Tag Archives: AOH

The Accidental Racist

A few weeks back, there was a big to-do over a letter by Mike McCormack, National Historian of the AOH (hopefully ex-Historian of the AOH by now, if that organisation has any respect for its good name at all!) in the magazine History Ireland. McCormack made a gratuitous, childish and entirely unwarranted attack on Liam Hogan, the Limerick historian who has done such excellent work in challenging the racist Irish Slavery Meme.

Bizarrely, McCormack characterised some of Hogan’s work as ‘Paddy-bashing’. Why? Well, Liam Hogan has been criticising the spread of the Irish Slavery meme among Irish Americans, and the way that racists and people who are ignorant of their own heritage have used this fake revisionist version of history to belittle the terrible injustices suffered by the African American community by saying that the Irish were slaves too and that they suffered worse than African Americans but they aren’t ‘bitching and moaning’. That this kind of racist nonsense has been spread far and wide, shared by hundreds of thousands of people of Irish descent, is undeniable. Go on line looking for Irish Slaves on social media and you will find plenty of hateful, nasty comments directed at groups like Black Lives Matter. Mike McCormack, in his absurd letter, claimed that Hogan is distorting the truth and exaggerating this racist presence on the internet in order to depict Irish Americans as racists. Apparently, because Mike McCormack doesn’t know any racists in the Irish American community, there aren’t any, and people like Hogan are being racist against Irish Americans by pointing out the spread of this racist poison in that community.

Liam Hogan isn’t a racist. Neither is Mike McCormack, judging by some of the articles he has written. The problem is that McCormack is refusing to look at the implications of the Irish Slavery meme honestly. There were no Irish slaves. There were Irish indentured servants, some of whom were involuntary (prisoners of war or effectively poor people kidnapped from Ireland). Their servitude was time-limited (even the prisoners, who were characteristically given servitude contracts of ten years). It was totally different from the slavery that African Americans were subjected to.

The problem with revisionist theories like the Irish Slavery Meme is that there are many people who don’t share the racist views of many of the people who spread them. They aren’t racists but the ideas they are spreading are clearly giving support to those who do hold racist views. To give just one example, one of the most popular Irish Slavery books is Rhetta Akamatsu’s book The Irish Slaves: Slavery, Indentured Servitude, and Contract Labor Among Irish Immigrants. Rhetta Akamatsu is presumably not a white supremacist, as her husband is of Japanese descent. But her book is badly researched and full of mistakes (for example, the Amazon Irish slaves of 1612, who didn’t exist), which is unsurprising in that she is not a proper historian but a writer specialising in books about the paranormal. One revealing article says that she often sits down to watch her favourite programmes, including Ancient Aliens! I’ll say nothing …

There are lots of these accidental racists. Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin ended up in hot water in 2016 with a badly-considered tweet about how three hundred thousand Irish were sold as slaves. Máirtín Ó Muilleoir of Sinn Féin is part of a media consortium which owns IrishCentral, which carried an appalling article peddling nonsense originating in the claims of a Holocaust-denier called Hoffmann. (I notice that the article is now no longer available on IrishCentral. Perhaps if they’re removing lies from that site, they could ditch the rubbish by Brendan Patrick Keane as well!) Neither Adams nor Ó Muilleoir are racists, and the policies of their party are clearly and unambiguously opposed to all forms of racism. The fact that they have found themselves on the wrong side in these debates is down to stupidity, not malice.

And it’s very interesting that, though Barry Fell was not a racist, the ideas that he spread about Europeans coming to the New World fit in well with a whole tradition about the spread of civilisation from the drowned continent of Atlantis, ideas which suggest that civilisation came from white people and wasn’t developed independently by Amerindians. (Norman Totten, a friend of Barry Fell’s, set up a straw man in his posthumous defence of Fell, which you can read here: http://www.equinox-project.com/esop81.htm In reality, none of the three comments quoted accuses Fell of being racist – they state, quite rightly, that Fell’s theories can have racist implications.)

