Category Archives: An Ghaeilge

More on Smashin’

I have frequently used this blog to criticise the tendency of people who know nothing about language or languages to set themselves up as experts on the subject. I am not just talking about Cassidy here but also about thousands of ordinary people who contribute ‘interesting’ little factoids to internet discussions, informing the world that the Celtic languages are of Phoenician origin or that Shakespeare’s language shows Irish features or that Jamaican slang is all Gaelic in origin. The instant internet expert is one of the worst aspects of the digital age. And however annoying I find it, I realise that for doctors, trying to save people’s lives while immature, dim-witted arseholes undermine their efforts at every turn, it must be so much worse than annoying!

Anyway, I recently heard an interview on RTÉ with an ‘expert’ on the Irish language in Liverpool. Most of this interview was reasonable enough, dealing with well-trodden ground relating to the history of the Irish community in Liverpool. However, the final bit was a typical piece of fake etymological nonsense which I have dealt with before. According to the expert, tara whack comes from tabhair aire, a mhac. (in reality, tara is a local variant of ta-ta, which is found all over England, while the original form of whack was whacker, and it was only shortened to whack in the 1960s!) He also quoted the tired old chestnut about smashing coming from the Irish is maith sin.

While I have also dealt with this question before, it is perhaps worth going through it again here.

Firstly, why do so many people believe that the English slang word smashing comes from the Irish is maith sin? Well, there is a phrase ‘Is maith sin’ which is found in Irish and in Scottish Gaelic (though it really isn’t very common) and which is pronounced much the same as smashin’ and which means ‘That’s good!’  Many people with no training in linguistics will automatically assume that that is enough to prove the connection. Case closed!

However, as we’ve mentioned before, there is an old maxim among etymologists, “Etymology by sound is not sound etymology”. In other words, a formal similarity is only ever a starting point for further research. In and of itself, it means nothing, because when a word in language A resembles another word in language B, this doesn’t automatically mean that A borrowed that word from B. There are other possibilities, such as that B borrowed it from A, or that both A and B borrowed it from C, or that A and B are related languages which developed from an earlier language and inherited a similar word from that parent-language (i.e. the two words are cognates). Or, of course, that the similarity is pure coincidence.

Coincidence is not as uncommon as you would think. We have already discussed a good example here, the fact that daor in Irish and dear in English are both adjectives, both mean expensive and they sound very similar. However, if we follow their etymologies back, they are completely unrelated, and any similarity is a matter of random chance.

Such random similarities are even less likely to be significant when the meaning is somewhere in the same ball-park but not identical. For example, we have had the example here of someone (not Cassidy) who claimed that the English word muck and the Irish muc (pig) must be related because pigs are mucky. Again, when you research the etymology of these words in their respective languages, there is no connection at all.

So, what about smashing and is maith sin? Well, firstly let me say, for the sake of transparency, that it is not impossible that smashing comes from is maith sin. I cannot categorically prove that there is no link. However, if we look at the facts objectively, it is highly improbable that there is any connection.

For one thing, the word smash meaning to break or destroy exists, and there is nothing odd about using a term meaning to hit or break with the meaning of excellent. Smash was first used in English (as a noun meaning a blow) in 1725 and it was first used to mean a success in the early 20th century. There are many metaphorical expressions using terms for breaking and hitting in the sense of success. We have a thumping good film, a hit,, a belter, or bostin’ (busting, a Midlands English expression) and of course, cracking, a term which has been used in just the same way as smashing since the 1820s. In other words, smashing coming from English smash is perfectly reasonable as an explanation.

There is no evidence of an Irish or Gaelic origin. Smashing does not occur first in Irish or Scottish contexts and there are no conscious references to it as an Irish or Gaelic expression. This is not what we find with hubbub, or shebeen, or banshee, or Tory, or claymore, or slogan.

Another problem is the way the two expressions are used. In English, smashing is used in lots of ways that do not correspond to the use of is maith sin. When smashing is used as a stand-alone phrase (Smashing! I like it!) then it’s reasonably close to the way is maith sin is used. However, a bilingual Irish or Gaelic speaker would not say “That’s really is maith sin!” or “We had an is maith sin time!” These make no sense. And when we look at the history of the word smashing, it is used as an adjective first and as a stand-alone phrase later, which we would not expect to find if this were a word of Irish or Gaelic origin.

I realise that this will disappoint a lot of people, because the claim about Is maith sin and smashing has been around for a long time and was certainly well-known long before Cassidy came along. There are many other folk etymologies like this, for example that shanty comes from seantí or that so long comes from slán or that mucker comes from mo chara or that longshoreman comes from loingseoir. None of these derivations is likely to be true, in spite of the fact that they are widely quoted and believed by people in Ireland and in Irish America.

