Dead Rabbits

Among Cassidy’s many crazy and unsupported theories was one which has really caught the public’s imagination, the claim that the Dead Rabbits gang, shown in the film Gangs of New York as carrying a dead rabbit on a spike as a totem, really had no connection with rabbits at all and that this name is in truth a phonetic rendering of the Irish ráibéad, meaning a big, hulking person or thing.

First off, there is no doubt that the Dead Rabbits did carry a dead rabbit into battle with them, or at least that this claim was made a long time ago. As far as I’m concerned, that is pretty much that, because once you accept that their name is connected to dead rabbits, any claim that the name is Irish becomes pointless and unlikely to be correct.

Add to that the fact that ráibéad is an incredibly obscure word, which is not mentioned in Dinneen’s dictionary, though it is mentioned in Ó Dónaill’s. I have certainly never heard it in use. Because of this I don’t know how someone would use it, but I would assume from the definition that it is one of those words like pánaí (a word I do use) which just means something large. If it is like pánaí, then it is neither particularly flattering nor offensive. It’s just a fairly neutral comment about the size of something or someone.

In other words, it doesn’t sound to me like a suitable basis for a gang-name and certainly, Cassidy had no evidence of any connection with Irish beyond his misplaced faith in his own crazy revelations.

Speaking of which, if you are still in any doubt that Cassidy was a nut, check out this link, where he tries to persuade a group of people that the Ku Klux Klan derives its name from a Gaelic term meaning Cloaked Champions of the Clan. This one didn’t make it to the book, of course.

2 thoughts on “Dead Rabbits

  1. Debunker Post author

    Thanks to the excellent Pota Focal, I have a little more information about the word ráibéad. It seems to have been given in an article by De Bhaldraithe which was published in the magazine Béaloideas in 1953. The article was about words for types of people, a linguistic vein which is incredibly rich in Irish. This article was presumably the source for the word in Ó Dónaill’s Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla. It was based on informants from the Indreabhán area of Galway, so as far as I know there is no evidence that it ever existed outside of the Irish spoken in one parish in the west of Ireland. It only means ‘a large person or thing’. The nonsense about ‘a man to be feared’ is just typical Cassidese fakery.

  2. DebunkerOfCassidy Post author

    I note that one of the most fashionable bars in New York is called The Dead Rabbit and apparently, it was founded by a couple of guys from Belfast. The publicity for this bar also makes this ridiculous claim from Daniel Cassidy’s book about the Dead Rabbits getting their name from an Irish ráibéad. No, it doesn’t come from Irish. It’s from the English rabbit, as in a fluffy bunny on a spike! Now, there’s a name for an award-winning cocktail …! My suggestion is a measure of coconut liqueur, a bit of Bailey’s, a touch of gin and a dash of tomato juice for the blood …


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