Category Archives: Feedback

A Reply to Amy Kelly

I have had a message from someone called Amy Kelly on my post on Captain Grammar Pants. You may remember that the Captain (a.k.a. Seán Williams) is a blogger on matters of grammar who happened to endorse a large number of Cassidy’s idiotic claims in a book she wrote on Irish traditional music. She later contacted this blog and said that she had got it wrong about Cassidy but since then she has published several silly claims about the Irish origins of English words on her blog. Anyway, here is the message from Amy Kelly:

You made some errors of your own.

…not one of the morons who insist [one who insists, not morons who insist]

You do not seem to make use of the Oxford comma, which I understand is a matter of choice, but it is almost always needed and I am of the opinion that it is needed in the following, as well as a colon after opinions:

to express all kinds of opinions: true, false, benign, or repugnant

What Amy Kelly seems to be saying here is that I make mistakes. This is not news to me. It is impossible not to make mistakes and what pedants tend to ignore is that it really doesn’t matter, because language is a tool, not an ornament, and it is quite robust. While grammar bores tend to pretend that they are trying to improve people’s powers of expression and stop the rot, the fact is that there is no evidence that any civilisation ever collapsed because people got sloppy about their accusatives and to the best of my knowledge, nobody was ever murdered by a psychotic panda because they misused the odd comma.

So, what is it really all about? Well, call me an old cynic, but it seems to me that what it’s really about is condescension, ego-tripping, snobbery and nit-picking. Which is why, if you’re the kind of person who likes that kind of thing, you need to do your homework and make sure your ‘corrections’ are themselves correct.

Amy Kelly is trying to say that I am wrong to say that Captain Grammar Pants ‘is not one of the morons who insist that a prestigious institution is one which practices illusion and deception’ because one insists. This is plainly nonsense. If this were a sentence like ‘one of the children was sick’ then she would be right, because ‘were’ would be inappropriate. However, the two structures are not the same. In this case, ‘insists’ would be wrong, because I am talking about the morons who insist that a prestigious institution is one which practices deception and as I say, Captain Grammar Pants is not one of them.  If Ms Kelly can’t spot the flaws in her own argument without my assistance, she is obviously not as clever as she thinks she is. In my experience, grammar bores usually aren’t.

As for the Oxford comma, it is very kind of her to enlighten me on her opinions about punctuation. They have been duly noted and will be studiously ignored because … well … because I think my punctuation is clear and comprehensible enough and I really couldn’t give a rat’s arse if Amy Kelly disagrees.

A Reply to Jah

I have had a brief message from someone using the username Jah in relation to my piece on Irish and Jamaican Slang:

Hi, I am doing research for my dissertation and came across this article. While somewhat insightful, it comes across as very harsh and angry- almost disgusted at the idea that there could be Irish influences on Jamaica (whose second largest ethnic group is Irish). Either way I would love to have a chat regarding your thoughts on the connection between the two- not merely linguistically and some of your research sources. Thanks!

While I am very busy, I will give you a few minutes of my valuable time to explain my position and correct a couple of wrong assumptions in your message. Firstly, if there is any disgust in my piece (and there probably is), it was directed at the late Daniel Cassidy and his flagrant lying. However, I think we can reasonably assume that Daniel Cassidy knew as much about Jamaica as he did about Ireland, so any argument on these matters should simply ignore Cassidy and look at other sources.

Secondly, you are wrong to think that I find the idea of links between Irish culture and Jamaican culture annoying or unlikely or unacceptable.. We know that there was a lot of emigration from Ireland to that part of the world, as you say, and in theory, I have nothing against the idea that there might be an influence. What I’m saying is that there is simply no evidence in terms of vocabulary, grammatical structures or indeed, anything else!

