Tag Archives: Clann Chiarraí

John on Goodreads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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