Still less is there any chance of Cassidy’s claims being true, because we need to remember that Cassidy lied about virtually everything. Most of the phrases he gives are outright invention and where he does quote from dictionaries and other authoritative sources, he usually doctored and rewrote the material to make it sound more convincing. Almost nothing in Cassidy’s book is trustworthy and it is safer to simply assume that anything he said is untrue.

A Reply To Damien Kirwan

I received a message a few weeks ago from someone called Damien Kirwan and I have decided to answer it briefly, just as a way of showing what kind of comments deserve an answer and what kind of comments do not. Here is what Kirwan says:

I read the book when it came out. I don’t see why you are so angry with Dan Cassidy. His explanation for the origin of the words such as dig, slum, jazz, phoney and the phrase to “say uncle” have merit and gives dignity to a modern European language that has almost vanished. God be good to Dr Cassidy RIP, ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

This, of course, is the kind of comment that really doesn’t deserve an answer and I am fully aware that in publishing this and replying to it, I am doing the poor moron who wrote it no favours. However, the fact is that I have put a lot of work into this blog because I felt that the Irish language needed some protection from lying con-men like the late Daniel Cassidy and it bothers me that some arrogant bómán like Damien Kirwan wants to set me straight about Cassidy without bothering to read any of the blog. The fact is, if he had bothered to look through the material dealt with here, he would know that the possible (but not very likely) origin of dig was first discussed in a paper by Eric Hamp in 1981, that phoney deriving from fáinne has been in the public domain for decades before Cassidy came along and was discussed by Eric Partridge and that the ‘say uncle’ theory was first proposed in an article in American Speech vol 51, 1976. In other words, none of these theories was invented by Cassidy. He merely claimed them without giving proper credit.

He would also have learned that there is no evidence for Cassidy’s claims about slum and jazz. The idea that Cassidy’s wholesale invention of hundreds of nonsensical phrases in fake Irish contribute to the status or dignity of Irish is also ludicrous and quite offensive. And to top it all, this arrogant moron refers to Daniel Cassidy, dim Dan from San Fran, who flunked his degree from Cornell and never acquired any qualifications at all, as Dr Cassidy!

I would like to point out here to people like Damien (and a certain member of the O’Keeffe family who should learn the difference between codail and chodail) that I am not under any obligation to provide a forum for people to express their stupidity and arrogance and I certainly do not have to dignify their semi-literate nonsense with a reply. I have better things to do with my time. If people really want to comment on these matters, they can always start their own blog.


A recent exchange with one of Cassidy’s supporters on the comments section of this blog (which I have since removed) had one useful outcome, as I realised that my treatment of Cassidy’s claims about the origins of the word boogaloo were not detailed enough.

The origins of boogie are mysterious enough. The known facts are that boogie was originally recorded in 1917 as a term for a rent party. Among poor black people, when they were unable to make the rent, they had a party (with alcohol during Prohibition) as well as music to raise the money to keep them from eviction. According to the excellent Etymonline, a song title “That Syncopated Boogie-boo” first appears in 1912. The style of music known as boogie or boogie-woogie dates back to 1928. The term boogaloo is quite late, being recorded first in the 1960s.

Cassidy ignores these subtleties and claims that the word boogie is from the Irish bogadh. He doesn’t mention boogie-woogie (because he can’t twist it into an ‘Irish’ form) but emphasises the late word boogaloo.

Bogadh is an Irish verbal noun. Its main meaning in modern Irish is ‘to move’. Because of this, Cassidy doesn’t mention the rent party origin, emphasising instead the meanings of dancing and movement. The word bogadh is a bad match in terms of sound. Bogadh is pronounced boggoo in the north and bogga in southern Irish.

As we have said, boogaloo is a very late development of the word boogie. Cassidy claims that it comes from an ‘Irish’ phrase bogadh luath. The word luath has the primary meaning of early, but can also mean fast. Because of this ambiguity, it is unlikely that it would be used in phrases like this rather than a word that unambiguously means fast, like gasta, tapa or mear.

To convince ignorant and gullible people that bogadh luath is an Irish phrase, Cassidy gives several examples of sentences using it. He claims that Níl bogadh luath ann means ‘he is unable to move fast’, while according to him, bogadh luath as áit means ‘to move fast out of a place; to boogaloo out of a joint’. Where did these examples of bogadh luath in use come from?

The answer, of course, is that they are crude fakes manufactured by Cassidy. He copied two phrases from Ó Dónaill’s dictionary, Níl bogadh ann and bogadh as áit, and then randomly stuck the word luath into them and pretended that they would make sense.