One thing that really does disgust me (because I hate people like Cassidy and his supporters) is lazy and irrational thinking. As I said in my piece, I have looked for evidence of Irish influence on Jamaican English and I didn’t find any. Many words have been suggested, like ganzi, or banikleva (various spellings). Take those two examples. Geansaí is the Irish for a jumper but this is because it’s a recent borrowing of a dialect version of Guernsey and this is also the origin of the Jamaican term. Banikleva does come from bainne clábair but this was English of Irish origin rather than Irish – it was found all over the English-speaking world (as bonnyclabber) in the eighteenth century with the meaning of curdled milk. Which is why, when people say, ‘there are loads of examples’, it doesn’t impress me, because it there are, I want to know what they are and whether they really are examples of Irish influence.

As I said, even in Montserrat, which has a very strong Irish influence, there is relatively little trace of the Irish language in Montserrat versions of English. The article I gave a link to quotes the word mensha as meaning a young female goat, which is clearly the Irish word minseach, meaning a nanny-goat. This in itself is a fascinating survival and it hints at the linguistic riches that a researcher might have found in Montserrat a hundred years ago. However, the researchers weren’t there and neither is the evidence. Not for Montserrat, not for Jamaica, not for Barbados or anywhere in the Caribbean.

So, my question to you is, what are you going to write in your dissertation? How can you write about a phenomenon that simply doesn’t exist?

A Recommendation/Moladh

A while back, I bought a copper photo etching from talented New Zealand artist Chris O’Regan. I had intended to write about it before now but I’m only just getting around to it. Anyway, the picture took a while to make its way from the Land of the Long White Cloud to Ireland but I was really delighted with it and I promised Chris that I would give him a bit of publicity here.

The effect of the picture is very unusual. According to Chris himself, the etching process involved uses a polished copper surface where the etched areas are treated with a patina (a chemical) that permanently turns the recessed areas black and brown and the unetched areas are left with the copper shining through. The image will literally last hundreds of years because of the way it was made. It came in a tasteful and elegant wooden frame.

Chris has done several of these pictures. My picture is of Brian O’Nolan (otherwise known as Flann O’Brien or Myles na gCopaleen).

The picture is a fitting tribute to one of the greatest of Irish writers. As I am a Flannatic and a Mylesian, I am delighted to have such an attractive image of my favourite writer on prominent display in my house.

However, there is a special reason why I notice this picture every day as I go past it. Anyone who has ever lived near the sea will know that a seascape is never the same from one hour or one day to the next. As with the sea, the fact that this picture has a reflective copper surface means that it is always different depending on the light filtering in from outside. It is muted on a dark, cloudy day, while on a sunny day, the image of the great man’s face stands out and captures your attention.

If you are looking for an unusual and tasteful ornament for your home, or a different and special gift for someone who loves Irish culture and literature, check out Chris’s website here:

Home – Celtic Art Dagda Metalwork

Tamall beag ó shin, nuair a bhí an phaindéim i mbarr a réime, cheannaigh mé eitseáil ghrianghraif chopair ó ealaíontóir cumasach ón Nua-Shéalainn darb ainm Chris O’Regan. Bhí sé ar intinn agam scríobh ar an ábhar seo roimhe seo ach idir rud amhain agus rud eile níor éirigh liom é a dhéanamh go dtí anois. Thóg an pictiur tamall maith lena bhealach a dhéanamh ó Thír an Scamaill Fhada Bháin go hÉirinn ach b’fhiú go mór fanacht air. Bhí mé agus tá mé thar a bheith sásta leis agus gheall mé do Chris go dtabharfainn giota beag poiblíochta dó ar an bhlag.

Ta cuma thar a bheith neamhchoitianta ar an íomhá. De réir Chris féin, baineann an próiseas eitseála usáid as dromchla snasta copair ar a ndéantar na hachair eitseáilte a chóireáil le paitean (ceimiceán) a thiontaíonn na codanna ionsuite dubh agus donn agus fágtar na codanna neamheitseáilte gan athrú. Mairfidh an íomhá na céadta bliain mar gheall ar an dóigh a ndearnadh í. Ní hamháin sin, ach tháinig an pictiúr i bhfráma breá galánta.