It’s also interesting to note that while I’m sure Fell wasn’t a Maori-hater, he spent a long time in New Zealand and his ideas about white settlers in ancient times in the Pacific fits in with the ideas of 19th century writers like Tregear, whose beliefs were nonsense but were pro-Maori (author of The Aryan Maori: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Tregear). Fell’s ideas and Tregear’s theories have given rise to a looney-tune far-right movement in New Zealand which has completely reversed Tregear’s respect for the Maori and claims that Celts went to Aotearoa in ancient times and that the Maori are therefore just blow-ins who have no prior claim to the land. This is probably the closest correspondence you could find to the use of the White Slavery Meme as a means of attacking African Americans.

In other words, you don’t have to be a racist to be an accessory to racist ideas. You should always check the accuracy of the ideas you are claiming. I don’t really care if Mike McCormack is a racist or not. But he should be as worried as I am about the spread of racist memes about Irish history. He should be doing everything in his power to stop such ideas in their tracks but because of his ignorance and lack of historical knowledge, he has helped to propagate the most vile pieces of nonsense and propaganda about the forced breeding of young Irish girls with ‘Mandingo warriors’, not because he is a white supremacist who hates black people, but because his sense of ancestral victimhood is more important to him than the truth.

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Micmac Paddy Whack

Recently, I have criticised Mike McCormack, National Historian of the Ancient Order of Hibernians for his fake research and ignorance, especially in relation to the Irish Slavery Meme. One of these criticisms centred on his gullible acceptance of the claims of the late Dr Barry Fell, who claimed that the Americas were peppered with inscriptions in various European and North African languages which prove that Celts, Libyans, Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and what have you were all happily involved in trade and exploration in the New World thousands of years ago.

I have already given links to some of Barry Fell’s claims and to refutations of Fell’s ridiculous theories. However, to a debunker like myself, Barry Fell’s ideas seemed worth looking at because of the strong odour of bullshit emanating from them. With that in mind, I ordered a second-hand copy of America BC.

I can fully understand why people of limited education would be impressed by the book and by Fell’s credentials. Fell was a Professor at Harvard. However, significantly, he was a Professor of Marine Biology, not of archaeology or linguistics or ancient languages. Mike McCormack was also impressed at the fact that he was President of the International Epigraphic Society, though it should be pointed out that Barry Fell founded the Epigraphic Society and it was pretty much a one-man band. The book is full of convincing illustrations and diagrams and maps. There are comparisons between Egyptian hieroglyphs and a writing system used a few hundred years ago by Micmac Indians, which look really convincing. More on that later.

The reaction of the world of academia to Barry Fell’s claims has been almost entirely negative. A close associate of Fell’s called Norman Totten was also an academic at Bentley College and a genuine epigrapher called David Kelley who worked on Mayan also took his work seriously. (Though Kelley criticised much of Fell’s work, he accepted the idea that there were genuine European rock-carvings in the Americas, a belief that is not shared by most experts in anthropology or history or archaeology.) However, these people were exceptions. The overwhelming majority of scholars reject Fell’s claims.

Of course, conspiracy theorists and other lovers of the arcane and weird will no doubt take the contempt of the academic establishment as proof that Fell was onto something rather than as proof that he was nuts.

As I’ve said, one of the things that has convinced many people is where Fell takes a hieroglyphic system which was in use by Micmac Indians. There are no petroglyphs (rock carvings) which use these Micmac hieroglyphs and many experts believe that the system was invented by a French priest, perhaps using some traditional mnemonic signs which had been painted on birch-bark by the Micmacs. Fell plays down the amount invented by the priest and stresses the antiquity of the system. He also presents extremely convincing (on first inspection) correspondences between a Christian religious text in the Micmac system and Ancient Egyptian. However, although I don’t know anything about Egyptian hieroglyphs (or Micmac, for that matter), I am suspicious for several reasons.

