikely to fall for the sources cited in the blog post above.

It is quite true that Dolan supported this claim, but Dolan, though he was a good linguist and scholar, was not infallible. Here is what he had to say on the subject:

Shanty / ʃænti/ n., a makeshift cabin; a ramshackle house; a shabby liquor-house <Ir seantigh, old house. ‘He’s up there living inan old shanty at the butt of the mountain, waiting for them to build him a council house (TF, Cavan).

Coiste na bhfocal nua answered the other tweet as follows:

He definitely wouldn’t have fallen for that source but I am sure that origin is incorrect. Dolan’s book is generally excellent but that is a bad miss.

Why did Dolan get it so wrong in this case? First of all, we need to look at what Dolan’s book is aiming to do. It is about the English language as spoken in Ireland. He seems to be saying that because it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that seanteach or seantigh could have crossed into Hiberno-English from Irish, that should be included in the book. I agree with Coiste na bhfocal nua that this is a very unlikely claim. If we could find a reference to “a shanty with ancient whitewashed stone walls and a thatched roof”, that would strengthen the case considerably. But we don’t.

I have already dealt with the fact that in an Irish book dealing with gold mining, Mac Gabhann’s Rotha Mór an tSaoil, the words used for their dwellings are teach, cábán and bothán, not seanteach. I have noted that the meaning of shanty in Hiberno-English is not describing an ancient house but ramshackle, makeshift temporary structures, just like in other dialects of English.

However, this is not the only evidence in support of the idea that shanty has nothing to do with the Irish seanteach. There is plenty of other evidence in 19th century newspapers.

What about this early reference set in Canada from the 22nd of September 1833, in a London publication called Bell’s New Weekly Messenger?

About sunset, dripping wet, we arrived near the spot we were in quest of, – a shanty, which an Indian, who had committed murder, had raised for himself. It may be proper to mention here, that a shanty is a temporary shed formed of the branches of trees.

Or what about this, from the Cork Constitution of 23rd of December, 1834:

MURDERS IN AMERICA (From the Baltimore American)

It becomes our unpleasant duty to relate the particulars of a most diabolical outrage which has been committed on the line of the Washington railroad, about 18 miles from this city, involving the murders of three of the deputy superintendents of construction. It appears that on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Gorman, one of the contractors, was assailed in his own shanty by eight or ten men, supposed to be some of those at work on the road.

Or this, from the Mayo Constitution of the 12th of June, 1834?

The Irish laborer, mechanic and farmer, with small capital, must most decidedly better their condition by emigration to the Canadas – but gentlemen accustomed to the comforts of life at home must be losers by the exchange, for they must wield the axe as well as another – they must put up with a salt pork dinner, unless they live near some town or village, for the first few years – they must be content with a log house or shanty, which are easily raised here …

In other words, all of the early references to shanties make it quite plain, not only that the shanty is a makeshift, temporary dwelling, they also make it quite plain that the shanty is a makeshift, temporary dwelling in the wilds of America or Canada! There is absolutely no evidence that the English word shanty has any connection with the Irish language.

Nollaig Shona agus Bliain Úr Faoi Mhaise!

Ba mhaith liom an deis a thapú anseo míle buíochas a ghabháil le gach duine a lean nó a léigh an blag seo i rith na bliana. Go raibh bliain den scoth agaibh sa bhliain 2023!

Seo daoibh carúl galánta sa teanga s’againne, Don Oíche Úd i mBeithil:

Ba é Aodh Mac Cathmhaoil (Aodh Mac Aingil) a chum an t-amhrán galánta seo. Rugadh Mac Cathmhaoil sa bhliain 1571 i gContae an Dúin, níos lú ná 30 míle ar shiúl ón áit a bhfuil mise ag scríobh an bhlaig seo sa teanga a shaothraigh seisean ar feadh a shaoil. Bhí saol lán eachtraíochta agus léinn aige in Éirinn, sa Bheilg agus san Iodáil. Fuair sé bás sa bhliain 1626 sa Róimh agus is in Eaglais San Iseadór a cuireadh é.

Baineann an leagan seo úsáid as an tseaniolra thabharthach –aibh (col ceathrair –ibus na Laidine, mar shampla, sa tseanfhocal ‘e pluribus unum.’) Níl sin le fáil sa teanga nua-aoiseach. Agus is minic a bhíonn ‘faoin ghrian’ nó ‘faoin ngrian’ sna leaganacha nua-aoiseacha, cionn is nach dtuigeann Gaeilgeoirí an lae inniu an frása ‘ar grian’ a chiallaíonn ‘ar domhan.’ Níl baint ar bith aige leis an fhocal bhaininscneach grian (‘sun’ an Bhéarla).

