Tag Archives: Dracula

Gullible’s Travels – Dean Swift and Cave Hill

Serendipity is a strange thing. Just a couple of days ago, after I had written a post about the tendency to hide crap non-information with the words ‘it has been said’, I happened to be walking through a traffic island near Custom House Square in Belfast. There was a group of tourists there and a guide was pointing to Cave Hill. As I went past, he explained to them that Swift was thought to have got the idea for Gulliver’s Travels from the giant-like outline of the mountain.

I didn’t say anything but I should have done. This is complete shite. There is no evidence that Swift was inspired by Cave Hill. How can I be so sure? Well, I’m not the only one who’s suspicious. I found this blog: https://blarneycrone.com/2012/07/04/dean-swift-napoleons-nose-and-lilliput-street-are-they-by-any-chance-related/

As the blogger says: I thought I knew quite a lot about Dean Swift. I have even read Gulliver’s Travels. In all the stuff about satire, and St Patrick’s Cathedral and so on, I have never been aware of any connection between the great man of letters and the city of my birth. Yet this week in Belfast I have twice heard the same story about Jonathan Swift and his inspiration for Gulliver. Can it possibly be true?

Of course, Swift did live in Carrickfergus for a while and I’m sure he knew Belfast. But Swift never said that Belfast inspired him to write Gulliver. No book on Swift’s life or work or on Belfast’s history mentions this story. Most studies on Swift’s work emphasise that he was influenced by Gargantua and Pantagruel, the giants invented by Rabelais in his satirical writings nearly two hundred years before Gulliver’s Travels was published.

So where did this story of the Belfast origins of Gulliver’s Travels come from? Well, looking on Google, I have not been able to find any reference to this dating back before 2004, when it was mentioned in an article in The Scotsman. Yet, in the years since then, it has appeared in hundreds of websites and blogs and other sources.

Of course, there will be people who will say, what does it matter? It’s a good story, isn’t it? I’ll answer that with a quote from James Harbeck. He was referring to Cassidy’s nonsense but it is equally appropriate to this case.

But why should it matter, if it’s a good story? Well, for one thing, it’s bad history. For another, the real stories are often more interesting. For a third, if you want facts, don’t you want facts? And fourth, sometimes it’s done maliciously, as with the claim that picnic and nitty-gritty are racist terms, in spite of more-than-ample evidence to the contrary.

I don’t think there is anything truly malicious about the claim that Swift was inspired by the Belfast Hills but it’s certainly a cynical exploitation of other people’s gullibility. Those tourists thought they were learning something of value. In reality, they were just being fed a pile of bullshit. They probably went on to Dublin afterwards to learn how Bram Stoker called his vampire after the Irish for bad blood. Let’s hope they didn’t buy Cassidy’s book on the way. That would be a perfect storm of fake Irish nonsense!

Bob Curran

I have been reading Jason Colavito’s book Faking History recently (https://www.amazon.com/Faking-History-Jason-Colavito-ebook/dp/B00BYIZEY4). I have enjoyed it greatly, though I do have some minor criticisms. The book is full of trivial errors (fare spelled as fair, words missing, indefinite articles used with plurals, Otto of Freising written as Otto of Friesling, Pantagruel written as Pantagreul etc.) and could have done with a good proofreader. There is also a lot of repetition.

Having said that, the content itself is erudite, clever and well worth reading. In a series of short essays, Colavito tackles a variety of absurd claims made in pseudo-archaeology and fringe history books. The overall theme of the essays seems to be the way that error is created and replicated in the world of junk scholarship. In many cases, claims which have no basis in fact are copied from book to book, and nobody ever checks the original source. There are some truly amazing pieces of pseudo-history. For example, the famous medieval story of the Green Children from Suffolk was transposed to Catalonia in the 19th century. The story about how the Christian world hated forks because of their pagan and demonic associations was also fascinating. However, I was also very interested to see that he criticises Bob Curran, author of a number of lurid and badly-written tomes on folklore, who has also been criticised on this blog. He describes how Curran helped to spread a claim as genuine information when in reality it is derived from the fictional writings of H.P. Lovecraft!

This is interesting, because Curran does exactly the same thing with a couple of Irish terms, supposedly ancient Irish names for vampires, the neamh-mhairbh and the dearg-diúlaí [sic].

In an incredibly sloppy article called Was Dracula An Irishman? published in History Ireland magazine in the year 2000, Curran claims that Stoker was influenced by Irish vampire lore and especially by the story of a character called Abhartach. Curran writes: “But it was the historian and folklorist Patrick Weston Joyce who actually made connections between Abhartach and the Irish vampire tradition. Joyce enthusiastically recounted the legend in his own book A History of Ireland (Dublin 1880).” I have looked through an online copy of this book and can find no reference to Abhartach, vampires or anything else related to this story. In another book by Joyce (The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places) it says that a dwarf (abhartach, or abhac in modern Irish) returned from the dead but doesn’t mention blood-drinking:

There is a place in the parish of Errigal in Derry, called Slaghtaverty, but it ought to have been called Laghtaverty, the laght or sepulchral monument of the abhartach [avartagh] or dwarf (see p. 61, supra). This dwarf was a magician, and a dreadful tyrant, and after having perpetrated great cruelties on the people he was at last vanquished and slain by a neighbouring chieftain; some say by Fionn Mac Cumhail. He was buried in a standing posture, but the very next day he appeared in his old haunts, more cruel and vigorous than ever. And the chief slew him a second time and buried him as before, but again he escaped from the grave, and spread terror through the whole country. The chief then consulted a druid, and according to his directions, he slew the dwarf a third time, and buried him in the same place, with his head downwards; which subdued his magical power, so that he never again appeared on earth. The laght raised over the dwarf is still there, and you may hear the legend with much detail from the natives of the place, one of whom told it to me.