Firstly, if I used a hieroglyphic system to write a sentence of English and the same sentence in Irish so that the principal concepts were represented by signs and not by an alphabet, the signs wouldn’t appear in the same place in the two versions. Yet in Fell’s version, the Micmac and the Egyptian correspond perfectly. This is doubly surprising because it appears that the Micmac system was a mixture of logograms and phonetic elements (like Japanese writing), as was Ancient Egyptian. In most cases, the correspondences of the Micmac symbols and the Egyptian symbols given by Fell aren’t that similar, even in his version. While I would like to see a proper treatment of this by an Egyptologist, I have searched out a few Egyptian hieroglyphs, such as heaven, gold and silver and I have been unable to find the same versions given by Fell. In other words, Fell’s version of Ancient Egyptian doesn’t seem to be genuine.

Let’s take a look at one claim made by Fell in the book which gives a good indication of how he did things. We have already looked briefly at the ogham script in a previous post. This was a Celtic script found in Ireland and Britain, which used scratches around a stem line to represent letters. Fell often ‘identified’ letters where there were fairly random scratches and no stem line, which is like a fraction without a denominator.

Fell also claimed that ogham was used as a kind of secret signalling system and he gives a table of hand signals which looks like some kind of deaf sign language. It doesn’t use vowels (which real ogham did), and the consonants are arranged into three groups of five, one with the left hand, one with the right and one with both hands. The claim that ogham was used for signalling is also found in Macalister’s Secret Languages of Ireland, but Macalister suggests that this was done in two ways, as Nose-Ogham, where the nose was used as the stem line and the fingers of one hand represent the letters, or as Leg-Ogham, where the fingers were arranged around the shinbone to represent letters. So where did Barry Fell’s two-handed version of the ogham signalling come from? There is no way of knowing, but the most likely conclusion is that Barry Fell made it up.

Then Fell looked at two Iberian statues which show people with fingers sticking out, corresponding to ‘letters’ on his made-up ogham chart. Apparently one of these, a naked statue, represents a warrior (because it’s naked and ancient Celtic warriors fought naked!) and his hands spell out the letters Q _ B. However, in the text, it says that it is Q _ T, representing the modern Irish word ‘cath’ meaning battle. (in other words, the caption and the text give two different versions of the two consonants!) He also shows a statue of a woman, whose hand signals supposedly correspond to Q _ N in Irish, or the modern Irish caoin, ‘mourn’. The hands of this female statue are simply stretched out in front of her with all digits extended, like someone who is offering a hug. Hmm.

To me, looking at these claims rationally, there are a number of possibilities, not just Fell’s certainty that he had solved a mystery and got it right:

  1. These statues have their fingers pointing in random ways and there is no significance to the way their hands are depicted.
  2. The fingers of the statues have some significance within the culture which produced the statues (a blessing, for example) but we don’t know what this was.
  3. Fell was right about the fingers having some alphabetic meaning but it could have been a completely different alphabetic system (since Fell’s version of ogham signalling is unsupported by any evidence).
  4. Fell got it right about the letters but was wrong about the language and it could have been some other language entirely.
  5. Fell got it right about the letters and the Celtic language but the meaning was completely different. After all, the letters q-n could stand for head, or dog, or harbour, or quiet, or gentle, or distant, depending on the vowels you choose to put in.

You could probably add to this list. I think 1. and 2. above are probable, while 3, 4 and 5 are highly improbable, or almost impossible. So, why did Fell believe he’d got it right if it wasn’t true?