Don oíche úd i mBeithil

beidh tagairt ar grian go brách,

don oíche úd i mBeithil

gur tháinig an Briathar slán;

tá gríosghrua ar spéarthaibh

‘s an talamh ‘na chlúdach bán;

féach Íosagán sa chléibhín,

‘s an Mhaighdean Á dhiúl le grá

Ar leacain lom an tsléibhe

go nglacann na haoirí scáth

nuair in oscailt gheal na spéire

tá teachtaire Dé ar fáil;

céad glóir anois don Athair

sna Flaitheasaibh thuas go hard!

is feasta fós ar an talamh

d’fhearaibh dea-mhéin’ siocháin!

Yon Night In Bethlehem (English translation of the above)

I would like to take the opportunity here to thank everybody who has followed or read this blog during the year. Have a great year in 2023!

Here is a beautiful carol in our language, Don Oíche Úd i mBeithil:

This beautiful carol was composed by Aodh Mac Cathmhaoil (Aodh Mac Aingil). Mac Cathmhaoil was born in 1571 in County Down, less than 30 miles away from where I am writing this blog in the language that he cultivated throughout his life. He had an eventful and studious life in Ireland, in Belgium and in Italy. He died in Rome in 1626 and he was buried in St. Isidore’s Church in that city.

Yon night in Bethlehem

will be talked of on earth forever

yon night in Bethlehem,

the night the Word was born;

there is a glow in the skies

and the earth is covered with white;

behold Jesus in the cradle

and the Virgin feeding Him with love.

On the bare stones of the mountain

where the shepherds take their shelter

when in a bright opening of the sky

God’s messenger is there;

a hundred glories to the Father,

in the Heavens above so high!

and forever after on the earth

peace to men of good will!

Netflix Down The Rabbit Hole

I recently heard that Graham Hancock has made a series for Netflix. In case you’ve never heard of Hancock, the man is an arch-charlatan who has been peddling nonsense for decades about a prehistoric super-civilisation wiped out by a cataclysm 12,000 years ago.

As soon as I heard about this, I decided to write a post on it. I had picked out what I thought was a great title (Nutflix) but unfortunately, when I checked on Google to see if anyone else had used this, I find that a site exists under this title which is a purveyor of adult movies. This is not the kind of movie I enjoy watching, though given the choice between sitting through a tale of young Scandinavian women whose heating is stuck on full so that they have to take all their clothes off and phone the plumber or watching Hancock’s pretentious self-serving drivel, I think I would probably watch the porn. At least it’s aimed at adults, which is more than you can say for Hancock’s pseudo-archaeological bullcrap.

Why do I hate Hancock so much? Well, there is the fact that his theories are completely lacking in evidence. That he spends a lot of his time whining about the way the mainstream archaeological community (that is, the REAL archaeological community) have sidelined him and refused to take him seriously. Perhaps he genuinely believes some of this nonsense, though the cynic in me keeps saying that at some point in his life, he was probably faced with the choice between carrying on in a legitimate career as a journalist or listening to his bad angel telling him that lashings of money, foreign travel to exotic locations and the adulation of millions of morons could be his if he would just write some books aimed at the weak-minded and conspiracy-oriented.

Maybe that’s an offensive speculation but as Hancock and his friends would say, I’m just asking questions. Because according to him and his sheeple, the archaeological community have stopped asking questions. They’re afraid to get their paradigms all shook up, apparently. The reality is, of course, that the archaeological community ask sensible questions and shift their paradigms all the time. When archaeologists find a wall, they ask questions like, who built this wall? When? Why? Is it part of a larger structure? They don’t ask questions like: “Could this wall be part of an ancient factory used by an advanced super-civilisation which was otherwise completely eradicated?” Their refusal to ask such questions is, apparently, evidence of their closed-mindedness and lack of imagination. Whatever.

Another reason for regarding Hancock as a humungous dork is the way that he changes his mind about key aspects of his theory. Now, that might seem inconsistent, because people like me will always say that the difference between science and pseudoscience is that scientists will change their views according to the evidence. However, the problem with Hancock is that though the details and the ‘evidence’ (such as it is) change, the conclusions don’t. That’s because the conclusions were there first and the ‘facts’ are merely cherry-picked to bolster them.

And that’s also why the ‘evidence’ is so incredibly marginal and unimpressive. A rock carving, interpreted in a particular way, might mean this. The dating on this or that ancient monument might be wrong, even though the experts say not (what would they know, they’re working for THE MAN!) What we don’t get is anomalous technology cropping up unambiguously in a hunter-gatherer context. If we found a sophisticated pot in a camp from fourteen thousand years ago, that would be clear evidence. Something requiring a paradigm shift. Or what about a pre-Columbian skeleton with European or African DNA? Or an actual city belonging to this lost ancient culture? If Hancock’s theories were correct, the evidence would be everywhere and it would be obvious.

