Category Archives: The Famine

A Reply To Mark Corbett

One of the things you learn from blogging is that there isn’t much point in arguing with really stupid people, so I don’t intend to get sucked into a debate with anyone on the topic of white slavery. However, I have received a comment from a certain Mark Corbett and I think I will answer it here, just to make sure that everyone understands my position. Corbett says this:

“He’s saying that the way people of African descent were treated was much worse. Which it was.”

If Hogan stuck to claiming that the form of chattel slavery suffered by African slaves in the Americas was worse, there would be little controversy. What he’s actually saying is that people who had their land confiscated, were arrested as vagabonds, shipped to the new world and worked to death on Caribbean plantations were not slaves at all.”

Now, here’s a comment by Liam Hogan in a recently-published article in the New York Times:

Contemporary accounts in Ireland sometimes referred to these people as slaves, Mr. Hogan said. That was true in the sense that any form of coerced labor can be described as slavery, from Ancient Rome to modern-day human trafficking. But in colonial America and the Caribbean, the word “slavery” had a specific legal meaning. Europeans, by definition, were not included in it.

So, let’s please get certain things clear here. Hogan is not a Nine Years’ War denier, or a Plantation of Ulster denier. He’s not saying (and neither am I) that the British brought peace and civilisation to Ireland. He’s not saying that those who were in bonded servitude, or those who were captured as ‘vagrants’ and sentenced to work in the Caribbean, were well-treated. He’s not saying that they all survived the experience (though your claim that the Irish were worked to death seems illogical – if you’re a plantation owner who has one of these ‘vagrants’ for a period of seven years, you would want them to work for the full seven years, because labour was valuable). Any evidence for that claim? Having lived in an area where my neighbours were gunned down indiscriminately by pro-British death squads, and being a fluent Irish speaker, I am well aware that the British influence on my country has been baneful and disastrous and I don’t need to be reminded of that fact.

Here are some of the things Hogan is claiming:

  • That there is no evidence that the Irish labourers or prisoners were treated worse than African slaves.
  • That there is no evidence for the claims that Irish women were forced to reproduce with African men.
  • That the whole notion of Irish slavery has been used in recent times, not so much to criticise the British, but to attack African-Americans – “White Irish slaves were treated worse than any other race in the US: when did you last hear an Irishman bitching how the world owes them a living?” (Obviously whoever wrote this never had any contact with Daniel Cassidy and his odious fan club…)
  • That photographs of victims of Japanese prisoner of war camps or 20th century child laborers (like the photo above) are used with claims that they are pictures of Irish slaves.
  • That a reference to a 1625 declaration by King James II to send thousands of Irish prisoners to the West Indies as slaves is a fabrication. James II was not alive at this time.
  • That figures in relation to this have often been plucked out of the air and are completely unsubstantiated.
  • That the first work dealing with this subject was They Were White And They Were Slaves: The Untold History of The Enslavement of Whites In Early America, self-published in the US in 1993 by an anti-Semitic Holocaust denier called Michael A Hoffman II.

It seems to me that this is a pretty good set of reasons to complain about the way this ahistorical nonsense is being spread, even if it does deprive people like Mark of a little bit of that warm feeling of victimhood which certain members of the Irish diaspora seem to enjoy so much.

So, the fact is, slavery was one thing. And what the Irish suffered in the 17th century was bad but it wasn’t the same as slavery. Interestingly, one comment in support of the Irish slaves meme mentions Goody Glover, a woman hanged as a witch in Boston because of superstition and racism and the fact that she was an Irish speaker and could only manage broken English. She had been sent to the Caribbean at some point, whether as a vagrant or an indentured servant isn’t clear. However, she and her children made their way to America. If they had been chattel slaves, she and her husband, and their children and their children’s children would have continued to be someone’s ‘property’ in the Caribbean. Is that a big enough difference for you, Mark?

The fact is, accuracy is important. We all know that there was a famine in Ireland in the 19th century. Historians argue about whether or not this was genocide. To my mind, the English establishment was to blame for the huge loss of life, whichever way you look at it. We don’t need to invent anything. But let’s just suppose that some lonely looney-tune in a dank apartment in Boston or London or Dublin decides that the truth about the famine was a far more hands-on thing. Suppose he claims that Queen Victoria and Trevelyan and Russell and lots of other English aristocrats caused the famine by floating over the West in hot air balloons throwing poison onto the fields and cackling hysterically at their own racist wickedness. A thousand dumbasses will immediately ignore that fact that this isn’t physically possible, that there is plenty of evidence of the virus that caused the blight, or that there is no record of all these upper-class English people going on a prolonged holiday at the time and they will accuse anyone who doubts the veracity of this claim of being soft, and pro-English, and self-hating Irishmen and traitors to the national cause and blah blah blah yada yada yada …

The fact is, I want historians to uncover the truth and tell it like it is, with all its contradictions and uncertainties. If you want a nice pantomime version of history with pantomime heroes and villains, then that’s up to you. But I personally don’t want anyone turning the tragic history of my people into a fucking cartoon, least of all when their motives have more to do with the Aryan Brotherhood than the Fenian Brotherhood.