I don’t know. There are some people who think they are always right, regardless of the subject. And though Fell was undoubtedly clever, there is no doubt that some clever people get the most outrageously stupid ideas in their heads and somehow manage to maintain them alongside more rational beliefs. (We have looked before at Charles Mackay, who was both one of the first identifiers of crankness and a major etymological crank.) I think Fell was one of those people who is mad with regard to one thing and rational about everything else. I could be wrong about that, but the fact that he identified Maui, the great Polynesian ancestor, as a Greek student of Eratosthenes, and ‘translated’ the mysterious Phaistos Disk, though he didn’t know what language it was written in (only that it was related to Luwian, apparently), don’t inspire confidence. Here is his confident and unfaltering ‘translation’ of the front of the Phaistos Disk:

The omens that you seek are explained in this tablet, every one. The omens that are sent forth for man’s destiny, every one. Whatever you may ask, great or small, if you are worried, is given (an answer), every one. Seek an omen by offering a sacrifice to the birds, that the Gods may be well disposed. Ask anything you wish, on this tablet is explained everything. You may ask anything by sacrificing an offering to the birds, that the Gods may from Heaven send forth an omen; everything is (answered) above the earth, deceiving never, everything. And so men may ask for protection, everyone. Should they (the Gods) be angered by something, or by the sacrifice, ill omens are released, all of them, signifying death or disaster; which appear upon asking, all of them.

Another reason to doubt Fell’s book is how old-fashioned it all looks now. It was published in the 70s but there is something very hippy about it. When I look through the photographs in the book, there are many photos of hairy archaeologists, often stripped to the waist, and line drawings of equally hairy ancients totally naked, some of which remind me of The Joy of Sex. (The Joy of Texts??) There is a lot of stuff about phallic cults. Apparently there are stone phalli in Vermont (no, not really) which have ‘ogham’ inscriptions referring to male fertility. Irish and Gaelic speakers will be very surprised to learn that ‘bog bod’ meant ‘erect penis’ to our ancestors. As the primary meaning of bog is soft, that doesn’t make any sense at all. Oh, and the adjective follows the noun in Irish.

In other words, America BC is a load of shite. Only an idiot would buy into this crap, and that’s why academia has ignored it – because there really is nothing of any value to it. Like the Irish Slavery meme, or Cassidy’s fake etymology, or the nonsense about Irish vampires, this is just fakery promoted by people who have no bullshit sensors and no common sense.

More on Mike McCormack

Liam Hogan has just posted an excellent response (https://medium.com/@Limerick1914/the-ancient-order-of-hibernians-history-ireland-magazine-and-the-accommodation-of-ahistorical-ec393928e787) to the childish attack on his reputation in the letters section of History Ireland by Mike McCormack (National Historian of the Ancient Order of Hibernians). Hogan makes a fabulous job of demolishing McCormack’s arguments. He also shows that McCormack, far from being a genuine historian with a right to get on his high horse about distortion of history, is a worthless dilettante who cuts and pastes sources without actually referring to the originals at all.

However, this is not the first time that McCormack’s stupidity has damaged the reputation of the organization he claims to love, the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

For example, in 2005, he wrote a ridiculous article (http://www.aohalexandria.org/2016/12/04/ogham-writing-dark-ages-produce-americas-first-christmas-cards/) which takes seriously the discredited claims of the late Dr Barry Fell, who believed that hundreds of scratches and random marks on rocks in the USA were really inscriptions in the ancient Irish ogham script. Fell really surpassed himself when he ‘read’ the following message on a cliff in Wyoming County, WV, in 1982 or 1983.

A ray will graze the notch on the left side, at the time of sunrise on Christmas Day, the first season of the year, the season of the blessed advent of the savior Lord Christ, behold he is born of Mary, a woman.

(If you think the bit about rays falling somewhere on a particular day is familiar, let me remind you that Raiders of the Lost Ark came out just before this, in 1981!) Suffice it to say that from a number of chaotic scratches, Fell claimed to make out a number of ogham letters, and these ogham letters were then interpreted by him as a form of ogham without any vowels, written in a mixture of Old Irish and Latin. For example, having identified a string of ‘text’ as FGBRRMRMBN, Fell interpreted this to mean Feg berir Maire mbena, or, as he claims, ‘Behold, he is born of Mary, a woman.’ I’m no expert on Old Irish but that doesn’t look at all convincing as a real sentence, and the string of letters could be interpreted pretty much any way you want. As Dr John Carey, a Celtic scholar at Harvard said: “Finding these sequences in purported Ogam inscriptions … seems to open the door to unbounded subjectivity: I hope that it isn’t unduly uncharitable to say that I could produce ‘Celtic text’ based on these principles for virtually any series of letters (or strokes) which you supplied”