Anyway, I’ve said more than I intended to say and given Hancock more attention than this pathetic, boring (and probably very rich) little man deserves.

If you want to know more about pseudo-archaeology and why it is not to be trusted, I suggest you check out the excellent YouTube material by Dr David Miano:

Fortress of Lugh

For many years now, I have had a deep interest in the prehistory of this area of Europe and the origins of my own Celtic ancestors and of their language and culture. Over the last twenty years, this branch of learning has been the scene of deep controversies and certainties which have turned out to be completely wrong. Less than twenty years ago, the first DNA analyses of modern European populations were suggesting strongly that our ancestors were mostly of hunter-gatherer ancestry. The complexities of this debate no longer seem very important but suffice it to say that up until a few years ago, the overwhelming position was that there was little evidence that the gene pool of Europe had been greatly added to or changed since the Neolithic.

About four years ago, improved technology brought a bombshell. As it became easier and easier to test ancient remains, the experts started to get DNA from ancient Europeans, which showed that the gene pool of Ireland and Britain had undergone an almost total replacement at the beginning of the Bronze Age.  There was a clear DNA trail from Ireland and Britain to Central Europe and from there back to the steppe and the transition to Indo-European language was no longer a mystery. The level of population replacement meant that only about 10% of the ancestry of Bronze Age British and Irish people derived from before the Beaker arrival.

Recently, I discovered a very detailed account of the origin of the Celts and their place within the Indo-Europeans in the light of these discoveries. It is on a site called Fortress of Lugh and is entitled: Are the Welsh and Irish Celts? The name Fortress of Lugh is a little odd and I have come across some criticisms of its author, Kevin MacLean, which suggest that he may be rather right-wing in some of his political attitudes. As anyone who has followed this blog will know, I am left-wing and liberal in my attitudes. I do not know if these criticisms of MacLean are justified. All I will say is that if he does have unpalatable political opinions (and I am by no means convinced that this is the case), he does an excellent job of keeping them out of his content. And then again, perhaps a right-winger who respects the facts is preferable to left-wingers who don’t (like most of Cassidy’s supporters).

Anyway, MacLean’s presentation on the Celts is superlatively well-researched, with an intelligent analysis and informed speculation. There is virtually nothing in it that I would take issue with and I cannot recommend it highly enough as a clear and cogent introduction to the new information which is coming to the fore in our knowledge of European prehistory.

I would advise you to check it out on YouTube here:

More on IrishCentral

I noticed recently that the dim-witted article on Cassidy’s book on IrishCentral is still there. As I’ve said before, IrishCentral is dreck and should be avoided by anyone who wants trustworthy information. Anyway, I then decided to have a quick look at the comments section below it.

As usual, this comments section typifies the shallowness and pretentiousness of the online world. Not that there aren’t sensible comments on it. There are, but they tend to be drowned out and shouted down by morons.

There are two specific types of fool represented here, one called Noel Ryan and the other Catherine Desmond. I have little to say about Noel Ryan, because he is so obviously full of shit and makes no attempt to actually discuss the issues involved. It is also clear that if he actually read Cassidy’s book, he didn’t read it with any great care, as he claims that jazz comes from deas. Cassidy, of course, claimed that it came from teas. 

Catherine Desmond is more problematic. In many ways, people like her are more damaging because on the surface, they look like people who have the same agenda as us, to satisfy curiosity and discover the truth. However, this is not borne out by a close analysis of what she actually has to say. She starts by saying (to Paddy Ó Ruadhán, one of the critics of Cassidy in the section:

Paddy, based on your comments, I take it that you can speak in Irish. Because of that, I might not translate some Gaelic words as I respond to your comments.

So, she speaks some Irish. You would expect her comments to be sensible. Are they? Unfortunately not.

You might not agree with Cassidy, but there’s no denying that many Irish words have been shook down into the ordinary English vernacular, and are used daily by speakers of English, including the English themselves.

There are several assumptions being made here. Is it true that a number of words from Irish have been shook/shaken down into ordinary English? A few, certainly but the fact that some words in English do come from Irish has little bearing on Cassidy’s nonsense. The existence of words like esker and shebeen is well-established, their Irish derivation beyond doubt. The words in Cassidy’s book (apart from some that are already in dictionaries) are not like this. They aren’t from Irish.

Catherine Desmond gives three examples of English words of Irish origin.

Here are a few examples:

Let’s take ‘A whole slew of people.’ I’m sure that we all know what that means, but do we all know that the word ‘slew’ comes from the Irish word ‘slua’ which means ‘crowd’, multitude, etc.