In fact, Níl bogadh ann is an all-or-nothing kind of a phrase. The best comparison would be expressions like the English ‘There wasn’t a peep out of him’. Just because you can say that doesn’t mean you can say ‘There wasn’t a big peep out of him’ if he spoke a little bit.

As for bogadh luath as áit, if you said ‘they moved quickly out of the house’, you would have to say bhog siad (or bhogaidis) as an áit GO luath. You need the adverbial particle go. People don’t bogadh luath or dul gasta or teacht réidh in Irish. Of course, Cassidy was completely ignorant of the Irish language and wouldn’t have had a clue what was right and what was wrong, either in terms of Irish grammar or personal morality.

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig

St Patrick’s Day will soon be here, so it seems like a good opportunity once again to attack Cassidy’s rubbish book of fake Irish, to encourage people to learn a little of the real thing, and to say a couple of words about the philosophy of language learning.

At this time of year, many people in the Irish diaspora take an interest in their culture and history. Because of the irresponsible behaviour of a number of prominent members of the Irish-American establishment like Peter Quinn, Joe Lee, Michael Patrick MacDonald, Tom Deignan and countless others, who recommended and continue to recommend this nonsense to gullible people, this book is still in print and still being sold. This is a disgrace. Cassidy’s ‘research’ is a cruel and disgusting hoax and IMHO no decent person would support it. However, thanks in part to this blog, people are now much more aware of how dishonest and foolish this book is, so the newspaper articles about Cassidy’s linguistic ‘revelations’ which used to appear at this time of year have been considerably fewer over the last couple of years. The only major organ (yes, I’m aware of the innuendo) of the diaspora which still supports this raiméis is the egregious IrishCentral. They continue to republish a semi-literate ‘review’ of Cassidy’s book by some 9/11 Truther called Brendan Patrick Keane.

Anyway, it seems appropriate to celebrate St Patrick’s Day with some handy (and GENUINE) phrases in our beautiful Ulster dialect of the Irish language.

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig duit! (OR Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig ort!)

Ban-akh-tee na fayla pahrig ditch!

Blessings of St Patrick’s day to you!

Go raibh míle maith agat.

Go roh meela moy oggut!

A thousand thanks! (Thanks very much)

Tá sé iontach deas inniu.

Tah shay intah jass inyoo.

It’s very nice today.

Sláinte mhór agus saol fada agat!

Slahn-chya wore ogus seel fadda oggut!

Good health and long life to you!

If you want some more information on these things, there are hundreds of resources on line. is particularly good and has audio files for common words. Just don’t trust anything you read on IrishCentral, in any language, and don’t use Cassidy’s book as a source for learning Irish!

As for the philosophy of language learning, here’s a few points for people thinking of learning Irish:


  • learn a little every day – start NOW!
  • label things you use every day – fridge, cooker, car, door
  • write common words or phrases on cards and carry them round with you
  • learn a few proverbs or songs by heart
  • use apps and words of the day and the Kindle and other new technology
  • get output by TG4 and Raidió na Gaeltachta and listen to the language as much as possible (without bothering about understanding it) just to get used to the sounds and intonation


  • go to a class once a week and forget about it the rest of the time
  • try to learn everything at once and get disheartened when you can’t
  • use Google Translate to translate INTO Irish (it’s useful to get an idea of what a text means in a language you don’t speak well or at all but, for example, if you put I cycled a lot into Google Translate, you get Rothar mé go leor, which is garbage!)
  • make up sentences which are too complicated for you – stick to the structures you know to be correct. Walk, then run! There’s no point in practising elaborate structures which are wrong. Stick to simple sentences which are right! 

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig daoibh!!

Daniel Cassidy – A Study in Dishonesty

People have frequently visited this site and deposited hostile comments, usually without bothering to read the evidence first. Occasionally, I have answered these criticisms, which is usually a mistake. The debates can get very heated, on both sides, and the critics are usually totally unwilling to take the evidence on board or deal with it in a rational way.

One of the main criticisms tends to be that Cassidy was honest and that my depiction of him as a con-man and a fraud is misplaced. According to these people, Cassidy’s book of fantasy etymologies was basically well-intentioned, an interesting attempt but Cassidy ‘overreached’ a little so the core of truth has to be sifted out of less believable material. This is utter nonsense.