You can find a full account of Fell’s ‘discovery’ of this supposed ogham message here: https://cwva.org/wwvrunes/wwvrunes_3.html

You can also find an excellent refutation of Fell’s theories here: https://cwva.org/ogam_rebutal/wirtz.html

In another article (http://aoh.theloveclan.net/aboutus.html), McCormack takes equally ludicrous claims about the origins of the AOH seriously. He claims that the Defenders, an agrarian Catholic society of the late eighteenth century, was founded in 1565 with the motto Friendship, Unity, and True Christian Charity. In English? In Ireland in the 16th century? No real historian would accept this claim, which was plainly invented to beef up the antiquity of the ‘Ancient’ Order of Hibernians. (The Buffaloes aren’t Antediluvian either!) There is also no evidence that the AOH was founded in the 17th century.

History provides us with the names of many of these organizations, and even limited details of some. We know, for example, that the motto of the Defenders in 1565 was Friendship, Unity, and True Christian Charity, but the secret manner in which these societies operated left few records for modern analysts. As a result, a true history of their times may never be written. Today’s AOH with its motto “Friendship, Unity, and Christian Charity” is the most recent link in the evolution of these ancient societies. Organized in Ireland for the purpose of defending Gaelic values, and protecting Church and clergy, it is the successor to the secret societies of old.   Although the name AOH can only be traced back to 1641, the organization can claim continuity of purpose and motto unbroken back to the Defenders of 1565.

In other words, this guy has been spreading his nonsense for years. I am no fan of the AOH, but I find it hard to believe that there was nobody in their membership better qualified to be their National Historian than Mike McCormack. How did they end up with this buffoon making them into an international laughing stock? Red faces all round for the AOH!

Twit of the Month: Mike McCormack – fake historian, scribbler of doggerel and plagiarist

I was unsure whom to bestow my Twit of the Month Award on this September, but then another shitstorm developed on social media in relation to Liam Hogan’s excellent work debunking the racist myth of Irish Slavery. The only popular non-local Irish history magazine, History Ireland, published a letter by a dimwit who is apparently the National Historian of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a bunch of conservative homophobic Catholic bigots. You can see a picture of him above. He seems to be wearing some kind of leprechaun suit and looks like Donald Trump’s even more evil twin brother – or perhaps Val Doonican with a serious habit.

Many real historians and sensible and decent people from all walks of life were dismayed that this delusional cretin, whose name is Mike McCormack, was given a platform to publish such a childish, petulant and insulting letter in Ireland’s only bimonthly history magazine. History Ireland doesn’t have a great record in this respect. I have already criticised it in this blog for an appalling article by Bob Curran about Irish vampires but this is really completely indefensible. I will never buy another copy of this magazine and that’s a promise.

I am not going to go through every lie and piece of arrogant nonsense in Mike McCormack’s long-winded and ignorant rant. Other people will do that better than I could. They will point out that the population of Montserrat were never ‘70% Irish slaves’, that the difference between slavery and bonded servitude is real and existed long before political correctness, that there is no evidence that Goodwife Glover was even a bonded servant, never mind a slave who escaped from anywhere. They will point out that the documents of parentage detailing the organised rape of young Irish girls by Mandingo warriors are a lurid, racist fantasy, and that this nonsense wasn’t discussed before about 20 years ago because it hadn’t been invented yet. This man is a stupid, talentless amateur, not a historian.

As for his ‘poetry’, this rubbish about a Mass Rock is an example of the pathetic doggerel this man writes:

For this was a special celebration,

Testing the faith in which they believe;

Though it was a time of tribulation,

This was the mass on Christmas Eve.

 

How they suffered; how much they gave;

Just so they could worship their God,

They left a lesson for us to save,

And a memory that cannot be marred.