While in England, I’ve often heard someone say: ‘I’d like a slug of that.’ the ‘slug’ is derived from the Irish word ‘slog’. So, if you were to translate into Irish ‘Give me a slug of water’, you would say ‘ tabhair dom slog uisce’.

Similarly, ‘It’s smashing’ comes from the Irish ‘Is maith sin.’

Slew is from Irish slua. That fact is in all the dictionaries (though not so much in British dictionaries because it is a recent arrival from America). The mainstream accepts that it’s from Irish. As for slug coming from Irish, this is controversial, as I’ve written on this blog, because there is an attested phrase, ‘to fire a slug’, which uses the same metaphor as ‘a shot of whiskey’. It’s possible that it comes from Irish but we can’t be sure. As for smashing, if you Google smashing and Irish derivation you will find a lot of people casting doubt on this piece of folk-etymology, not just me. It is not the cast-iron certainty that Catherine Desmond is misrepresenting it to be.

I could go on and on listing English words that have their origin in the Irish language, just as I could go on and on about English words with Latin roots.

Could you? Certainly not the way you could with words of Latin derivation. There are countless thousands of words of Latin origin in English. You could easily go on day after day recounting them. This is not the case with words of Irish origin. I think you would get to 200 easily, mostly with fairly obscure terms like tanist and erenagh and fiorin, but I don’t think you would get to 300 before having to bring in fake ones like smashing and longshoreman to make up the numbers.

Irish/Gaelic is a pre-historic language, and no one is sure where it originated.

There is a lot wrong with the handful of words above. Irish/Gaelic is not a language. Irish is a language, and Gaelic is another language. (Or a generic term for three languages, Irish, Manx and Scottish Gaelic.) Neither Irish nor Gaelic are prehistoric languages. They are modern languages. If you register to learn Gaelic on Duolingo, you will get the modern language which is spoken in parts of Scotland and if you choose to learn Irish, you will get the modern language of the Irish Gaeltacht. Talking about the ‘age’ of languages is in many ways meaningless. In a way, all languages are as old as each other, with the exception of High Valerian or Klingon or Esperanto, so really all you are doing is quibbling about how long it has had its current name or how long it has occupied its current territory. 

I’ve read various theories, but at the end of the day, these theories are unproven. As the Celts moved across what is now Asia and Europe, they incorporated into Gaelic some words from other languages. Today, some researchers say that because there are words from this or that country to be found in the Celtic language, then the Celtic language, most likely, originated in these countries and have then asserted that Gaelic is a member of the Indo-European group of languages. I don’t know whether it is or not.

And this bit really cuts right to the heart of why I regard people like this as more of a pain in the arse than people like Noel Ryan. This is so totally wrong and so wilfully ignorant. If you look at any reputable source for information about the Celtic languages, you will find something along the lines of: “Celtic languages descended from a common ancestral language called Proto-Celtic, which is a member of the Indo-European language family.” You will find this in dictionaries and encyclopaedia entries and archaeology books and books on language. However, Catherine Desmond doesn’t accept this as fact, because according to her, those silly scholars have found some loanwords in the Celtic languages so they have got the idea they are Indo-European! Of course, scholars of language don’t just base their conclusions on vocabulary. They look at grammar and phonology and identify loanwords and try to date the loans by looking at regular sound changes in the language borrowed into and the language which loaned the word. The vocabulary of the Celtic languages is largely Indo-European, with a certain amount untraceable to any known Indo-European root. You could say the same about, for example, Greek or the Germanic languages, which contain much bigger vocabularies of non-Indo-European origin, but are still termed Indo-European languages by linguists in spite of this. Everybody who knows about the subject is quite sure of the Indo-European nature of the Celtic languages. And while there are lively and interesting debates about the area where Celtic developed, they are all well in Europe, not in Asia. Mostly, the debate is between Central Europe and the Iberian Peninsula (Celtic from the West).

Why does this irritate me so much? It irritates me because, while the experts don’t always get everything right, the fact is that they get it pretty much right most of the time. And real science is at least full of lively debate between people who know the basic facts. Speculative ideas (and there is nothing wrong with speculation as long as it’s within the bounds of reason and matches the evidence) will either be accepted or rejected by the processes of academic investigation. People who insist that Covid is harmless until ‘activated’ by facemasks, or people who believe that the Olmecs were Sub-Saharan Africans, or people who believe that Barry Fell found ogham inscriptions in North America or people who believe in Graham Hancock’s theories about a prehistoric civilisation which was so completely destroyed by a cataclysm that no trace remain are all playing the same game, ignoring the experts and the facts while promoting ludicrous fantasies which have no basis in reality.