Tá dornán de na pictiúir seo déanta ag Chris. An pictiúr atá agamsa, is de Bhrian Ó Nualláin é (ar a dtugtar fosta Flann O’Brien nó Myles na gCopaleen).

Ómós cuí atá ann do dhuine de na mórscríbhneoirí is fearr de chuid na tíre seo. Tá dúil as cuimse agamsa i saothar Myles agus tá mé thar a bheith sásta íomhá chomh galánta tarraingteach den scríbhneoir is fearr liom a bheith ar taispeáint in áit fheiceálach sa teach s’agamsa.

Ní hamháin sin, ach tá fáth ar leith a dtugaim an pictiúr seo faoi deara agus mé ag dul thart leis gach lá. Duine ar bith a bhí ina chónaí cois farraige riamh, tuigfidh sé nó sí nach mbíonn muirdhreach mar an gcéanna ó uair go huair nó ó lá go lá. Agus mar a bhíonn i gcás na farraige, mar gheall ar an dromchla fhrithchaiteach lonrach ar an phictiúr copair, bíonn sé i gcónaí difriúil ag brath ar an tsolas ag síothlú isteach ón tsaol amuigh. Bíonn sé maolaithe ar lá scamallach dorcha ach nuair a bhíonn sé grianmhar amuigh, bíonn aghaidh an mhórscríbhneora le feiceáil go suntasach agus tá idir líonadh súl agus líonadh croí ann.

Má tá tú ag iarraidh maisiúchán neamhchoitianta toighseach a fháil don teach s’agat, nó bronntanas difriúil speisialta a cheannach do dhuine a bhfuil dúil aici nó aige i gcultúr agus i litríocht na hÉireann, mholfainn duit spléachadh a thabhairt ar shuíomh gréasáin Chris anseo:

Home – Celtic Art Dagda Metalwork

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.

Boogaloo

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.

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.

Begorrah!

I have had a message from a watcher of the site in New Zealand:

Just wanted to ask you a question,
(Long time lurker on your site)
I am looking for the origins of the word –
begorrah , Been Googling seems to be an Irish loan word into English
I have a wee bit of Irish & can’t see any obvious answers in Irish, other than a “stage Irish” ( Punch cartoon) translation
of ” by God “
My apologies but sometimes these things concern me !, shame Cassidy is dead ! I could have asked him & got a bullshit reply!
Go raibh maith agat ( in advance )
Chris O’Regan

I’m a bit pressed for time at the moment but I thought I would give a brief reply. Chris is asking where the word Begorrah comes from and it’s an interesting question.

Begorrah is what we call a minced oath, a kind of euphemism where a taboo expression is disguised. Thus the French say Sacré Bleu instead of Sacré Dieu, the Irish say dar fia instead of dar Dia and the English say jeepers instead of Jesus. Minced oaths are very common.

There are lots of minced oaths based on by God, such as by gum (and the iconic Yorkshire ‘ee bah gum!’), by gosh, by golly, by George, begob. Begorrah is a version of one variant of by God, begor. This is found as begorras in Somerset and begorrie in Scotland. In other words, begorrah has nothing to do with the Irish language.

The particular form begorrah, of course, is specifically associated with the Irish and particularly with the kind of phoney stage-Irish talk found in 19th century melodramas. (e.g “Begorrah, sure and isn’t it a fine soft morning that’s in it, ma vourneen oh …”)

Apparently, Pat O’Brien, the American actor, once claimed that it was never heard in Ireland and was invented by a vaudeville comedian called Pat White, who flourished in the decade before the First World War. A quick search of newspaper archives turns up examples of it in stage-Irish dialogue from (at least) the year 1838, so that’s plainly not true, though it is true that Irish people rarely say begorrah and never without a sense of irony!

And while the late Daniel Cassidy never actually wrote about begorrah, he did make up some arrant bullshit about how By Golly! comes from Irish ‘bíodh geall air’, which basically means ‘you bet’, or ‘that’s for sure’ (or ironically, it can mean ‘yeah right!’) This is a bad match in sound and meaning and doesn’t take into account all the related terms like begob, Golly!, Gosh!, and by gum.