As I have shown on this blog, there is no core of truth in Cassidy’s work. Cassidy certainly tapped into a number of common folk-etymologies linking English words to the Irish language and he probably obtained these through an Irish-language learners’ forum he used. This gave him words like twig and dig, say uncle, longshoreman, phoney, pet. All of these have been dealt with in great detail and have nothing to do with Cassidy. (Some of them like twig from tuig and phoney from fainne are certainly possible, while others like longshoreman are very unlikely.) He then set to work looking for further words and phrases derived from Irish. In doing this, he tried to claim links between words like case as in case the joint and Irish casadh, gump and Irish colm and a host of other ludicrously improbable etymologies. He deliberately ignored any alternative derivations or anything that did not confirm his ridiculous hunches.  For example, he claimed that swoon comes from Irish suan, meaning sleep. Sounds convincing, except that swoon has an impeccable genealogy in English going back to Anglo-Saxon, so the similarity with suan is pure coincidence.

However, if he had stuck to single words like this, his book would still have been a pamphlet, so he made up lots of ridiculous phrases like béal ónna, uath dubh, uath-anchor, gus óil, éamh call, árd-iachtach-tach, sách úr etc. etc. Hardly any of the phrases in Cassidy’s book are genuine Irish. The vast majority are the most imbecilic concoctions. As David L. Gold has pointed out, Cassidy’s contribution to the study of etymology was less than zero, because not only did he fail to produce any genuinely valid or potentially interesting derivations, he muddied the water by producing hundreds of entirely fake ‘Irish’ phrases which are still doing the rounds on the Internet.

If that weren’t enough, there are also huge questions to be answered about Cassidy’s academic record.  When I started this blog in 2013, I still thought Cassidy had a university degree. This in itself would raise questions because you would normally expect a university lecturer to have at least a Master’s and often a doctorate. However, Cassidy’s sister Susan (no fan of her brother) told me that he had flunked his Cornell degree in 1965. This was confirmed by the Cornell registrar, Cassie Dembosky. In other words, there is not a shred of evidence that Cassidy had any qualifications at all, so it is hard to see how he managed to work for twelve years as a university lecturer. The only explanation, as far as I can see, is that he lied about his qualifications.

There are other strong indications of Cassidy’s dishonesty. He left reviews of his book on line using sockpuppet identities, which is not only highly unethical, the way it was done was incredibly incompetent. You would be in no doubt reading these fake reviews that Cassidy was the author.

Other details of his biography also raise questions. He was apparently working in the newsroom of the New York Times when JFK was shot. Except in reality, he didn’t work there until two years after Kennedy died.

Everything about this man is dodgy, suspect, hooky. His American and Irish cronies, lackeys and enablers can deny the truth as much as they want. It remains the truth. What is important to me is to get the message across that Cassidy knew nothing about Irish and that most of his claims are based on made-up expressions which clearly demonstrate Cassidy’s profound lack of respect for the Irish language and the people who speak it.

Cuddle and Codail

In the past I have criticised Sean Williams (aka Captain Grammar Pants) a blogger on matters of language. She published a book on Irish traditional music a number of years ago which was full of nonsense taken from Cassidy’s book. In a comment on one of my posts, she admitted that she no longer believed in these derivations and that she had got it wrong. However, since then, she has lapsed a couple of times, making silly and indefensible claims about supposed Irish derivations of English words. Just recently, on the 25th of December last year, she claimed that the English word cuddle comes from Irish codail (sleep).

Is this true? No, of course it’s not! We don’t really know where the English word cuddle comes from. It’s a apparently a nursery word (which tend not to be recorded). It may or may not be linked to other terms like coddle, mollycoddle and huddle.

Where did the claim of a connection with codail come from? In this case, it wasn’t from Cassidy. Loretto Todd, in her book Green English, mentions that cuddle might be linked to codalta [sic – it should be codlata), the genitive of codladh, meaning sleep. I have already written about Todd’s book, which is dubious but not as bad as Cassidy’s.

Anyway, could codail really be the origin of cuddle? After all, cuddling and sleep are sometimes linked and they are both about warmth and enfolding … and soft furnishings are often involved.

The answer to that is “no”! We need to think rationally about these things, about the processes involved. It’s not enough for a word to be somewhere in the same vague semantic ballpark. When a word is borrowed from one language to another, there is always a bilingual situation (usually involving a community of bilingual people) who tend to do what linguists call code-switching. This simply means that people use words and sometimes phrases and structures from one language while speaking another. In other words, some group of people who were bilingual said “Would you look at the pus on that child?” because the original would have been “An bhfeiceann tú an pus ar an leanbh sin?” And thus, after the word had been used many, many times in this community, the young monoglot English-speaking generation came to use the word pus(s) as a slang word in American contexts like sourpuss, glamourpuss and a dig in the puss.

