Earlier this year, I wrote a post about the book called Motherfoclóir. In that post, I stated that while I generally approved of Darach Ó Séaghdha’s book about the Irish language, I felt it was marred by some extremely sloppy research.
Over the last week, I have listened to a couple of podcasts by Ó Séaghdha and the Motherfoclóir team. The first one was a Halloween-themed post called The Vampirish For. You can find it here: https://player.fm/series/motherfocloir/ep-62-62-the-vampirish-for
This podcast started well. It criticised the ludicrous claims made about the Irish origin of Dracula, which some fools have tried to link to an Irish phrase ‘Drochfhola’, supposedly meaning bad blood. He pours scorn on this claim and describes it as bullshit. Quite right too.
However, the podcast then shows the same lack of common sense and proper research which made the book so unsatisfactory. I have dealt here with the fake claims about Abhartach, supposedly a vampire chieftain who lived in a mountainous area of Derry. As I have stated here, the genuine story of Abhartach describes this evil chieftain returning from the dead. He is later killed with a yew-wood sword and buried upside-down with a huge rock over his body.
Starting about twenty years ago, a revisionist version of this story appeared, claiming that Abhartach demanded the blood of his subjects and that he was described as a neamh-mharbh and a dearg-diúlaí.
So, this piece about Abhartach on Ó Séaghdha’s podcast is basically a rerun of what was wrong with the etymological section of the book. There is one piece of bogus information denied, then a welter of ignorant nonsense lifted from untrustworthy sources without the least attempt to establish the truth. To be fair to Ó Séaghdha, it is a guest of his who recounts this story. They probably lifted much of this nonsense about Abhartach from Wikipedia, which has a longish article on the subject. It looks credible on first inspection but anyone with any common sense would quickly realise that it has huge holes in it.
For one thing, it claims that Bob Curran is a lecturer in Celtic History and Folklore at the University of Ulster. There is no department of Celtic History and Folklore at the UU. I believe Curran is a Child Psychologist by profession and I am told that he has never been a lecturer, though he may have taught evening classes. History Ireland is not a peer-reviewed journal. You only have to read Curran’s article in it to realise that.
Also, I’m willing to bet the PSNI never decided to dig up a listed ancient monument to solve a local murder, and according to Curran, a man got a cut hand when a chainsaw broke during an attempt to uproot the thorn bush. In this piece of fantasy, the man’s hand is cut clean off by the curse of Abhartach! Do me a favour!
Of course, I don’t believe that Abhartach was a real person. That’s not the point. The point is that folklore is interesting and is a legitimate field of study, with its own methodology. Embellishing and inventing to make the story ‘better’ is not part of that methodology. In Patrick Weston Joyce’s story, Abhartach died and came back and then had to be stopped by supernatural means. He wasn’t a vampire. About twenty years ago, Abhartach suddenly became a vampire because Peter Haining and Peter Tremayne and Bob Curran said so. But where did that claim come from? Where’s the reference, the evidence? Until I see something from a recorded folk-tale or a magazine or a book predating these authors, Abhartach is a revenant, not a vampire. That’s what the original story says.
And let’s face it, if he wasn’t a vampire, he really has fuck all to do with Dracula.
There were other bits that were even stupider. Apparently Stoker’s notes contained no books on Transylvania and no mention of Vlad Dracul. Nonsense! Stoker copied some information from William Wilkinson’s An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia about Vlad III. He also set the first part of the book in Transylvania and makes it quite clear that his Count isn’t Irish. And if it’s true that Stoker had a copy of PW Joyce’s History of Ireland in his library, that is completely irrelevant, because that book doesn’t contain any reference to Abhartach or to any supposed Irish vampires.
The second podcast was even worse. You can find it here: https://www.headstuff.org/motherfocloir/45-2-mailbag-2-furious/
The description said that it was a mailbag edition, in which Daniel Cassidy’s legacy would be discussed, so I was keen to hear it.
A few minutes into the podcast, an anonymous critic writes that he likes the book and the podcast of Motherfoclóir and has been trying to learn a little Irish over the last year. He says that he is a writer and musician from the Irish-American community and that he is from New York. His initials are TW. He says that he has a bone of contention, namely the way that Motherfoclóir dismissed Cassidy’s revolutionary theory about the Irish origins of slang. Plainly, from the details given, this is an Irish-American mediocrity called Terence Winch.
Winch is typical of the pompous dimwits who support Cassidy. “I am not sure all his examples would hold up to academic scrutiny but that does not mean to say that his overall theory is completely flawed.” In other words, Winch is insisting on ignoring all the evidence on this blog and elsewhere, because he believes that there are only a few bad apples in Cassidy’s barrel. The reality is that not only is there no baby in Cassidy’s bathwater, there isn’t even anything that looks like a rubber duck, floats like a rubber duck and might just vaguely, possibly be a rubber duck. I have examined most of Cassidy’s nonsense here and shown why his derivations are fake. Winch is welcome to take up the challenge I have issued to the rest of the tribe of Dan. Let’s see if you can offer ten words from Cassidy’s work where any reasonable person would regard Cassidy’s explanation as convincing (i.e. where the Irish origin really exists and there isn’t a better explanation from English or some other language). Good luck with that!