Anyhow, Chris, greetings to you and the rest of the folks in the Land of the Long White Cloud. Bígí sábháilte agus kia kaha!

A brief post-script: It seems that Chris O’Regan, mentioned above, is a talented artist from Dunedin in New Zealand who specialises in metalwork based on ancient Celtic knotwork and animal designs. You can check out his products here:

Celtic Triskele 50 mm Pendant – Celtic Art Dagda Metalwork

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.

Hurley’s Stick

I noticed recently that I have been defamed by one of Cassidy’s lickspittle ‘friends’ in California, Maureen Hurley. This is in relation to a comment made on this blog by someone called Robo and my reply to Robo:


“The bata scóir or tally stick was usually a piece of wood which Irish-speaking children were forced to wear around their necks. Anybody who heard the child speaking Irish was expected to mark the stick with a notch. At the end of the day the marks were counted and the child was punished for each offence. Watch your language : an bata scóir, the insidious silencer.”

From https://cassidyslangscam.wordpress.com/tag/bata-scoir/

PS The person (unnamed) responsible for the blog where I got this info, at cassidyslangscam, who continues to slander my friend Danny Cassidy, after his death, is a vindictive scourge. He maligns Robo’s comment, yet my Bantry grandmother, FFS, told me the same story. So it certainly was true in the middle to late 19th c., in the West of Ireland. STET!

While I’m not really bothered (being attacked by someone as stupid as Maureen Hurley is like being savaged by a dead sheep), it is a little irritating when somebody lies so casually about you.  As readers of this blog will know, I have not slandered Cassidy, nor even libelled him. (You would think someone claiming to be a poet would know the difference!) The fact is, of course, that expressing your disdain for someone only becomes any kind of defamation if the bad things you are saying are untrue. Because my criticisms of Cassidy are entirely justified, all I am guilty of is not agreeing with Maureen Hurley and I can certainly live with that!

However, before discussing Hurley’s failings in greater detail, let’s just get one thing straight. Anyone reading her comment above would assume that I am arguing that the bata scóir didn’t exist. If you go to my blog and read it you will find the following line: The bata scóir in the National Schools is certainly a fact.

Could I have expressed it any more clearly or unambiguously? The bata scóir was a fact. It existed and I have never denied the fact. Presumably, Hurley failed to actually read my blog post before commenting on it. Either that, or, if she is a total liar like the rest of Cassidy’s friends, she is providing a ‘straw man’ argument, where you set up a nice easy fake target, ascribe it to your opponent, and knock that down instead of actually engaging with your opponent’s real arguments.

As I said in a previous post on Hurley, she actually realises that at least some of Cassidy’s work was nonsense, saying that he played it a little too fast and loose with linguistics, that he didn’t speak Irish and didn’t know the grammatical rules of Irish. Fair play to her for recognising that much. Unfortunately, she does not take it to its conclusion and makes a lot of half-baked and moronic excuses for Cassidy. Here is Hurley sneering at real academics who criticised her friend:

Some pedagogues groused that Danny was an amateur etymologist, and ever-so-eloquently stated that his linguistic claims were “a big heaping load of hooey”; that maybe the award should have been given for fiction instead. I’m sure that was the response Danny was expecting from that crowd. He was a great one to challenge the halls of academe.

In other words, she is giving us the typical unintelligent guff that we have come to expect from the Cassidy apologists. The academics hated Cassidy because they’re a stuck-up crowd of snobs sitting in their ivory towers, not because it was incompetent rubbish. According to Hurley, Cassidy was sometimes wrong but got it right a lot of the time.

