For some time now, some of my on-line friends have advised me to provide a version of CassidySlangScam without the invective aimed at Cassidy and his supporters. In response to that advice, I am working on providing a glossary of the terms in Cassidy’s ludicrous book How The Irish Invented Slang with a short, simple and business-like explanation of why Cassidy’s version is wrong.
In his astoundingly daft book, How The Irish Invented Slang, Daniel Cassidy made a number of baseless claims about the influence of the Irish language on the English language. The vast majority of his claims are nonsense but few of them are as obviously deranged as those based on song lyrics.
There are nonsense refrains in many styles of music. Think of the Irish song Whiskey In The Jar, popularised by Thin Lizzy, which has the jingle:
Musha ring dum-a do dum-a da, Whack for my daddy-o,
Whack for my daddy-o, There’s whiskey in the jar-o.
In other words, many songs contain stretches of junk lyrics that have flashes of recognisable words but are not really carrying any message at all. Most of us would be happy to accept this and move on but the late Daniel Cassidy was not like other people.
Cassidy developed a strange theory about a song called Poor Paddy Works On The Railway. This is entirely in English, apart from one nonsense line: Fil-i-me-oo-re-i-re-ay. This was interpreted by Cassidy as being a secret bit of Irish:
Fillfidh mé uair éirithe, ‘I’ll go back, it’s time to get up.’
Is this likely to be correct? Well, first of all, the case for this being a piece of Irish rather than a piece of melodic nonsense is very, very weak. For Cassidy’s theory even to be possible, the Irish would need to be clear, accurate and appropriate. It would need to be recognised by any Irish speaker as Irish and easily understood by them. So, is it?
Leaving aside the question of the phonetics, which is pretty strange, the Irish word fill has a number of meanings relating to going back, returning, or folding in Irish. Usually, if someone says fill without a preposition, they mean return here. If you want to talk about returning to another place, you use fill with the preposition ar. So, ‘I’ll return to work’ would be fillfidh mé ar an obair. Uair éirithe does mean ‘time to get up’, but normally if an expression of time like uair éirithe is used after a phrase like fillfidh mé (rather than before it), it describes when that activity will take place. So, fillfidh mé arú amárach means ‘I’ll return here the day after tomorrow’ and fillfidh mé uair éirithe would mean ‘I’ll return here when it’s time to get up’, not ‘It’s time to get up, I’ll return (to work).’
This doesn’t make a lot of sense. Why would the person come home when it’s time to get up? Or sing about it? The truth is, they wouldn’t. The line fil-i-me-oo-re-i-re-ay is similar to lots of bits of nonsense in lots of songs and Cassidy’s interpretation isn’t at all convincing.
Cassidy also displayed his ignorance of terminology by insisting that macaronic refers to nonsense. Macaronic, of course, refers to songs composed in two or more languages, a genre which is particularly common in Ireland.