Anyway, I’ve said what I wanted to say. Don’t bother replying, Mark. I’ve wasted enough time on this stupidity. If you want anything clarified, you can read it again.

Why Hugh Curran Is A Liar

A few days ago, I wrote a post in Irish. I had noticed that an individual called Hugh Curran had posted an ignorant and entirely indefensible comment in support of Cassidy’s ludicrous book on IrishCentral and in my post, I called him a liar and issued him with a challenge.

What was it that offended me so much? Well, Curran began his comment by telling readers that he was born in the Donegal Gaeltacht and teaches Irish. Let’s just examine this carefully. This gives the impression that Curran is a fluent Irish speaker. After all, if someone wrote “I was born in France and teach French,” wouldn’t you make the assumption that that person was fluent in French? I would.

So, why don’t I think Curran is fluent in Irish? Well, on 07/04/2011, he was asking Marion Gunn of Conradh na Gaeilge (https://listserv.heanet.ie/cgi-bin/wa?A3=ind1104&L=IRTRAD-L&E=quoted-printable&P=51576&B=–&T=text%2Fplain;%20charset=utf-8&header=1) the following question:

A chara Marion, Are there any places that you are aware of in New Brunswick or Maine, or Massachussetts or New Hampshire that have Irish Gaeilge immersion weekends?

Now, Marion Gunn is an Irish speaker. If you were a learner with a good basic knowledge of Irish, wouldn’t you try out your Irish in circumstances like this? For some reason, he doesn’t bother trying. The only Irish in his communication is ‘A chara Marion.’ This is a bit of a smoking gun. To say Dear Marion, it would be ‘A Marion, a chara.’ (Most Irish speakers wouldn’t aspirate a foreign name like Marion, though it’s not wrong to do so.) It is quite plain from the way Curran translates it that he doesn’t know how to say this, which suggests that his knowledge of the language is patchy at most.

And if his knowledge of Irish is patchy, how can he make a valid judgement about the rightness or wrongness of the ‘Irish’ in Cassidy’s book? Where does his figure of 80% plausible and something over half of that 80% correct come from? Straight out of his arse! The figure of somewhere between 40 and 50% of the derivations in Cassidy’s book being correct is just nonsense. Of course, if I am wrong about his lack of Irish, he can defend himself by answering my challenge in the last post.

Furthermore, this arrogant and foolish man simply ignores all the evidence and all the critics, including critics on the same comments column where he wrote this nonsense – people who are smarter and better-informed than he is – and does a lot of vague and childish pontificating about how scholars don’t accept the amount of Irish influence on English out of bigotry and how the Irish themselves fail to recognise Cassidy’s genius because of some post-Famine Stockholm Syndrome and not because Cassidy was a nut with no degree and no knowledge of Irish. Whatever …

The fact is that myself and a number of other individuals have tried to inform people of the truth about this book. We don’t like people being fleeced by worthless rubbish which has no value and we definitely don’t like scum like Cassidy who don’t know any Irish exploiting our language to make money by conning naïve people. If Curran had any decency or integrity, he would go straight back to IrishCentral and delete his comment, or better still, write another one telling the truth about Cassidy and his lies.

The worst thing is that this man claims to be a Buddhist. We have seen a lot of frauds on this blog (Cassidy’s work attracts them) but it really is bizarre that a man who claims to be spiritually superior has such a huge ego and sense of self-importance. To me, it seems quite clear that far from being enlightened, this man’s head is so far up his arse that it would take a stout rope and a team of horses to extract it.

More On The Famine Sitcom

Recently, I found out that the proposed Channel 4 ‘Famine Sitcom’ which caused so much controversy in January 2015 has been quietly shelved. At the time, I stated my position quite clearly. To create comedy gold out of the Famine would be a very tall order and I doubted whether it would be possible. But just because it’s problematic doesn’t mean people shouldn’t try. And it certainly doesn’t mean that others have a right to censor creative endeavours in advance just because they don’t like the concept. As a journalist pointed out in the Guardian, the right not to be offended does not exist.

Anyway, it came as no great surprise that the project wasn’t going ahead.

However, looking through some of the material about the controversy, I came across a truly lousy piece of ‘satire’ by Niall O’Dowd on IrishCentral. It purports to be a parody of what Channel 4’s script might be like. However, if you were going to do a parody of a script which you think might be insulting to the Irish, wouldn’t you concentrate on the Irish themselves? Wouldn’t you show stage Oirish characters who are stupid and childlike and responsible for their own poverty? I would.