So, the implication is that someone, somewhere, said something like “The child was crying and Máire gave him a codail”. Why would they, when nobody would say “Bhí an leanbh ag caoineadh agus thug Máire codail dó?” Codail isn’t the Irish for cuddle. And you don’t give someone sleep, especially not the word codail which is an imperative verb (an instruction to sleep) not the noun for sleep, which is codladh. And of course, hugging is not always, or not even primarily, about sleeping. It’s about warmth, intimacy, closeness. There is no plausible connection between codail and cuddle. If Captain Grammar Pants could be bothered doing the most elementary fact-checking, she would realise that.

Nollaig Shona Daoibh!

I have been thinking that I should make my Christmas message a bit different this year. Usually, I post a message warning people not to give the gift of lies and ignorance by bestowing Cassidy’s ludicrous and offensive piece of cultural appropriation, How The Irish Invented Slang, on their friends and family. I still stand by that, of course. Cassidy’s book is utterly and completely worthless, as you can see by reading the material on this blog. All you are saying when you give this book as a gift is ‘I am an idiot’.

However, this year, I thought I would mention a few books that you can give to people of Irish descent or with Irish links without feeling totally ashamed of yourself, books that will actually inform them about their cultural history. While it may be a little late (we’re already past Black Friday), this year is a little different from the usual and who knows, perhaps some people will be delaying their present-giving until they actually get to meet up again. And then, there are always birthdays and other celebrations where a gift like this might be appropriate. So here are a few suggestions.

The best one I’ve read recently was this:

A history of Ireland in 100 words: Arbuthnot, Sharon, Maire Ni Mhaonaigh, Toner, Gregory, McLaren, Joe: 9781911479185: Books

This is a beautifully produced and very interesting book on key words in the Irish language. It is full of interesting material. I agree with almost everything in it. (The only thing I’m still very unsure about is the supposed connection between leipreachán/leprechaun and Lupercus. I still haven’t seen any evidence for this and I find it unlikely but who knows, perhaps I’m wrong!) It is based on the Word of the Week section on Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language and it is wonderful.

Another book which is quite similar is Manchán Magan’s Thirty-Two Words for Field. This is also extremely attractively-produced and it contains some interesting stuff. It is not as rigorous or scholarly (by any means) as the history of Ireland In 100 Words, but it is worth reading. Magan is a bit of a romantic and I would take bits of it with a pinch of salt but I really enjoyed it. You can find it here:

Thirty-Two Words for Field: Manchan Magan: 9780717187973: Books

Another pair of books I’ve mentioned before are Motherfoclóir and Craic Baby. As regular readers of this blog will remember, I have misgivings about some of the material in these books (especially anything to do with etymology) but I do think they are worth reading and I would recommend them.

Motherfoclóir: Dispatches from @theirishfor: Dispatches from a not so dead language: Darach O’Séaghdha: 9781786691866: Books

Craic Baby: Dispatches from a Rising Language: Darach O’Séaghdha: 9781788545259: Books

A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa is a fantastic book about the famous lament for Art Ó Laoghaire (written in the 18th century by Eibhlin Dhubh, a relative of Daniel O’Connell and of James Joyce) by a bilingual poet who has had a long-standing interest in the lament.

A Ghost in the Throat: Doireann Ní Ghríofa: 9781916434264: Books

This is a very interesting book on the history of the language:

A History of the Irish Language: From the Norman Invasion to Independence (Oxford Linguistics): Doyle, Aidan: 9780198724766: Books

And this is another lovely book written by a journalist about his re-engagement with his Irish heritage. Again, a lovely book and well worth reading:

Coming Home: One man’s return to the Irish Language eBook: McCaughan, Michael: Kindle Store

Finally, if you can afford it, and if you are very interested in the Irish language, why not invest in a copy of the new Irish dictionary? This is a monumental work of scholarship but it is also very unstuffy and full of the language of the people. If you can’t afford it, then don’t worry, because it is available on line and has already proven its worth as a resource for the Irish-speaking community.

Concise English-Irish Dictionary (

I hope you will have a wonderful Christmas and that you decide to learn some Irish in 2021.

Nollaig Shona agus Bliain Úr Faoi Mhaise Daoibh!

Beware of Fakelore!

This is an old blog post I have decided to republish for Halloween.

We are getting ready for Hallowe’en here. It is one of my favourite festivals of the year. To our Celtic ancestors, it was Samhain, the end of summer, the Celtic New Year. (Pronounced sow-inn, with the sow part as in female pig, not Sam-hain as in the way Donald Pleasance mangles it in the film.) Because the Celts believed in the importance of liminality, of the edges between realities, they believed that this festival night between one year and the next was somehow outside of ordinary time. It was therefore a gateway which allowed worlds to bleed into each other. On this night alone, the dead were able to return to the places they loved in this world.