 

Does the rhyme God/marred work anywhere? Even in New York?

It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that not only is this man a crap poet and a fake as a historian, he is also a supporter of the late Daniel Cassidy, the fantasist and liar who is the primary target of this blog (just like Niall O’Dowd of IrishCentral and the Irish Echo, Irish America’s answer to Joseph Goebbels, and Donnacha DeLong, the man who put the dick in anarcho-syndicalism.) However, I must say, the way McCormack chose to pay tribute to Cassidy was very odd. Even though imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, plagiarising substantial portions of an article by Cassidy without acknowledgment seems a somewhat dubious way of showing your respect. (Cassidy is mentioned in McCormack’s article, but it certainly doesn’t say that Cassidy wrote much of it.)

Here are the two articles. One (in bold) is Cassidy’s original article from the San Francisco Chronicle of 1998, while the other (italicised) is a 2009 article (republished in 2011) from the Irish Echo with McCormack’s by-line. Read both of them carefully, and note how much was copied, shared or liberated by Mike McCormack from the original article:

http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/openforum/article/

Churches of Fire in Ireland and the South

ALTHOUGH IT HAS been more than 20 years since Alex Haley’s “Roots” first hit the top of the best-seller list, it is still the most widely read novel written about African-American history. What is less known is that before his death, Haley was working on another book concerned with “roots.” This new story would begin not in Africa however, but in Ireland.

Alex Haley was an Irish African American. A people that both communities have chosen to forget, descended not from the shipwrecked sailors of the Spanish Armada but from the slave ships of Liverpool and the coffin ships of the Great Famine of Ireland.

Yet, until recently, few in either community have spoken about their shared past. Author and MacArthur Genius Award recipient Ishmael Reed has written and spoken often of his Irish and African roots. African Americans such as Muhammed Ali and writer Alice Walker have confirmed their Irish ancestry. Other Irish African Americans include jazz greats Billie Holiday, born Eleanora Gough Fagan, and Ella Fitzgerald.

Intermarriage in the 19th and early 20th centuries was certainly not common, but from the very beginning of the Irish and African entries into the New World, the relationship between the two races was complex and intense. A study of the “Bloody Ould Sixth Ward” turned up a number of Irish-African-American families living in New York’s largest Irish ghetto before the Civil War. Flying in the face of conventional wisdom, these interracial couples were able to live there peacefully during a time of massive riots, labor strife and gang wars. Less dramatic than intermarriage is the fact that after the Famine emigration, Irish and African Americans lived together in countless slums and shantytowns. Both were exiled peoples, forced from their native lands. Both lost their language, yet both held onto their identities through their music, their dance and their religion.

Finally, both formed gangs so powerful that they first ruled the streets and were later transformed into powerful political organizations.

Nevertheless, the relationship between Irish Americans and African Americans has been reduced by many to a black-and-white snapshot of mutual antipathy, epitomized by incidents ranging from the New York City Draft Riots of 1863 to the South Boston anti-busing conflagrations of the 1970s.

Omitted from this neat equation however, is a rich and forgotten history that stretches from the ancient fortresses of the Ulster kings, who traded with merchant princes of Africa two centuries before Christ, to Pete Williams’ dance hall in The Five Points neighborhood of New York, where author Charles Dickens was startled by the sight of “Paddy” and black revelers dancing together.

A history that can only be found in New York’s Old Bowery, where the children of the Famine emigrants cheered when the Black Laborer’s Union and the Fenian leader O’Donovan Rossa paraded up Baxter Street together in 1871 to fight for the eight-hour workday. Is it possible that the “lost chord” at the heart of the American experience lies hidden within these forgotten moments? The history that is as filled with dance and music as it is with violence.

Today, many of the obstacles that held Irish Americans back have been surmounted. But the African American struggle against injustice continues.