Instead, O’Dowd ‘treats’ us to a conversation between Queen Victoria, George Trevelyan and Dean Swift. God alone knows why Dean Swift is here. O’Dowd knows (because he says so) that Swift died long before the Famine and that his Modest Proposal is a satire, a humorous treatment of the appalling cruelty and mismanagement of Irish affairs by the British administration in his day. Let me just repeat that. A humorous treatment of famine and poverty and British misrule.

Which, according to O’Dowd and the rest of the vicarious victims should be out of the question, completely forbidden, too politically incorrect to be permitted. And then there’s the conversation between Victoria and Trevelyan, which depicts Queen Victoria as a fat greedy cow and Trevelyan as a vicious psychopath feeding her anti-Irish bigotry. So … this is a parody of what Channel 4 might produce? Hang on … isn’t that what you would like them to produce? Wouldn’t you like a portrayal of Victoria and Trevelyan as imperialist pigs?

In other words, what the fuck does O’Dowd think he’s doing here? My first thought on reading it was, don’t give up your day job. My second thought was Shag a fucking walrus, this is his day job

 

More on Professor Joseph Lee

 

Among the numerous cronies who have boosted the reputation of the charlatan Daniel Cassidy and his absurd book, How The Irish Invented Slang, one of the worst is Joe Lee, a respectable academic historian and scholar who is connected with New York University.

Lee provided a gushing and ridiculously positive review for the back of Cassidy’s book.

“In this courageous, crusading manifesto, Daniel Cassidy flings down the gauntlet to all those compilers of dictionaries who fled to the safe haven of ‘origin unknown’ when confronted with the challenge of American slang …The originality and importance of the argument makes this an exciting contribution to both American and Irish Studies. This is a landmark book, at once learned and lively, and quite enthralling as to how American English acquired so vibrant a popular vocabulary.”

I have read some of Lee’s work. In spite of his idiotic support for Cassidy, he deserves to be respected as an historian. Interestingly, he is critical of the traditional nationalist narratives. For example, he is critical of the claims that there was enough food in Ireland to feed the population during the Famine years. Why he chose to take the reputation which he has acquired through decades of hard work and study and flush it down the pan by supporting a joke like Cassidy remains a mystery. There is no doubt that he knew Daniel Cassidy and many of Cassidy’s friends. Does this explain it? Was it simple nepotism?

Or was it pity? Did he choose to support Cassidy because Cassidy had no health insurance after the collapse of New College and was relying on the sales of the book? If so, this was a shitty thing to do. The Irish people are not responsible for Daniel Cassidy and we are certainly not responsible for one of the richest nations on earth choosing to have a cruelly inadequate health care system. If he wanted to help Cassidy, Lee could have remortgaged his house to pay the insurance bills, not sold out our language and culture.

Or was it a more selfish motive? Was Lee trying to stay on the right side of a parcel of cronies, men like Peter Quinn and Pete Hamill, who would do anything to avoid admitting that Daniel Cassidy was a fraud?

Of course, I suppose there is a possibility that Lee genuinely believed the praise he lavished on the book. However, I find this impossible to believe, because Lee is not an idiot. How could anyone who speaks Irish believe that more than a handful of the ‘Irish’ phrases in this book are genuine? (Of course, he’s not a linguist, but even so!) And we have to remember that Lee is an academic. He must have seen dozens, if not hundreds of theses and dissertations. He knows full well that any thesis or dissertation with standards of scholarship as poor as Cassidy’s would not be acceptable in any university, anywhere.

There is also another bit of evidence, posted by someone using the username ap-aelfwine on this forum: http://gaeilge.livejournal.com/175737.html

The bit of Cassidy’s work I’ve seen struck me as dubious,* although I recently heard a faculty member–a clueful historian who has good Munster Irish–at the programme I just graduated from say he thought C. was pointing in some directions that deserved exploration. It was in the midst of a reception–I didn’t get a chance to ask him more about it, unfortunately.

The clueful historian is obviously Lee. It doesn’t surprise me that he was still making broadly positive comments about Cassidy in 2010, because he had been stupid enough to put his endorsement on the book a couple of years earlier. But ‘pointing in some directions that deserve exploration’ (a view which is also foolish, in my opinion, and there’s plenty of evidence of that in this blog) is a far cry from ‘landmark book’, ‘courageous and crusading manifesto’, or ‘learned and lively’, never mind ‘an exciting contribution to both American and Irish Studies’. Yet Lee’s review still stands on the back of every copy of this ludicrous turd of a book. No doubt many people have been conned into believing that Cassidy’s work is a genuine piece of scholarship because of Lee’s endorsement and his continued refusal to set the record straight.