I love folklore and tradition. I have no problem with traditions that grow and change (ever tried carving a turnip? – believe me, pumpkins are a lot easier and the result is much better!)

Vampires and monsters are fun, and the Irish have given many such stories to the world. Le Fanu and Stoker virtually created the modern vampire tradition, Le Fanu was a major influence on MR James, the greatest ghost-story writer of all time. Even Frankenstein has a brief incident set on the Irish coast.

However, while we should cherish our folklore, we should avoid fakelore. For example, Cassidy himself claimed that the Hoodoo comes from a distinctively Irish supernatural being called the uath dubh. The only problem is that the uath dubh does not exist in Irish folklore. There is no such thing.

Likewise, people like Bob Curran and Peter Haining and Peter Tremayne are responsible for a lot of sloppy research which makes untenable claims about Irish tradition. There is now a sizeable body of material floating around on the internet about the Irish origins of vampire folklore. But when we examine these claims, we find that there is no evidence for any of the paradigm-changing material.

For example, it is claimed that the villain of a County Derry story, Ábhartach, drank blood when he returned from the dead and that he was a described as a neamh-mharbh and as a dearg-diúlaí. Patrick Weston Joyce tells the story in his book but he doesn’t mention blood-drinking or the spurious Irish terms above.

There is also the claim that a book was displayed in Trinity College when Stoker was there containing references to Irish vampirism. In Brian Earls’s sensible and restrained article in the Dublin Review of Books (, this is stated to have been a copy of Keating’s Foras Feasa ar Éirinn, which has an account of revenants in book one, chapter ten, but the revenants don’t drink blood and are referred to as ‘the dead’ (na mairbh) or ‘bodies’ (coirp). Other accounts claim that the book gives an account of the legend of Ábhartach (which it doesn’t) or that it uses words like neamh-mharbh and dearg-diúlaí (which it doesn’t). The most bizarre version is in an article in Ireland of the Welcomes: “Owen Harding says there was a manuscript published about this legend from an anonymous writer. It was entitled The Abhartach, Dreach-Fhoula. This document was exhibited up till 1868 in none other than Trinity College which Stoker attended. So is it likely that Stoker used this story to base his novel on? Harding believes it is.”

Another weird piece of fakelore is the Dearg-Due, or Dearg-Dul, or Derrick-Dally, or Dearg-Diúlaí (sic). According to some sources, this is an ancient Irish vampire. However, the evidence for any of this is very, very weak. The earliest reference I can find to a dearg-dul is a 1928 book on vampires, Vampires, Their Kith and Kin (later republished as The Vampire in Europe) by a bizarre character called Montague Summers. He certainly mentions the dearg-dul. He says, simply, “In Ancient Ireland the Vampire was known simply as dearg-dul, “red blood sucker”, and his ravages were universally feared.” Another account of this creature is said (by Haining and Tremayne) to be found in the Irish Monthly Review of 1874, but none of those who quote this source has ever actually found the reference or provided any account of what the article says, or even if it exists. It seems to me that this is probably derived from the Irish deargadaol (Devil’s coach-horse), originally known as a darbdael or darb-dóel. In the former spelling, it occurs as early as the Book of Ballymote of 1391. The deargadaol is not red and is not a vampire. In fact, it is black. The word is formed from the two words doirb (a water beetle) and daol (a beetle), and this was later corrupted to Dearg-Daol or Deargadaol. Pádraig Pearse wrote a short story (published in 1916) called An Dearg-Daol, which concerns a woman who has been cursed from the pulpit by a priest for some unknown sin, and who is known as the Dearg-Daol because it is one of the three cursed creatures (the other two are the viper and the wren, presumably because of its propensity for marine pollution ….) I suspect that dearg-due arose from poor handwriting – many people write an l like an e and they are easy to confuse. It also seems to me that forms like Dearg-Diúlaí are attempts to explain this word by people with little or no Irish. They are very improbable. Dearg doesn’t mean blood, and why wouldn’t it be dearg-dhiúlaí (jarrig-yoolee) anyway?

