San Francisco Irish Crossroads Festival

If you go onto the site of the San Francisco Irish Crossroads Festival, under the In Memoriam section you will find a brief biography of Daniel Cassidy:

Danny Cassidy – Daniel Patrick Cassidy, author of “How the Irish Invented Slang: the Secret Language of the Crossroads” founded the Irish studies Program at New College of California and co-founded the Crossroads Irish-American Festival.

Cassidy grew up in Brooklyn, and was shaped by the world that he encountered there.  His career was rich and varied.  He started his education at Columbia University, and went on to get a Masters in History at Cornell. He also became recognized for his work as a poet at this time.  He worked for the New York Times as a news assistant in the United Nations Bureau.

He then became a musician, recorded an album, and performed on stages from Carnegie Hall to the Los Angeles Civic Auditorium, with luminaries including George Carlin, Kenny Rankin and Lily Tomlin. In addition to being a musician, Cassidy wrote film scripts and created a documentary, “Civil Rights and Civil Wrongs,” nominated for an Emmy, which was focused on civil rights abuses in Northern Ireland.  Cassidy also worked as a Union Organizer for over 20 years. He was also a fervent supporter of the Irish Republican movement.

In the 1990s, Cassidy started a new chapter of his life working at New College of California.  He founded the Irish Studies Program there in 1995 and went on to create a Media Studies Program.  His vision of Irish Studies was built on his understanding of the central role of the Irish in American history and of Ireland for Post-colonial Studies.

In the spirit of the mission of New College, he embraced the value of serving community outside the classroom as well as students in the classroom.  As a result, Irish Studies at New College offered classes populated by credit and audit students, and produced many programs throughout the year for the community.  The heart of that work, done in March, evolved into the Crossroads Irish-American Festival.  Cassidy, a founder of the Festival, provided guidance for that evolution. 

Cassidy’s book, “How the Irish Invented Slang,” grew out of an epiphany he had about the Irish language, as the result of encountering an Irish dictionary willed to him by a good friend.   As Danny discovered: “we had never stopped speaking Irish in my family.”  That insight would drive him to write “How the Irish Invented Slang,” which won the American Book Award in 2007.

We honor Danny Cassidy as the force behind the creation of the Irish-American Crossroads Festival, and whose spirit, wisdom and energy we continue to draw on.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.

Reading this, you would think that Cassidy had a varied and fascinating life, a life full of achievement and success. People who have read this blog will realise that this is very far from the truth. Cassidy’s was a life of things started and left unfinished, promise unfulfilled, paths that went nowhere, a life of failure and underachievement.

Leaving aside the fact that he was raised in the green quiet of Long Island and not in Brooklyn, let’s start with the claim that he got a degree from Columbia and an MA from Cornell. Everywhere else, it says that he went to Cornell for his primary degree, which is true. He spent about three years at Cornell before he was kicked out without a degree in 1965.

It seems that he never went to Columbia at all. He was completely unqualified to be an academic and presumably lied his way into the academic jobs he had in the decade and a half before his death.

During his stay at Cornell, he had a few poems published in newspapers and won a prize for poetry in the university. The only poem I’ve succeeded in finding by Cassidy online is very underwhelming. He never really made it as a poet. He never published any anthologies or won any non-university prizes for poetry.

Some sources describe him as an ex-merchant mariner, though this isn’t mentioned in the biography above. Did he work as a sailor? Apparently, he did, though he can’t have spent long at it. He was kicked out of Cornell in 1965. Six years later, in 1971, he released an album and was at the height of his music phase. In between those two points, he apparently worked for the NY Times, sailed the seven seas and also had a two-year spell as an inmate in Phoenix House, a drug rehabilitation centre. (“Cassidy had been a copy writer and seaman but learned to play guitar while staying at Phoenix House”.) So, that’s six years, minus two in Phoenix House. So maybe he spent a year in the NY Times and three years at sea. Or two years and two years. Or three years as a journalist and one at sea. Somehow, these careers ended up with addiction and he then met Kenny Rankin and learned to play guitar in rehab.

His life as a musician doesn’t seem to have taken off either. He produced an album but this wasn’t a great seller. While the spiel above makes it sound like he enjoyed great success, there isn’t much evidence of this. As another source on line says: “In mid-June 1972, Cassidy appeared on The Tonight Show with Carlin, during a week in which Johnny Carson was on vacation, and Wilson was guest-hosting the show. Cassidy also opened for Carlin on some tour dates. Cassidy’s music career never took off, however, and he left show business to establish an Irish studies program at New College of California.” It is unclear how long he spent playing music until he gave up, or what exactly he did for the next twenty odd years until he founded the Irish studies programme at NCoC.

Various sources tell us that he worked as a scriptwriter in Hollywood, apparently writing for Danny Glover and Francis Ford Coppola. Yet a glance at the Cassidy Papers, now held in New York, shows that this script-writing began about 1987 and went on throughout the early 1990s. He may well have sold scripts, because scriptwriting seems to be like a kind of futures market. However, there is little enough evidence of achievement. Certainly, none of the scripts he wrote has ever been turned into a film.

The only real films he was associated with were two documentaries he made about Northern Ireland. Both of them appeared in the mid-1990s when he was ‘starting a new chapter of his life’ as an academic. Apparently one of these, Civil Rights and Civil Wrongs, was nominated for an Emmy, though there seems to be no independent confirmation of this. Neither of them is mentioned on IMDB.

Then in 1995, he started the Irish Studies program(me) at NCoC, and he continued with that until shortly before his death, when NCoC was closed and he was left unemployed and suffering from his last illness. Before NCoC closed, Cassidy published his mindless and trashy book, which having been rejected by a serious academic publisher, was essentially vanity-published for him by his mate Alexander Cockburn. It is still in print, still spreading its insidious fake-Irish poison.

In other words, the nonsense given on the website of the Irish Crossroads Festival bears very little resemblance to the truth. It seems that lies and half-truths and evasions followed Cassidy wherever he went, whatever he did.

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