In July 1998, as Roman Catholic churches were torched all across Ulster, we are reminded of the black churches burned in the American South; the specter of the three Irish Catholic Quinn brothers, incinerated in their beds July 12 by a gasoline bomb thrown into their County Antrim home by Protestant extremists, recalls the fate of James Tate, dragged to death behind a pickup driven by Alabama white supremacists, simply because he was an African American.

The novelist Peter Quinn asked, “Could the parallels between the Irish and the Africans prove more than a coincidence? Might these two peoples share not only a journey, but a destination?”

Perhaps then the night skies of Belfast and Birmingham will no longer burn. Perhaps then, children will no longer perish in the churches of fire. Perhaps then we will be able to hear the echoes of Irish fiddlers and African banjo players mingling over the rooftops of our cities.

 

And here is Mike McCormack’s plagiarized version of the same article, originally published in the Irish Echo in September, 2009:

 

http://irishecho.com/2011/02/the-black-the-green-meeting-at-the-crossroads-of-shared-history-2/

The Black and the Green: meeting at the crossroads of shared history

 

Roots had been about his family tree on his father’s side; his new novel would be about the branch of his family, traced through his grandmother – the daughter of a black slave woman and her white master.

Haley died before he could complete the story, but at his request, it was finished by David Stevens and was published as “Alex Haley’s Queen.”

That story did not begin in Africa, but in Ireland, for Alex Haley was an Irish-African American – a member of a group of people that both the Irish and African communities have forgotten, but a group that deserves to be remembered.

It was a group descended from the slave ships of Africa and Liverpool, and the coffin ships of Ireland’s Great Hunger.

Haley was as proud of his Irish roots as he was of his African ones.

The late Daniel Cassidy, director of the Irish studies program at New College of California in San Francisco, said that while few in either community recognized their shared past, MacArthur Genius Award winner, Ishmael Reed, often wrote and spoke of his Irish and African roots and people like Muhammed Ali – in Ireland just last week – and writer Alice Walker have also held up high their Irish roots.

Other African-Irish American notables include Billie Holiday, born Eleanora Fagan, and Ella Fitzgerald as well as, of course, President Barack Obama.

From the beginning of Irish and African arrival in the New World, the relationship between the two races was furthered by their common social position.

Tired of biased treatment, a group of workers met at John Hughson’s waterside tavern in New York City in the winter of 1740-41 to plan an insurrection on St. Patrick’s Day. The conspirators were a mixture of slaves and low-wage laborers of many nationalities, but the leaders were David Johnson, who swore he would help to burn the town, and kill as many white people as he could (meaning rich people for Johnson was white), John Corry, an Irish dancing-master, who promised the same, and an African-American named Caesar. Eventually they burned down Fort George, the governor’s mansion, and the imperial armory – all symbols of Royal authority and the instruments of ruling-class power in British New York. The British put down the rising and 13 were burned at the stake, 21 were hanged, and 77 were transported out of the colony as slaves or servants.

The corpses of two of the hanged leaders dangled in an iron gibbet on the waterfront as a lesson to others. As the bodies decayed, observers noted a gruesome transformation. The corpse of the Irishman turned black and his hair curly while the corpse of Caesar, the African, bleached white. It was accounted by the bigoted WASP society as proof that there was no difference between the blacks and the Irish.

That event is only a small part of a history of two groups that had suffered the same violence of the lash, the gallows and a ship’s dark hold just for being who they were.

Today, not only is their amicable association being misunderstood and eliminated from history, but tales of conflict between them have been credited to race alone in order to hide to hide the broader truth.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, intermarriage was not uncommon and studies of the Five Points, the Bloody Old Sixth Ward and the Central Park Shantytowns in New York reveal a number of African American families living in New York’s largest Irish ghettos before the Civil War.

Despite the prejudiced attitude of society in general, interracial couples were able to live there peacefully amid crime, riots, labor strife and gang wars. After the Great Hunger immigration, Irish and African American families lived together in the slums and shanty towns of all of America’s largest cities.