Or could it just be that Lee is a victim of that old enemy of rationality, the arrogance and hubris that so frequently goes with titles like Professor and Senator, the feeling that who you are makes you above the ordinary decencies that lesser folk have to live with?

Who knows? Who cares? Integrity is a precious commodity. Life is far too short to waste on people who are prepared to squander their reputation on a putz like Cassidy, whatever bizarre motive they had for doing so.

Famine Sitcom

I have just noticed that Eamon Loingsigh has posted on the subject of a proposed sitcom to be done by an English TV company, Channel 4, set in Ireland during the Famine era. One of the co-authors of the excellent Father Ted, Graham Linehan, has apparently supported the idea of the series. Loingsigh thinks it is a terrible idea, and tweeted Linehan to tell him so. Linehan replied, pointing out that the writer of the proposed show is Irish and calling Loingsigh a ‘fucking moron’.

Now, there are two issues here. One is to do with the way that the Irish Famine is represented in general (Loingsigh has some typically weird views on this) and the other is the whole notion that comedy should avoid catastrophes, disasters or wars of any kind.

To deal with the second question first, I would have to say that I find the whole idea of setting a comedy during the famine era a big risk. Do I think it is possible to spin comedy gold out of this situation without being offensive? I’m quite sure it is but I think it’s a tall order. The young Irish writer they have chosen, Hugh Travers, will really have his work cut out.

But I don’t think comedians should necessarily shy away from subjects like this because they are controversial. I remember hearing the plot-line of the film La Vita E Bella (Life is Sweet) and thinking that it sounded awful. When I actually watched the film, I found it tasteful, respectful and very poignant. At the risk of spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t seen it, it concerns a Jewish father sent to a camp who tries to convince his young son that the whole thing is a game in order to protect him from the awfulness of their predicament. In other words, if they can find the right angle, a Famine-era comedy programme is certainly possible. One of the best historical sitcoms is Blackadder, part of which was set during the First World War, which was hardly a natural fun-factory. The point is, none of the people protesting about this sitcom have even seen a script yet, never mind the finished article, so it’s way too early to be protesting!

Incidentally, I have seen Graham Linehan in a British sitcom which mentions the Famine. Linehan and his Father Ted colleague Arthur Matthews were speaking to the Steve Coogan character Alan Partridge in a Travel Tavern in Norfolk. “It was just the potatoes that were affected,” said Partridge. “At the end of the day, you will pay the price if you’re a fussy eater.” I’m quite sure that Eamon Loingsigh would find this shocking and unfunny, because he would completely miss the point. The point is that Steve Coogan is a second generation Manchester Irishman playing a pompous, middle-class southern Englishman. The scene is mocking Partridge’s ignorant, smug attitude towards the Irish and the world in general, not laughing at the Famine or its consequences.

The other issue I have with Loingsigh’s post is his traditional nationalist view of the Famine and what it meant. He starts off by saying that he is offended at the idea of calling what happened in Ireland in the late 1840s a famine. Go figure! A million people (probably more) starve to death but we’re not allowed to call it a famine! And he insists that we should use the term An Gorta Mór instead, which he translates as The Great Hunger. Sorry, Eamon, but if I’m feeling hungry, I use the word ocras. The word gorta means famine.

Loingsigh is essentially taking to another level the argument that we shouldn’t call the Famine a natural disaster, which is true. It originated as a natural disaster when the potato crop failed and Ireland was entirely dependent on the potato. There is no doubt that the British authorities failed to act quickly enough or resolutely enough to stop the huge loss of life in Ireland, so it was also a man-made disaster. However, most historians do not accept that Ireland would have been self-supporting if the available food had been more equitably distributed, or that more food was exported than imported during the famine years, or that the famine was a deliberate policy of genocide on the part of the British, whatever Loingsigh says. And let’s face it, great old entertainer that he is, Christy Moore is hardly a trustworthy source. Didn’t they teach Loingsigh about sources in journalism school?

Another silly thing is Loingsigh’s claim that the British exported food from Ireland during the Famine. The British exported the food? The British didn’t have a socialist planned economy in 19th century Ireland. Faceless bureaucrats in Whitehall or Dublin Castle didn’t decide how much butter or oats were shipped out of Ireland every week. Landlords and grain merchants and butter merchants exported whatever food was exported. The fact that in some places the food was protected from the starving masses by soldiers is unsurprising and doesn’t prove that this exportation was state-controlled or ordered from Westminster.

Don’t get me wrong. People should know about the Irish Famine and its legacy. They should blame the British authorities for annexing our country and then failing to fulfil the basic tenets of the social contract between government and people, by failing to keep them alive. But propaganda is propaganda and fact is fact. All scholarship, linguistic, historical, archaeological – all of it should be based on facts, not on ideology.