Curran also writes in his History Ireland article:

… and the tradition of the blood-drinking dead was also recorded in Geoffrey Keating’s Foras Feasa ar Éirinn (The History of Ireland) written between 1629 and 1631. In chapter ten Keating made much of the neamh-mhairbh.

As I have said before, there is no reference to vampirism in the Foras Feasa and the reanimated dead are not referred to as neamh-mhairbh (neamh-mharbh is the nominative singular, neamh-mhairbh the nominative plural; neamh-marbh and neamh-mairbh are misspellings) or anything resembling that word.

In recounting his version of the story of the abhartach, Curran has a chieftain called Cathán speak to a druid, who tells him: ‘Abhartach is not really alive’, he told the astonished Cathán. ‘Through his devilish arts he has become one of the neamh-mhairbh [the undead]. Moreover, he is a dearg-diúlaí, a drinker of human blood. He cannot actually be slain—but he can be restrained.’

Again, the trail for this conversation leads back to Curran, and as far as I can see, it goes no further, though some sources mention Peter Haining, Peter Tremayne and Cathal Ó Sándair as the originators of some of this nonsense. There certainly doesn’t seem to be any independent evidence for Curran’s version. There is no evidence that the term neamh-mhairbh existed in the Irish language before it was used as the Irish version of ‘undead’ in the Irish translation of Dracula which was published by An Gúm in 1933.

Curran claims that the term derrick-dally was used of apparitions in folk-tales but the assumption that this comes from dearg-diúlaí is hard to accept. There’s no evidence for this term existing. The noun dearg is not used as a term for blood. Diúlaí doesn’t sound like dally, and we can’t rule out terms like diabhal (devil) or deargadaol (a beetle associated with bad luck) as the source of derrick-dally. (I think we can safely assume that Derrick Dalley, Newfoundland politician, is not a revenant and has no connection with 19th century vampires.)

In other words, as in the case cited by Jason Colavito, Curran has taken fake information and treated it as real. Does it matter? Well, it matters to me. People all over the world are repeating the amazing fact that Bram Stoker was influenced by a sizeable body of vampire lore from Ireland, and moreover, that he took the term undead from the Irish neamh-mharbh, when in reality, it is the other way round. Of course, if this were really true, nobody would be doing more to spread it than me. But it isn’t true, and I want people to get to know the real Irish language and the culture associated with it, not some fake version manufactured by dilettantes like Cassidy and Curran.

Some Other Oirish Bullshitters

Daniel Cassidy was certainly King of the Irish-American Liars. However, the Irish and people of Irish descent are not averse to making odd claims about the Irish origin of obscure items of vocabulary in English and Cassidy was not alone in this kind of Goropian nonsense. (I’ll explain this reference some other time!)

One of the most bizarre of these claims hit the news in 2006 when headlines appeared in the international press about the Irish origin of the word didgeridoo, which according to a researcher at Flinders University in Australia, Dymphna Lonergan, derives from a phrase meaning ‘black moaner’ – dúdaire dubh. (This is the way it’s defined in some of the online descriptions. Ó Dónaill defines dúdaire as ‘long-necked person, hummer, crooner’).

There is no evidence for this claim, of course and you would have to say that there are plenty of other words or phrases which would be more likely to be used to describe the didgeridoo or the sound it makes. This claim is really quite bizarre, especially as it came from someone who has since become a serious academic (at the time, she was a doctoral candidate). I wonder how she feels about this claim and the publicity it received now?

Then there is the claim made by Gearóid Mac an Bhainisteora, that the word spondulicks comes from the Irish phrase sponc-diúlach, spunk-chap. Like Cassidy’s work this is definitely etymology by sound (which is not sound etymology) and it is hard to see that even in the seedier backstreets of Galway city there would ever have been an automatic semantic link between guys, spunk and money. The mind boggles … However, I should point out that with the exception of this little lapse, Mac an Bhainisteora’s books are actually useful little guides to Irish usage and should be on every Irish learner’s shelves.

And then there is that astonishing claim made by some ‘experts’ that Dracula has no connection with Vlad Dracul but is really from the Irish droch fhoula meaning bad blood. Bram Stoker was from Dublin of course, so that proves it!! (I’m being ironic again.) Of course, droch fhoula doesn’t mean bad blood. ‘Bad blood’ is drochfhuil. Droch fhoula is based on a genitive of drochfhuil, drochfhola. And Dracul is a matter of historical record and Stoker set the origins of his count in the Carpathian Mountains, not Conamara.

Thank God! Can you imagine what Hammer films would have been like had Stoker emphasised an Irish connection? Instead of pubs full of rustics in leather trousers with yokel English accents, it would be red-haired beardy men in Aran sweaters bejabering away as though God were telling them to …

“Oh bejasus, Pat, sure an’ you’re not going out when it’s da full moon, begorrah, and all o’ dem vorgins have been goin’ a-missin’ of late, so dey have …”