Another problem is the absurd claim that Dracula derives from various ‘Irish’ phrases like Droch-fhoula or Droch-fhola or Dreach-fhola. Droch-fhoula obviously isn’t Irish, because there is no ‘ou’ in Irish orthography. Drochfhola is Irish for ‘of bad blood’ but words in the genitive can’t stand on their own in Irish, so it doesn’t really make sense. The Dreach-fhola is another strange one. Dreach is a masculine noun so it should be Dreach Fola (It is I, Count Draffola??!!) However, this is supposed to be from a lecture delivered by a man called Ó Súilleabháin, the head of the Irish Folklore Commission, who supposedly mentioned a castle called Dún Dreach-Fhola in Magillicuddy’s Reeks inhabited by blood-drinking fairies. But there is no written record of this, not in his writings or anyone else’s. And there is no doubt about the link between Dracula and Transylvania in Bram Stoker’s book.

Please note here that I am not criticising ordinary bloggers or commentators who have repeated these claims in good faith (though I do think people like Bob Curran, Peter Haining and Peter Tremayne deserve to be criticised). There is a difference between Cassidy’s supporters and these people. Cassidy’s supporters are championing a hoax which arose because of one man’s arrogance and dishonesty. It was discredited as soon as it came out, and those who support Cassidy have chosen to ignore the facts because of egoism and stupidity. The mess we find in relation to vampirism and Irish folklore comes from lots of different sources. Arguably nobody has deliberately lied about this stuff (with the possible exception of Owen Harding and Bob Curran.) These errors have arisen largely as a result of bad referencing, bad research, bad copying, accuracy slip and certainty creep, extreme gullibility, Chinese whispers and even bad handwriting.

More on the Tally Stick

A while back, I wrote a short piece in answer to Maureen Hurley. At the end of that article, I said that I would try to write a piece on the bata scóir, so here it is.

What was the bata scóir? Well, the word bata means stick in Irish, while the word scór is a borrowing of the English word score. It means a score or notch and comes ultimately from the Old Norse skor, meaning a notch or (because of its use in tallying) a count of twenty. In other words, it means a tally stick, a device used for counting or tallying. Usually, this was a small wooden block of various forms, which was usually able to be marked with notches indicating various values and then split lengthwise so that the two parts would tally. (Also, you could place the two parts together temporarily to mark new notches on it.)

In Ireland, historically, the bata scóir has had several meanings or uses. It was principally used in the nineteenth century as a kind of time card, used by labourers to prove how many hours they had worked. For example, an tAthair Peadar in his book of 1915, Mo Sgéal Féin, says this about the bata scóir used by labourers and farmers:

Bhíodh an bata scóir acu, agus choimeádaidís araon an cúntas ar an mbata scóir.
Is amhlaidh a bhíodh an bata scóir ‘n-a dhá leath ar a fhaid, agus leath acu ag an bhfear oibre agus an leath eile acu ag an bhfeirmeóir. Nuair a bhíodh an cúntas acu
le cur síos, do thagaidís i bhfochair a chéile agus a leath féin de’n bhata ag gach duine acu. Ansan, cuir i gcás go mbéadh chúig lá oibre déanta ag an bhfear oibre, do shínfidís an dá leath-bhata suas le n-a chéile, agus do ghearfadh duine acu chúig scóir le sgiain ar an dá leath-bhata, scór, nó fáibre, i n-aghaidh gach lae oibre d’ár deineadh. Do gearfaí na fáibrí i dtreó go luighfeadh an sgian ar an dá leath-bhata i n-aonfheacht, agus go mbéadh gach fáibre geartha isteach ionta araon. Ansan do choimeádfadh gach aoinne a leath féin de’n bhata scóir, agus níor bh’fhéidir d’aoinne
acu éagcóir a dhéanamh ar an nduine eile, mar níor bh’ fhéidir scór do ghearadh amach ‘ná scór do chur isteach gan an dá leath-bhata do shíneadh le chéile airís, agus nuair a sínfí le chéile iad do chaithfeadh na fáibrí teacht isteach le n-a chéile cruinn, fé mar a gearadh iad ar dtúis.

They used to have the tally-stick, and they would both keep the account on the tally stick. It so happened that the tally-stick used to be split lengthwise into two halves, one half kept by the workman and the other half by the farmer. When they had to record the account, they would come together, each of them with his own half of the stick. Then, suppose the workman had done five days of work, they would lay the two half-sticks up against each other, and one of them would cut five scores with a knife on the two half sticks, a score, or a groove, for every day of work that was done. The grooves would be cut so that the knife would lie on both of the half-sticks together, and so that each groove would be cut into both of them. Then each one would keep his own half of the tally-stick, and neither of them could cheat the other one, because it was not possible to cut a groove out or to put a score in without laying the two half-sticks together again, and when they were laid together the grooves had to match each other accurately, just as they had originally been cut.

