Tag Archives: Cornell

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.

The Daniel Cassidy Memorial Lecture

On the 9th of November, in San Francisco, as part of a festival called Hinterland, the Irish broadcaster and historian Myles Dungan will give the inaugural Daniel Cassidy Memorial Lecture. The Hinterland festival has two independent parts, one in County Meath and the other (HinterlandWest) in California. The Irish festival is also linked to the Hay Festival on the border between England and Wales.

Anyone who has read this blog carefully will realise that there is something very strange about the idea of commemorating Daniel Cassidy or celebrating his life.

The HinterlandWest Festival describes Cassidy thus:

Daniel Cassidy was a much-loved musician, and academic who ran the Irish Studies programme at New College, San Francisco up to the time of his death in 2008.

The comma is interesting. Did they originally have a comment about his skills as a writer and linguist but decided to remove it because they realise that the boat sailed on that one a long time ago? Or do they simply have problems with punctuation?

The facts in relation to Daniel Cassidy are clear. He was certainly a musician, though an indifferent one.

With regard to his status as an academic, there is no doubt that Cassidy worked as a lecturer at New College of California for around twelve years. Cassidy himself claimed (under a rather obvious sock puppet identity) that he had worked before that at San Francisco State but I have no confirmation of this claim.

What is very clear is that he was not entitled to be a lecturer in any university because he had no qualifications. Some sources, such as Wikipedia, claimed for a long time that he graduated from Cornell. Cassidy himself claimed to have been educated at or studied at Cornell and then at Columbia. The SF Irish American Crossroads Festival website says that Cassidy studied first at Columbia and then at Cornell, but this is contradicted by accounts of his life given by Cassidy in interviews.

The fact is that Cassidy attended Cornell for about four years on a scholarship, but left the university in 1965 without receiving a degree. He never attended Columbia University and he never got a primary degree or a postgraduate degree.

In other words, the reality is that Cassidy was just some unqualified guy who had wandered in off the street with an attitude and the gift of the gab and had no right to even apply for a job as a teacher. This is confirmed again and again in his book and in the numerous articles that appeared in newspapers around the time of its publication. In his book, Cassidy demonstrates time and time again that he didn’t care about facts or telling the truth. He knew nothing about the methods used by genuine academics. The book is weak and badly argued, with its fake phonetics, ludicrously bad referencing, a tendency to dishonestly miss out anything that conflicted with his theories and an even more disturbing tendency to simply invent phrases in ‘Irish’ that never existed and in many cases could never exist, phrases like fo-luach and sách úr and béal ónna and teas ioma and uath-anchor. The book really is a complete mess and anyone who thinks that How The Irish Invented Slang is going to make a genuine contribution to the world of etymology is delusional.

It has also been suggested that Cassidy used his unearned status as a lecturer to sexually harass young women who were unlucky enough to be studying under his guidance. This claim came from a person who left a message here and who studied at New College. I have no idea whether it’s true or not but knowing Cassidy’s arrogance and self-obsession and lack of boundaries, I don’t consider it at all unlikely.

Myles Dungan, who is delivering this inaugural Daniel Cassidy Memorial Lecture (let’s hope it’s also the last), interviewed Cassidy just after his book was published. I have already dealt with this elsewhere on this blog. It was a fairly feeble interview and a poor piece of journalism, which gave Cassidy an easy ride and failed to ask any difficult (and obvious) questions. It is strange to find Myles Dungan, who gave this toxic fraud a platform to sell his garbage to unsuspecting people back then, once again stepping up to support this liar more than a decade later. It’s doubly strange in that Myles Dungan is well-known for a blog that debunks fake news stories from history.

I don’t know who was responsible for establishing this Daniel Cassidy Memorial Lecture and damaging the reputation of the HinterlandWest Festival by associating it with a man who is universally despised by all right-thinking people. I suspect that Elizabeth Creely, one of the most vociferous Cassidy loyalists, had a hand in this bizarre decision. Whoever is responsible, the fact is that Cassidy was not a person deserving of commemoration or celebration. He was a criminal, a liar, a narcissist, a hypocrite and a total waste of space. No decent human being would knowingly associate themselves with this man and his deceptions.

