Monthly Archives: May 2020

A Reply To Seán Corcoran

I have received a message from a certain Seán Corcoran, who has sent a link to the post about Did The English Ban Irish? The original post was taking issue with the notion that the Irish language was banned completely and on pain of punishment or imprisonment in Ireland. This is, of course, nonsense. The English certainly did nothing to help the Irish language or actively promote it but they didn’t make it illegal to speak Irish.

In the link provided by Corcoran, there is an article by Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc about the use of Irish and Welsh in the courts. It’s a very poor article and it is difficult to understand how a professional and highly-qualified historian with a doctorate from the University of Limerick could have produced something so shoddy. The obvious conclusion is that Ó Ruairc is wearing both the broad black brimmer of the Irish Republican here as well as his historian’s hat. He who wears two hats simultaneously always ends up looking stupid. A historian has a duty to write history, not polemic.

You can read the original article by going to the site The Irish Story and searching for To Extinguish Their Sinister Traditions And Customs – The Historic Bans On The Legal Use Of The Irish And Welsh Languages.

Ó Ruairc explains the argument of his article thus:

Constitutionally both Wales and Northern Ireland are considered part of the integral and sovereign territory of the United Kingdom governed by the same legal system.

Yet the use of Welsh, the indigenous language of Wales, is legal in Welsh Courts whilst the use of Irish, the indigenous language of Ireland, is illegal in the courts of Northern Ireland and is a crime punishable by a monetary fine or contempt of court ruling.

I will ignore the Welsh language case here, as I have little to say on the subject. I should also point out that Ó Ruairc is entirely correct (in my view) in criticising the attitude of the courts in Northern Ireland towards the Irish language. It seems completely perverse to refuse to allow people to give their testimony in Irish now, in an age when language and cultural rights are respected by democratic regimes all over the world, when people were allowed to testify in Irish in the courts in the 19th century. Fortunately, before coronavirus came along, the DUP politicians in the north had consented to allow a Language Act in Northern Ireland which should resolve these problems for good.

Anyway, back to Ó Ruairc’s piece of pseudo-history. Ó Ruairc begins his discussion of this with the early legislation banning the use of the Irish language. As I have pointed out before, the Statute of Kilkenny of 1367 was very different, in that it was about stopping English colonists in Ireland from going native and using Irish. In other words, it is from a time when the English language was on the back foot in Ireland. Ó Ruairc continues:

This was followed in 1537 with The Statute of Ireland – An Act for the English Order Habit and Language that prohibited the use of the Irish language in the Irish Parliament.[10] In 1541, further legislation was passed which banned the use of Irish in the areas of Ireland then under English rule.[11]

There is no evidence that these were enforced, even in the limited areas of the Pale which were controlled by the English or their agents rather than local chieftains, most of whom spoke Irish and would hardly have imposed a ban on the only language they could speak.

Then Ó Ruairc discusses the supposed ban on Irish in the courts:

The Administration of Justice (Language) Act (Ireland) was passed by the Irish Parliament in 1737.[12] The Act not only forbids the speaking of Irish within the courtroom, it also prohibits the completion of legal documentation in Irish and imposes a financial penalty of £20 each time Irish is spoken in court in contravention of the law.

This is simply not true. It is a distortion because it doesn’t put the act in its proper context but it also goes way beyond the facts in terms of what the act says. You can find the text of this Act here:

Firstly, a word about context. This Act was essentially transferred wholesale from the English courts. Its aim was not to attack Irish but to get rid of the tendency for all law to be conducted in a form of bastardised Norman-French and lawyer’s Latin. If you read the wording of the act, it is full of references to writing and written documents. It is not at all clear that there is any mandate in there to ban spoken languages other than English, though the words ‘and proceedings thereon’ could be construed that way. (A point I will return to below.)

However, it is important to stress here that the genuine practice in the courts in the 18th and 19th centuries allowed people to speak Irish. We know this because there are plenty of records of it happening, as I mentioned in my post.

Ó Ruairc says: It seems clear therefore that the implicit intention of these laws was to promote the Anglicisation of the Welsh and Irish peoples rather than the stated intention of the legislation ie: for the purpose of securing the orderly transaction of court cases in the ‘local vernacular’ language which in all cases was wrongly assumed to be English.

If it were true that the Irish language was banned in courts, then this would be tenable. As this isn’t the case, it isn’t.

In fact, Ó Ruairc actually contradicts himself in his reference to the Maamtrasna case. As Ó Ruairc says, interpretation was carried out by a member of the constabulary. Why wasn’t the policeman fined every time he spoke Irish in the court? He wasn’t fined because it was standard practice to interpret for witnesses who couldn’t speak English. Maamtrasna was a disgrace but there was more wrong with it as a trial than bad interpretation.