However, many Irish people will be aware of a more sinister meaning to the phrase bata scóir, as a device used to punish Irish-speaking children for using their native language in school. This was particularly associated with the National School system which was brought in in 1831 but the custom seems to have been used to force children to learn English before then in the hedge schools (scoileanna scairte or scoltacha scairte), unofficial local schools run in barns or outdoors by a teacher paid directly by the parents.

This practice was used in many countries where an indigenous language was supplanted by a more powerful language like English or French. The best-known example was probably the famous Welsh Not. This was a badge that was hung on the neck of a child who was heard speaking Welsh. When another child was heard speaking the language, the Welsh Not was transferred to them and so on. At the end of the day the child wearing the Welsh Not was punished. Many years ago, I was told that this was also the pattern in Donegal.

However, most accounts of the bata scóir in Ireland tend to emphasise the scoring or notching aspect. For example, a child called Pádraig Ó Cuirrín from Waterford gave the following account (collected from his father) in the collection of folklore called Bailiúchan na Scol in the 1930s (my translation):

When my grandfather was going to school he used to speak Irish and a Bata Scóir was placed around his neck. He spoke ten words of Irish and ten notches were put in the stick for every word and then he was put outside the door. When he went home, his father gave him a blow for every notch that was in the stick.

Another account is in an Irish translation of an essay by William Smith O’Brien (written in 1893 but translated in 1905):

Ba mhinic, le deich mbliadhna is dachad do labhradh go trom ar lucht cnáide leanbh Gaedhealach scoile nuair a bheirtí ortha ag labhairt na teangan do thugadar leó ó lacht chíche a máthar, agus níl amhras ná gur bh’aithiseach an bheart í. Ní hé an cipín scóir do cuireadh ar chrochadh fé bhrághaid leanbh labhartha na Gaedhilge, mar tharcuisne ar a dteangain, fé ndeara dhi bheith ar gcúl, acht teicheadh na ndaoine thar sáile.

People have frequently spoken critically for the last fifty years about those tormenters of Irish-speaking school children when they were caught speaking the language they were given from their mother’s milk, and there is no doubt that this was a shameful act. It was not the tally-stick which was hung around the neck of children who spoke Irish to scorn the language which was the reason for its decline but the emigration of people overseas.

(The original version is: Bitter things have been said of those who in the last fifty years were used to chide Irish school children caught lapsing into their own mother-tongue; and no doubt it was a sorry spectacle. But it was emigration, not the ferule of the old pedants, that drove the Irish language out of fashion.)

An article called The Hedge Schools of County Limerick by Tony Lyons states that the bata scóir did not originate in the National School system but in the earlier hedge schools. In some places, according to Lyons, the individual schoolmasters were favourable to the Irish language but in others, they used bataí scóir or ‘tally sticks’ to discourage pupils from speaking the language. These were sometimes called by other names. In Kerry it was known as a cingulum or singulum.

Sir William Wilde in 1853 mentioned seeing a man hearing his child speaking Irish and marking a tally around his neck (called a scoreen or scóirín) so that he could be punished.

All this is very interesting but very contradictory. Anybody examining this and other evidence will quickly realise that there is a very clear difference between the standard nationalist polemic about the bata scóir and the reality.

The polemic has it that the English came into Ireland and as part of a concerted campaign of cultural genocide, they imposed compulsory education in English and cruelly punished any children who spoke their own native language, regardless of their parents’ wishes, by hanging a badge of shame around their necks called a tally or a bata scóir and beating them accordingly.

How do the facts differ from the polemic version?

1. The use of the tally stick began in the hedge schools, which were nothing to do with the English.

2. The tallies were certainly used in the National Schools but the National Schools were not compulsory, Compulsory education was not brought in in Ireland until 1893, sixty years after the National Schools. Many schools in Ireland had begun teaching Irish by this time.

3. The idea that the very word bata scóir struck shame and anger into the hearts of Irish speakers throughout the nineteenth century is false. The main use of the term was for a kind of device for counting the hours or days worked by a labourer.

4. Not only did parents not have to send their children to a National School, they were often part of the system of punishment, carrying out the beatings. In some cases, it is stated that the tally was used to prevent children speaking Irish outside school, not inside it. The painful truth is that Irish-speaking parents bowed to strong cultural and economic pressures (many derived from the English – they aren’t blameless in this) in trying to prevent their own children from speaking Irish. They did this because they feared that their children would end up starving in Boston or Birmingham because they couldn’t get a job in an English-speaking environment.

5. We have no idea what the original bata scóir would have looked like and as far as I know, there are no examples of a bata scóir in existence. Pictures purporting to be bataí scóir on the internet are fakes, tally sticks with a different purpose from Germany or Canada.