Highway 101

In a recent post (The Day JFK Was Shot) I mentioned an interview on RTÉ radio (Highway 101) in August 2007, in which Myles Dungan talks to Daniel Cassidy, fake scholar and fake etymologist, about his life and works. In that post, I pointed to several factual inconsistencies. However, they weren’t the only problems with Cassidy’s account of his life, so I decided to listen to the podcast again and make a few notes.

First off, it is amazing what Cassidy leaves out. He makes no mention of his association with Andy Warhol, one of the few genuinely impressive parts of his CV. He talks about ‘when I got out of Cornell’, but makes no mention of the fact that he flunked his degree. Indeed, he even says ‘I was reasonably good at academics … you know … I just took to it …’ Really?

Later, he talks about being in ‘graduate school’ in Columbia. Obviously, as a non-graduate, he couldn’t have been in graduate school, though he may well have taken some evening classes.

One of the most dishonest bits is in relation to his career as a merchant seaman. In some descriptions of Cassidy, this is almost used to define him – he is ‘the former merchant marine’. I have expressed doubt before about this episode of his life, which I think didn’t happen, or was very short, or took place later, in the late seventies. This interview confirms that there is something very suspect about his claim to have been a merchant seaman in the 1960s. When Dungan says, ‘you became a seaman’, you would expect a natural storyteller like Cassidy to really give it his all. However, you would be disappointed. There are no tall tales about being lashed to the wheel with a marlin spike pondering the nature of the stars, or doing the horizontal hornpipe in a cathouse in Surabaya, or listening to the mermaids and merrows singing songs to the dog-headed men at the edge of the world where cartographers fear to tread. Cassidy simply says ‘I hit the road’ and tells an anecdote about hitching a ride to California in 1967, the Summer of Love. Then he talks about playing in a bar in the Mission District in San Francisco. Then the narrative moves on to getting in with musicians and releasing an album. His career as a salty seadog is ignored and forgotten, as is the 23 months he spent in rehab in New York, at some time between 1967 and 1972. In other words, he might have spent slightly longer as a seaman than Malcolm Lowry, but he was no Joseph Conrad.

There is also a problem with the idea that he played R and B in bars in the Mission District. According to other sources, he learned guitar in Phoenix House, the rehab centre, at the end of the sixties or in the early seventies. Before that, he played the saxophone. Now, the guitar is an R and B instrument. One person can be a modern troubadour, singing songs of love and protest and accompanying themselves on the guitar. But it’s hard to imagine anyone doing solo gigs on the saxophone. So did this happen? And if it did, when? Was it later, after his music career was on the skids, when his album failed to sell?

Dungan seems to regard Cassidy as a harmless crank, and gives him an easy ride, even when it becomes obvious that Cassidy can’t pronounce Irish and knows nothing about the language. Dungan challenges him over spiel, which he rightly says is German or Yiddish, but he doesn’t challenge Cassidy when he claims that speal (which he mispronounces to make it sound more like spiel) is Scottish Gaelic and Irish for a hoe. (It’s a scythe, or course.) However, Dungan does say: ‘Are you not letting your imagination run away with you and claiming far too much for the Irish language?’ Cassidy blethers his way round this one, claiming that in fact he is being conservative and that the Irish influence is even greater than he claims.

However, the thing that really shocked me was his spiel about how New College of California was founded by a Jesuit called Father Jack Leary, who came from Gonzaga University. The thing he doesn’t mention at all is that Leary had already been exposed as a predatory paedophile by (amongst others) Matt Smith in SF Weekly in October 2006 (http://www.sfweekly.com/sanfrancisco/the-double-life-of-john-leary/Content?oid=2161211).