Both were exiled peoples who were forced from their native lands and had lost their language; yet both held onto their identities through their music, dance and religion. Omitted from today’s understanding is a rich and forgotten history of mutual tolerance that stretches from the ancient fortresses of Ireland’s Ulster kings, who traded with merchant princes of Africa two centuries before Christ, to Pete Williams’ dance hall in The Five Points neighborhood of New York, where author Charles Dickens was startled by the sight of ‘Paddy’ and black revelers dancing together.

The black dancers swapped steps and rhythms with the Irish, blending into an art form which found expression on the American stage.

In an article in the “International Tap Newsletter,” Jane Goldberg wrote that tap dancing came out of the lower classes, developed in competitive “battles” on street corners by Irish immigrants and African American slaves.

Another writer in the newsletter suggested that only in the great American melting pot could Irish jigs combine with African shuffles and sand dances to form an entirely new and exciting art form.

According to writer and critic Clive Barnes, it was the Irish clog dancers who started tap dancing, but these Irish forms were clearly grafted onto existing dances that came directly from Africa.

An early example of this story was the solo presentations of Johnny Durang, an Irish dance master in Philadelphia, who first gave Irish step dancing a theatrical form through his on-stage performance of the hornpipe. He was also apparently the first Irish person to blacken his face for performances. As blackface led to Minstrel Shows, the music changed from Irish to jazz and tap dancing to new rhythms evolved as well.

Irish and African laborers also created a history that can be found in New York’s Five Points, where the children of Irish immigrants cheered when the Black Laborer’s Union and the Fenian leader O’Donovan Rossa paraded up Baxter Street together in 1871 to fight for the eight-hour workday.

Another great connection was made with the contributions to the anti-slavery debate made by the flamboyant Irish nationalist leader, Daniel O’Connell.

In 1845, black leader Frederick Douglass traveled to Ireland and met and befriended the Irish nationalist leader and was pleased to be called the “Black O’Connell.”

When Douglass went to Ireland, he saw countless dead and millions of starving people eating grass. He wrote a friend of how the people of Ireland lived in the same degradation as American slaves.

He said, “I see so much here to remind me of my former condition I should be ashamed to lift my voice against American slavery but that I know the cause of humanity is one the world over.”

In a letter to William Lloyd Garrison, founder of the American Anti-Slavery Society, he wrote: “I have undergone a transformation. I live a new life. I gaze around in vain for one who will question my equal humanity, claim me as a slave, or offer me an insult.” Daniel O’Connell, the Irish Liberator, had sympathy for the cause of liberty everywhere, and was especially known for his public denunciations of slavery in America.

When southerners sent him money for his work in Ireland, he sent it back, calling it a bloodstained offering, saying he would never purchase the freedom of Ireland with the price of slaves.

Professor Patricia Ferreira, of Norwich University, concludes that although from a young age Douglass possessed the inclination to be a leader, Ireland was the site where this trait blossomed.

Ireland was also the site, according to Professor Bill Rolston, where Douglass honed both his oratorical and political skills. He returned to the U.S. transformed by his Irish experience and went on to become one of the greatest orators of the 19th-century.

The “lost chord” at the heart of the Irish-African experience in America lies hidden within these and many more forgotten moments.

Today, much of the prejudice against Irish Americans and African Americans has been overcome, but occasionally reminders appear.

In July 1998, as Roman Catholic churches were torched all across Northern Ireland, we were reminded of the black churches burned in the American South; the specter of the three Quinn children, incinerated in their beds by a gasoline bomb thrown into their County Antrim home by loyalist extremists, recalls the fate of James Tate, dragged to death behind a pickup driven by Alabama white supremacists, simply because he was black.

We have long prayed for a time when the night skies of Belfast and Birmingham will no longer burn and children will no longer perish in churches of fire.

Hopefully, that time has finally arrived.

 

Mike McCormack is National Historian of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

There you have it! Mike McCormack – fake historian, poetaster, plagiarist and September’s CassidySlangScam Twit of the Month!