I was disappointed with Darach Ó Séaghdha’s response to Terence Winch, which was, to say the least, a bit weasel-wordy. In the original book, Ó Séaghdha had criticised Cassidy’s book (before going off into the realms of etymological fantasy himself). In his reply to Winch on the podcast, he states that Cassidy has been described as the Andrew Wakefield of linguistics. I don’t know who said that, but I agree with it 100%. (Except, perhaps, that Wakefield was a real doctor who was struck off. Cassidy never had any qualifications in the first place.)
Ó Séaghdha then goes on to say that Cassidy just got it a bit wrong but that’s fine and he finds the hostility against Cassidy hard to understand and it is false to say that Cassidy was a con-man or a trickster. I think it’s quite clear from this that Ó Séaghdha has never read much of this blog. I also suspect that Ó Séaghdha has never read Cassidy’s book either, because he insists that Cassidy thought the English word jazz came from Irish deas (nice). If he had read the book properly, he would know that Cassidy claimed it came from teas (heat) – though confusingly, Cassidy also thought teas was pronounced as deas in Ulster Irish, information supplied to him by his principal source of enlightenment, his own arse.
Ó Séaghdha couldn’t be more wrong about Cassidy’s dishonesty. Cassidy was obviously a criminal fake. He ‘worked’ for twelve years as a professor in a university on the strength of his ‘education’ at Cornell and Columbia. As his sister (and then the Cornell registrar) informed me, Cassidy failed his degree at Cornell and never went to Columbia. Even Cassidy’s friends and supporters have not tried to challenge these facts or offer any evidence to the contrary or excuses for his criminal behaviour.
However, the worst evidence of Cassidy’s dishonesty is in the book itself. ‘Irish’ definitions were imagined, rewritten, miscopied, and ‘figurative’ meanings invented. Hundreds of completely fake phrases were invented by Cassidy.
That is (one of the reasons) why Winch’s comment is so stupid. He seems to be implying that linguists are being obtuse and difficult (because, apparently, they are ‘threatened by’ Cassidy) because they refuse to accept Cassidy’s candidate Irish phrases on the grounds that there is no contemporary evidence of these phrases crossing between the Irish language and English slang. This is not the issue.
Linguists and etymologists reject the overwhelming majority of Cassidy’s ‘Irish’ phrases not because there’s no evidence of them crossing from Irish but because they never existed in Irish. Nobody ever said that béal ónna meant nonsense in Irish until Cassidy made it up, nobody ever used comhroghna to mean friend or companion, foluach doesn’t exist as a way of saying a rare reward, leathluí géag and liú lúith and gus óil and sách úr and píosa theas and hundreds of other pieces of nonsense in Cassidy’s book are simply fantasy. Cassidy never provided any evidence that any of this rubbish existed and linguists shouldn’t waste their time and energy on the fantasies of a dishonest lunatic. Terence Winch should have known this, because I wrote a blog post answering his post of 2007 and explaining that all the words he provided as examples from Cassidy’s work are fake. I suppose it’s possible he’s never Googled himself but … mneh … Plainly, he isn’t ready to stop this nonsense. You can read my post here: https://cassidyslangscam.wordpress.com/tag/terence-winch/
There is another thing which irritated me. In the same podcast where Winch’s nonsense was discussed, there was a discussion of people misspelling Irish names and leaving off the accents. This is something that irritates me too, but it seems a bit rich to complain about this as a matter of respect and identity, while simultaneously, on the same podcast, saying that it’s perfectly OK for some random Yank to invent hundreds of phrases in our language, a language he had never made any attempt to learn, and try to pass it off as fact. It isn’t. It’s an insult to our culture and language and identity, and fatheads like Terence Winch should be told in no uncertain terms that intellectual debate should be conducted on the basis of the evidence, not on the basis of how good a friend-of-a-friend Cassidy was or who happens to be on Winch’s Christmas-card list.
However, I hope my American friends (who are self-deprecating, intelligent and reasonable) will forgive me for saying that there is more to this. It seems to me that there is a poisonous strain of arrogance in modern American culture. I found an interesting article by Tom Nichols here which chimes with my theory: (https://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-real-reason-americans-cant-agree-on-unemployment-or-just-about-anything-else-2017-03-29):
“This isn’t just human nature, but the result of a narcissism that took root in American society after the 1960s and has been growing ever since. Surrounded by affluence, enabled by the internet, and empowered by an educational system that prizes self-esteem over achievement, Americans have become more opinionated even as they have become less informed, and are now utterly intolerant of ever being told they’re wrong about almost anything.”
This, I feel, is what’s happening here. Admitting you got it wrong simply isn’t a valued part of modern American culture, and people like Winch have no interest in learning the truth if the truth means admitting they were duped.
Whether that is the case or not, one thing that both of these podcasts show very clearly is that once fake memes are released into the wild, it’s almost impossible to stop them from eclipsing the truth. That’s why the Rubberbandits behaved like total dicks in relation to the list of fake Irish derivations they spread on social media. Once the genie is out of the bottle, or Abhartach out of his tomb drinking blood, it’s impossible to put them back again. Falsehoods with a good story behind them always outstrip the truth. Motherfoclóir is well-placed to try and restrain some of those falsehoods. Instead, because of poor research and intellectual laziness and a fear of strapping on a pair and offending arrogant American fans of Cassidy like Terence Winch, they are helping to spread this worthless fakery rather than challenging it properly.