As I have said, there are many, many documented cases of interpreters being used in courts, though we also know that much time and effort was wasted trying to establish how much English people had and whether they could give evidence in that language to try to stop people pretending they didn’t speak English. As a result of this, following the case of R v Burke (1858), it was decided at the Court of Crown Cases Reserved that Irish speakers could provide testimony in any language they preferred.

There is a whole book (a real history book and a good one) about the use of the Irish language in the courts in 18th and 19th century Ireland, by an academic called Mary Phelan. It was published after Ó Ruairc’s article but that is no excuse. I knew about these cases before its publication and I’m not a professional historian ná baol air. You can get the book here:

In short, Mr. Corcoran, Ó Ruairc’s article doesn’t change things. The English didn’t ban the Irish language in the 19th century, even in the courts. As I have said before and keep saying, people like Seán Corcoran should learn to think for themselves and assess the value of articles like this on their merits rather than accepting stuff like this as gospel without evidence.

John on Goodreads

Having finished the glossary, I am looking forward to taking a well-deserved rest for a while. However, before I do that, I will publish a couple of articles I wrote in draft and never got around to editing.

Just recently I came across another clown who has posted in support of Daniel Cassidy’s tosh on Goodreads. Some people think that the best way to deal with this kind of guff is simply to leave these people to their own devices and ignore them. They may have a point, but personally I quite like calling a moron a moron, so here goes!

The reviewer, who goes by the name of John, starts off with a very revealing comment:

Great book and Cassidy obviously angered some of the snooty academics he criticized in the book.

Here we see the motivation of much of this nonsense on line. The snooty academics are trying to silence the little man who is telling an unpopular truth. They’re all in it together. They don’t like any narrative that threatens their cosy little consensus. John presumably thinks that the smart people are looking down on people like him and Cassidy, because he’s a poorly educated person with a chip on his shoulder. In reality, of course, the people who are most angered by this book aren’t academics. I’m not an academic and neither are most of Cassidy’s critics. I am also not particularly ‘snooty’. I do look down on people who are intellectually lazy and arrogant but I’m not a snob in any social sense and I see no evidence that the majority of Cassidy’s critics are privileged in any way.

The big criticism of the book is that modern native Irish speakers don’t approve of his interpretations of the language into American (New York) English of Irish terms.

This is an odd and clumsy way of phrasing it. It’s obvious from the remainder of the post that this isn’t what John means. It’s not a case of his interpreting Irish terms into American English. This is the reverse of what Cassidy did. He took American English terms (many of which had very clear derivations) and simply invented phrases in ‘Irish’ that make no sense to any Irish speaker. However, then John says that it was OK for him to do this.

The problem with this of course is that the people who spoke this form of Irish came to New York in the aftermath of the Famine. Last count there were three modern dialects of Irish and though speakers of different dialects can understand each other, their use of local slang is precisely the thing which makes them all….different dialects.

Again, clumsy, badly-argued, lacking in any rigour. There is an attempt by John to pretend that he knows about Irish (the stuff about the three main dialects is true but only proves he has access to Wikipedia!) There is a certain overlap between slang and dialect but they are fundamentally different things. Look up their definitions in online dictionaries if you don’t believe me.

Please note that this person is not an expert on Irish. It is obvious to me that John isn’t Irish, doesn’t know any Irish himself and doesn’t know how different or similar or mutually comprehensible Irish dialects are from his personal experience. If he knew any Irish, he wouldn’t buy into any of Cassidy’s moronic nonsense.

So it’s very possible that words that had currency in early to mid 19th century Ireland, among peasants of the West, slowly fell into misuse after they had left Ireland but continued to be used in America. Pre-Famine Ireland was markedly different from Post-Famine Ireland especially in the accelerated decline of the language and the conscious turning away from all things Gaelic.

In other words, John thinks it’s irrelevant that almost every phrase used by Cassidy in How The Irish Invented Slang is unrecognisable in any dialect of Irish. You won’t find any of Cassidy’s ludicrous ‘Irish’ phrases used anywhere by any Irish speaker but that doesn’t matter, apparently, because they might have existed, even if there’s no proof. Anyone with a brain will realise that the chances of ALL the expressions mentioned by Cassidy disappearing from the Irish language in Ireland immediately and without leaving a trace but surviving in America are so tiny that it’s not even worth considering and even if they did, the burden of proof is on those who believe they existed, not on sceptics like me. They’re quite at liberty to believe in these fantasies but scholars don’t have to believe in things which are unsupported by evidence. That’s how it works.