As you will discover if you read my blog rather than Hurley’s ramblings, Cassidy was almost never right about anything. It isn’t that there is a solid core of genuine research in Cassidy’s book and that the academic linguists are just carping about a few marginal cases. The truth is that Cassidy’s book is a monumental waste of time, a collection of childish lies and distortions. There are no words of genuine Irish origin in his book apart from the ones that were already acknowledged as such in the dictionaries. Everything original to Cassidy is infantile garbage. And while an Anglo dilettante like Maureen Hurley wouldn’t really care about the Irish language, those of us who speak Irish and use it on a daily basis find Cassidy’s work deeply insulting.

Hurley tries to demonstrate that there is value in Cassidy’s work but because she can’t be bothered reading what anybody else writes, she makes a total mess of it. She quotes what she thinks is a comment given by Daniel Cassidy. In fact, it’s from Terence Dolan, one of Cassidy’s critics, and it’s clearly denying Cassidy’s core thesis:

In an interview, Danny said: “The English language does not often absorb other languages, especially the Celtic languages. Irish has the longest association with English of any language on the planet, yet in England all we’ve got are a handful of words such as whiskey.”

I mean, obviously, if there are only a handful of Celtic words such as whiskey in English, then Cassidy must have been wrong!

After that, things get really surreal.

For example, Danny said the word buckaroo came from the Irish bocaí rua, “wild playboys” or “bloody bucks.” But bó is cow, buachaill is a cowherder (or cowboy, if you will), and ruadh, is, well, red (or red-haired)—so the meaning is close enough. Even if he came at it all wrong.


I have no idea what she is talking about here. This is a total non-sequitur. Bocaí rua means a red-haired playboy – if if means anything. (Bocaí is a singular word meaning playboy, not the plural of boc, which would be boic.) And another word, buachaill means boy and etymologically is linked to the Irish word for cow. But are the two facts connected? No. And where does buckaroo really come from? It comes from vaquero, the Spanish for cowboy. How is the meaning ‘close enough’? Close enough to what, FFS?

Anyway, unbelievably, it gets worse:


When Danny began to point out words “of uncertain origin” is often code for Irish, it struck a chord with me. I knew there were many more Irish words buried within the English language, despite what the Oxford English Dictionary claimed—aside from the usual suspects: smithereens, hoolighan (a surname), and shanty. 
There’s also shebeen, shebang, shindig, Sheila, slew, slogan, lollapalooza, colleen, clan, keen, kabosh, banshee, brogue, brogan, bar, ben, glamour, gombeen, leprechaun, whiskey, etc., to name a few.

This is also nonsense. Shanty, of course, is from French, not Irish, whether it refers to a cabin or a song. Shebeen is from Irish and all dictionaries say so. They are also quite happy to admit that slew, colleen, keen, banshee, brogue, gombeen, leprechaun, gob and whiskey are Irish. (Hurley also treats us to some rubbish about how the e of whiskey is related to Irish uisce – the convention of the spelling of whiskey and whisky by country is a recent convention in English and has nothing whatever to do with different varieties of Gaelic.) Kabosh probably isn’t Irish, lollapalooza certainly isn’t and it isn’t mentioned in Cassidy’s book, and neither is glamour, which certainly isn’t Irish. Shindig doesn’t come from Cassidy’s seinnt-theach, because it doesn’t exist. (It doesn’t come from Loretto Todd’s sínteach either, which does exist but has no appropriate meanings.) Bar doesn’t come from Irish and I’m not aware of anyone ever claiming it did. She says that boycott is an Irish word. Obviously, it isn’t because it’s an English surname, though it did originate in Ireland and like most languages, we have a version of the verb derived from it in Irish (baghcatáil, to boycott).

She also repeats the claim that the OED and Webster’s were rabidly anti-Irish and therefore lied about the Irish origins of words but without any evidence or any reason for claiming this other than her own bigotry and misplaced loyalty to Cassidy. She complains about these dictionaries saying that words were Scottish Gaelic rather than Irish and uses the idiotic argument that somehow Scottish Gaelic IS Irish.

Where did the British think Scots Gaelic came from? Donegal Irish in another lexicon.

