Some Other Oirish Bullshitters

Daniel Cassidy was certainly King of the Irish-American Liars. However, the Irish and people of Irish descent are not averse to making odd claims about the Irish origin of obscure items of vocabulary in English and Cassidy was not alone in this kind of Goropian nonsense. (I’ll explain this reference some other time!)

One of the most bizarre of these claims hit the news in 2006 when headlines appeared in the international press about the Irish origin of the word didgeridoo, which according to a researcher at Flinders University in Australia, Dymphna Lonergan, derives from a phrase meaning ‘black moaner’ – dúdaire dubh. (This is the way it’s defined in some of the online descriptions. Ó Dónaill defines dúdaire as ‘long-necked person, hummer, crooner’).

There is no evidence for this claim, of course and you would have to say that there are plenty of other words or phrases which would be more likely to be used to describe the didgeridoo or the sound it makes. This claim is really quite bizarre, especially as it came from someone who has since become a serious academic (at the time, she was a doctoral candidate). I wonder how she feels about this claim and the publicity it received now?

Then there is the claim made by Gearóid Mac an Bhainisteora, that the word spondulicks comes from the Irish phrase sponc-diúlach, spunk-chap. Like Cassidy’s work this is definitely etymology by sound (which is not sound etymology) and it is hard to see that even in the seedier backstreets of Galway city there would ever have been an automatic semantic link between guys, spunk and money. The mind boggles … However, I should point out that with the exception of this little lapse, Mac an Bhainisteora’s books are actually useful little guides to Irish usage and should be on every Irish learner’s shelves.

And then there is that astonishing claim made by some ‘experts’ that Dracula has no connection with Vlad Dracul but is really from the Irish droch fhoula meaning bad blood. Bram Stoker was from Dublin of course, so that proves it!! (I’m being ironic again.) Of course, droch fhoula doesn’t mean bad blood. ‘Bad blood’ is drochfhuil. Droch fhoula is based on a genitive of drochfhuil, drochfhola. And Dracul is a matter of historical record and Stoker set the origins of his count in the Carpathian Mountains, not Conamara.

Thank God! Can you imagine what Hammer films would have been like had Stoker emphasised an Irish connection? Instead of pubs full of rustics in leather trousers with yokel English accents, it would be red-haired beardy men in Aran sweaters bejabering away as though God were telling them to …

“Oh bejasus, Pat, sure an’ you’re not going out when it’s da full moon, begorrah, and all o’ dem vorgins have been goin’ a-missin’ of late, so dey have …”

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One thought on “Some Other Oirish Bullshitters

  1. Debunker Post author

    I saw a television programme the other day in the series Who Do You Think You Are?, where celebrities trace their genealogies. This time it was Mark Gatiss, writer and actor, whose family hailed from County Derry. As part of this programme, Gatiss was introduced to Bob Curran, folklorist and author and occasional talking head on the dreadful Ancient Aliens, who reiterated his rather strange theories about the influence of Irish folklore on Bram Stoker, the Irish author of Dracula. Curran repeated the incorrect claim that ‘droch fhoula’ is the Irish for bad blood (it’s drochfhuil – http://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/drochfhuil), and also went through the story about a character called Abhartach having come back from the dead to drink blood. The only version I have ever seen (the one from Patrick Weston Joyce) talks about his coming back from the dead but there is no reference to drinking blood. Curran mentions here and in an article he wrote for a non-peer-reviewed popular history magazine called History Ireland that ‘some versions’ mention blood-drinking. There are no references in the article, so we can’t say who collected these other versions, or when they were first recorded. The same with the term ‘dearg-diúlaí’ (literally scarlet sucker), which Curran claims as the Irish for vampire. This is not a term found in the dictionaries. It probably exists and was recorded somewhere, but where? By whom? Then there is the use of the term neamh-mhairbh for the undead. This literally means ‘non-dead’ or ‘undead’ but there is no evidence of it existing except as a translation of the phrase used by Stoker. It doesn’t seem to be used in Section 10 of Foras Feasa ar Éirinn (as has been claimed), where the word used is marbh (dead person), not neamh-mharbh (http://www.ucc.ie/celt/online/G100054/). Curran’s books are popular and I’m sure they’re great fun, but they’re hardly meticulous works of scholarship. Stoker made it absolutely clear in the book that Dracula was identical with Vlad III (the Impaler), so why are people so ready to believe other versions which have no evidence at all to support them?

    Reply

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