After all many words and phrases from 19th century American English are either no longer used today or have evolved into different usage. Few people today speak like Abraham Lincoln, Wyatt Earp or Teddy Roosevelt.

Yes, languages change and Cassidy’s critics, myself included, know this and know a lot more about the history of Irish and the way it has changed since the 19th century than Cassidy, or Peter Quinn, or John. But the earliest of the three people mentioned, Abraham Lincoln, wrote the Gettysburg Address and the Gettysburg Address is known to many millions of Americans, who can understand it perfectly. The style is a little antiquated but it isn’t full of gobbledegook that no modern English speaker can understand. So why should Irish be so different, as this person is claiming?

It’s unrealistic to think that the loss of 1 million speakers of Irish didn’t somehow affect the language either at home or abroad. But leave it to the Irish to condemn anything they haven’t thought of themselves, let alone something written by a Yank.

Again, this is a straw man argument. Nobody said the Famine didn’t have an effect on the language and its use but we Irish are not being unreasonable by mocking the nonsense produced by Cassidy. He didn’t know any Irish, didn’t care enough to learn it, didn’t have a rational mind capable of separating puerile nonsense from fact. He is roundly condemned by linguists of all nationalities, including Irish people, because he was a pompous, dim-witted fake with no qualifications and no talent, not because he was a ‘Yank’.

Interestingly a modern historian has theorized that New York born gangster/cowboy Billy The Kid was a native Irish speaker who would have learned Irish growing up probably in the Five Points ghetto – recent evidence which supports Cassidys theory but which is conveniently ignored by his critics.

The information about Billy the Kid is true, or at least there are good grounds for thinking that it could be true. According to a cowboy who worked with Billy the Kid, Billy used to translate for a child, Mary Coghlan, who only spoke Irish.

Unfortunately, John does not enlighten us as to how he thinks this information supports Cassidy’s theory. It plainly does nothing to strengthen it or weaken it, let alone confirm or refute it. No critic of Cassidy has ever said or implied that there were no Irish speakers in the USA in the 19th or early 20th centuries. I had Irish-speaking relatives living within a short journey of Cassidy’s home in New York a hundred years ago. William Carty could easily have been one of the many Irish speakers in the USA but this provides no ammunition for Cassidy’s supporters. Whatever Irish William Carty and the many other speakers of the language in 19th century America had, it certainly didn’t consist of the bizarre phoney phrases made up by one crazy fake academic in California in the 2000s. This is a little like saying that the presence of Spanish speakers in an area confirms your opinion that the English expression to be out of pocket comes from the Spanish phrase estar fuera de bolsillo, and when people who speak Spanish tell you that isn’t a real Spanish expression, laughing smugly and saying that it may not exist in Spanish now but you can’t prove it didn’t exist in some long-dead and unrecorded version of the language. Which is really pretty infantile as an argument.

So if the phrases given as Irish in Cassidy’s book aren’t a lost American version of the language, what are they? Interestingly, John’s Goodreads page gives us an interesting example. John is a member of a Goodreads group called Clann na Chiarraí, which is dedicated to books about Kerry or written by people with Kerry connections. The phrase Clann na Chiarraí is trying to say ‘Children of Kerry’. In fact, the Irish name for Kerry never takes the definite article. The genitive of Kerry is Chiarraí, so children of Kerry would really be Clann Chiarraí. And in any case, any Irish speaker will tell you that séimhiú (lenition) never happens after the article na, which is used with plural nouns or feminine nouns in the genitive. This demonstrates something interesting. The fact is that any Irish speaker, whether two hundred years ago or last week, whether literate or illiterate, from the remotest parts of Kerry or a windswept hillside in Donegal or a posh suburb of Dublin or Cork would call the Kerry team foireann Chiarraí, not foireann na Chiarraí or even foireann na Ciarraí.

In other words, the version Clann na Chiarraí doesn’t represent some fascinating linguistic evolution in the USA among communities of Irish speakers cut off from the motherland. It represents an attempt by someone who doesn’t speak Irish to compose a term in that language, an attempt that failed because of a lack of knowledge of the real language and the way it is used. Which is also the reason why Cassidy’s ‘Irish’ phrases are almost entirely nonsense and can be discounted as the source of anything but a bit of unearned and undeserved cash for Daniel Cassidy and aggravation and unnecessary work for people like me who genuinely value the Irish language and dislike seeing it treated with such casual contempt.