Hurley is showing here once again that for a so-called poet, she has a very poor grasp of the English language.  What does ‘in another lexicon’ mean? The fact is, of course, that the Irish and Scottish versions of Gaelic are mutually incomprehensible, though similar. Does ‘in another lexicon’ mean that they are similar but have different words? And if so, could you say that Dutch is English in another lexicon? Or that Portuguese is Spanish in another lexicon? Similar but totally different? What the fuck are you wittering about, Hurley?

And of course, some words come from Scottish Gaelic while others come from Irish. Smithereens and shebeen are from Irish. Pibroch and claymore are from Scottish Gaelic. Bog and whisk(e)y could be from either, or indeed both.

Hurley also claims that glom isn’t in the dictionary. In reality, glom is recognised as deriving from Scots glaum, on record since the 18th century, which in turn came from Scottish Gaelic glàm.

Anyway, I already hated Cassidy’s guts when I first started this blog seven years ago, because of the lying nonsense he had made up about the Irish language. However, writing works of crap research is not illegal. Using false qualifications to get a job you are not entitled to is illegal, as well as being immoral and deeply hypocritical in someone who spent much of his time blathering about social justice. This is the big pile of elephant dung in the room that people like Hurley refuse to talk about.

Cassidy’s sister tipped me off that her brother had no qualifications about five years ago. I contacted the Registrar of Cornell University, Cassie Dembosky, who confirmed that Cassidy was removed from Cornell after four years of study without a degree. And this was later confirmed by one of Cassidy’s supporters, his brother Michael, who says that he used to needle his brother about not having a degree.

In theory, of course, it is quite possible to become a professor without having a degree. If you are a poet of international standing, or a brilliant novelist, or a film director with a dozen highly-regarded movies under your belt, that will be regarded as equivalent to or better than a doctorate. However, Cassidy did not have any such staggering achievements. In fact, he didn’t have any achievements, staggering or not. He was a nobody with no degrees and the only reasonable explanation for his having the status of a university professor without even a BA is that he lied about his qualifications to get that job.

Hurley and people like Hurley might consider that there is nothing wrong with doing that. However, there are rules in relation to fair employment, protocols that protect us from the worst kinds of discrimination. Rules that make it hard for someone to give a job to an Orangeman with no qualifications rather than to a Catholic with an MA on the grounds that the Catholic’s face wouldn’t fit. Rules that guarantee that a gay woman of West African heritage will not be passed over in a recruitment process in favour of a straight, chalk-white Christian dude like the late Daniel Cassidy because he’s a friend of the Dean. I think that Daniel Cassidy essentially ignored these rules and was allowed to do so and I think I am entirely justified in saying that he was a worthless, hypocritical prick for doing that.

Finally, before I finish, I just want to make an observation about the silly little internet picture of a bata scóir which Hurley posted along with her criticism of this blog. As I have said, I know that the bata scóir existed. However, I don’t believe that 19th century schoolteachers had that much time to whittle elaborate notches on pieces of wood, so it seemed to me unlikely that this was a genuine Irish bata scóir. I therefore acted on my hunch and put the words tally stick into Google image and within a few seconds, I found out where the picture came from. It’s of a tally stick that was used to guarantee a debt. It dates from the 16th century and was discovered in 2011 in an excavation in Wittenberg, Germany, so it is not an Irish bata scóir and has nothing to do with the English or Irish languages.

You can find out more here: https://archive.archaeology.org/1111/artifact/wittenberg_germany_tally_stick.html

There are also other pictures of bataí scóir on line which are tally sticks from Baffin Island in Canada. To the best of my knowledge, there are no genuine bataí scóir from the Irish National Schools in existence and we don’t really know what they would have looked like. If I get time, I will post on the whole question of the bata scóir and the available evidence about it, as it is an interesting subject.

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:

statutes.org.uk/site/the-statutes/irish-laws/1737-11-george-2-c-6-administration-of-justice-language-act/

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:

https://www.fourcourtspress.ie/books/2019/irish-speakers-interpreters-and-the-courts-17541921/

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.