The Glossary Is Finished

With the entry on Yellow, I have finally completed the Cassidese Glossary. This means that every single word in the glossary which constitutes the bulk of Cassidy’s book has been covered. The T, U, W and Y section contained only 21 entries. Added to the previous total of 465, we now have 486 entries in the Glossary.

The principal claim made by Daniel Cassidy was that Anglophile scholars who hate Irish had decided to exclude Gaelic derivations from the dictionaries out of sheer bigotry. There were, according to Cassidy, hundreds if not thousands of words and phrases of Irish origin in English that these so-called scholars had missed because of their intolerance and bias.

In assessing Cassidy’s claims, we need to establish clear criteria. Firstly, the claims made need to be correct. In other words, the Irish candidate words or phrases need to be close to the English in terms of sound and meaning, and that similarity has to be because they were borrowed from Irish into English, not because they were borrowed from English into Irish or from some third language into both. Secondly, they have to be derivations that appear FIRST in Cassidy’s work.

In some cases, Cassidy claimed that individual Irish words resemble English words in sound and meaning. In most cases, these English words sound little like Cassidy’s Irish candidates, as in the case of swank deriving from somhaoineach or swell deriving from sóúil. In both of these cases, and in many others, the real origins are well-known and have nothing to do with Irish. Cassidy also fails to explain how words could have been transmitted from generation to generation orally in such a mangled form and indeed, this is not what we find in genuine cases. Banshee sounds like bean sí, clabber sounds like clábar, shebeen sounds like sibín.

Of course, there are a small number of genuine Irish or Scottish Gaelic terms in Cassidy’s book, literary phrases like avoorneen and machree, slang terms like puss in sourpuss or slew as in a slew of claims. In total, there are about thirty Irish words, two Scottish Gaelic ones, and two from the Irish traveller language known as Gammon or Shelta in the glossary. All of these words are included in mainstream dictionaries and their Gaelic etymologies are accepted by those dictionaries.

However, as you can see from the posts on the Cassidese Glossary, most of Cassidy’s claims are not individual words in Irish that sound anything like individual words in English. Many of them, and probably the majority, are made-up phrases. For example, according to Cassidy, a top banana is a baothán nathánach (an aphoristic simpleton, no less!) Gibberish is from geab ar ais, gab back. Baloney, says Cassidy, is from béal ónna meaning simple mouth or nonsense. A sucker is from the phrase sách úr, supposedly meaning a fresh well-fed person and thus a sucker. Wanker supposedly comes from uath-anchor, meaning spontaneous abuse. The book is peppered with invented, fantasy nonsense like this, for which there is absolutely no evidence at all.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Cassidy produced a work of such colossal dishonesty, as dishonesty was his default position. This was a man who flunked his degree at Cornell in 1965, yet thirty years later he suddenly cropped up teaching in a university in California claiming to be a graduate of Cornell and Columbia. Just think about that for a minute. There are already plenty of people better qualified than Daniel Cassidy working as baristas and shop assistants and clerks, both here in Europe and in the USA. In the wake of the current Covid-19 crisis, there will be many more. Cassidy claimed to be a socialist and a radical but he put his own interests ahead of his principles time and time again. This worthless piece of trash belonged in a prison, not a college, and though it may be too late to make him pay for his criminal behaviour, we can certainly name and shame the people and institutions who continue to lie in his defence.

Some people will continue to use the ‘real criminals’ argument, saying that there are more important targets than Cassidy and that we should attack them instead. However, as I have said in the past, this is not a two-way choice. Other people can go after the White Slavery Meme, or Creationism, or Ancient Aliens – and good luck to them! I have gone after Cassidy because I have a particular love for the Irish language and a general interest in linguistics.

However, I also have a strong conviction that stupidity should be challenged and attacked wherever we find it. If someone chooses to ignore the facts and believe that a sinister cabal of etymologists is trying to deny that hundreds of Irish expressions made their way into English out of pure Anglophile racism, that person is an idiot. If someone claims that Daniel Cassidy was a genuine etymologist and teacher, they are either a liar or a fool or a bit of both.

Our local Chinese takeaway (on restricted opening because of C19) was recently forced to close because of the abusive calls from morons who believe that the Chinese deliberately released Covid-19 to further their own economic interests. A phone mast near here was attacked by some dim-witted fruitloop who believed that Covid-19 isn’t a virus but a product of waves emanating from the 5G network. People who haven’t learned how to think rationally or distinguish between nonsense and facts are a menace. They need to be challenged at every turn by sensible and reasonable people, whether the subject is the Gaelic etymology of wanker or the prophetic powers of Dean Koontz.