Tag Archives: Eamon Loingsigh

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.

Light of the Diddicoy

I have already mentioned Eamon Loingsigh several times here. Loingsigh wrote a blog post praising the work of Cassidy. This blog post is still there misleading the public about Cassidy and making obviously incorrect and easily disprovable claims. As far as I am concerned, Cassidy and his supporters are enemies of the Irish language, even if they think they are the language’s greatest champions, so, I am not well disposed towards Loingsigh and I would like to make that clear right from the start. My intention here is to provide a review of his recent book Light of the Diddicoy and I am certainly not an impartial reviewer, though I will try to be as fair as I can.

This book has garnered good reviews from a lot of people on Amazon, many of them suspiciously posted by people who have not posted anything else. The one objective review I found online, on the site of the Historical Novel Society, was mixed and after praising some aspects of the book, singled out certain issues as problematic:

“Unfortunately, I felt the story was undermined by inconsistencies in the author’s tone and somewhat shallow characterizations.

An original and poetic coming-of-age story, Light of the Diddicoy touches on some fascinating material, but might prove difficult for those looking for truly captivating, character-driven fiction.”

I was able to pick up a copy of the book very easily on Amazon. It was a second-hand copy and only cost me a couple of pounds. I was surprised to find that it was signed by the author. I set about reading it. Like the author of the review above, I didn’t particularly like it but I didn’t hate it. There were good things about it. As a story, as a succession of images telling what happened to the central character, it was gripping enough. He seems to know a lot about the docks in NY in the early 20th century and the interplay between criminals, employers and labour organisations. So far, so good.

For me, there were two main problems with this book. Firstly, the language more often stood between the reader and the image rather than evoking the image clearly. Some of the lines are very odd indeed. Some sentences appear not to make any sense at all. For example:

Only luck can make it across the sea lanes with the sea wolves dug in for war, where the Lusitania was sent to the dregs just north of Queenstown in Kinsale, just south of five months early upon.

Even leaving aside the fact that Kinsale is south-west of Queenstown (Cóbh), what does this mean? Answers on a postcard please …

His grasp of Irish dialect is shaky. The dialogue is more Far and Away than Ulysses. At times, I found it hard to work out what dialect the characters were supposed to be using. To give just one example, he frequently drops the h in words like he (‘e), which to me looks like some kind of English dialect. To the best of my knowledge, no dialect of Irish English drops the h. And expressions like ‘you look about twelve years long’ don’t ring true to me. Perhaps there is some obscure dialect in Munster where people use long for old but I’ve certainly never heard it. All too often, dialect is used to create two-dimensional characters.

Another problem is the purple passages. Manuals for aspiring writers always tell people to avoid these like the plague. It is still good advice to go through your writing with a red pen cutting out anything that sounds preachy or self-conscious or overwritten.

“Unpainted, sooted wood-framed tenements creak in the breeze like an old coffin ship carrying dead famine families in its [sic] hulls. Sunken in time along with so many of their untold stories. Memories forgotten, remembered only in the blood like a feeling is remembered, but not articulated, memories known only in the blood-feeling of so many Americans in the coming generations. Whisperings of great struggles, terrible sacrifices pitting family versus [sic] survival. Struggles and sacrifices that make life worth living for the happier children of much later days. Of all those Americans what proudly claim Irish blood.” 

There are parts of the book (particularly in the middle) where the writing is going well and he forgets to posture and lets the story tell itself, and these are the most successful and enjoyable parts.

Apart from language, the other problem is research. I will assume that he does have a good understanding of the American scene in the early 20th century. But some of his comments relating to Ireland seem anachronistic or inaccurate.  Somebody is described as being led away like an informer led away by two trench-coated rebels. OK, this is being described by someone years afterwards, but it relates to events before the Easter Rising. Trench-coated rebels killing informers was not a common image until the War of Independence in 1919-21.  The word psychopath did exist back then, but did it exist in ordinary Irish or Irish-American speech? I doubt it. And when Garrity describes his education, he talks about avoiding the schools dominated by the Catholic Church where they taught a rhyme about being ‘an English child’. This wasn’t the Catholic schools, it was the National school system. There was a Catholic system alongside it.  And there weren’t any hedge schools in the 1900s. And at a crucial moment in the story, it is revealed that his father and mother and aunts were all killed in the Easter Rising. All of them? Were many families completely wiped out in the Easter Rising? Not that I know of, especially not families from Co. Clare.

There is an embarrassingly Oirish bit about shanachies and pookas on page 37 which any self-respecting editor would have cut. One of the strangest things, to me, is the title. Diddicoy is Romany, and there are few Romanies in Ireland. Most travellers in Ireland are what are called Pavees or Tinkers (not a politically correct expression these days) who use a jargon based on Irish called Shelta. I have never heard diddicoy used in Ireland, and it has an odd sound here because of the obscene meanings of diddy in Irish dialect.

However, the worst piece of nonsense in the book is where a matriarch cuts the vein of a dead person, fills a cup, drinks some of the blood and passes it round to the rest of the family. There are sporadic references to blood-drinking in ancient Irish texts, usually in the context of madness. In addition, there is a claim in a work by Spenser (no friend to the Irish) that he witnessed a grieving relative drinking the blood of the deceased in the 16th century. The jury is still out on whether this was ever a real funerary custom which was widely followed. After all, Spenser had a vested interest in depicting the Irish as savages. Even if it once existed, the idea of a person drinking the blood of a corpse in the early 20th century is ridiculously fanciful. It is part of Loingsigh’s tendency to romanticise the Irish out of all recognition. They are gypsies obsessed with honour out of a Lorca poem, firebrand rebels, gangsters and rogues, half-pagan cannibals. None of them is a real, three-dimensional, believable individual.

In short, I would give this book 3 out of 5 (I said I was trying to be fair) but there are major problems with it. He is not without talent but If I were Eamon Loingsigh, I would sit down and write another book without any reference to Ireland at all in it, featuring people who speak the American dialects that he hears every day around him, and ask a friend at the end to make it fifty pages shorter by cutting out anything which sounds too literary or preachy with a red pen. If he follows that advice, we might just hear more of him. If not, I’m fairly certain we won’t.

Hall of Shame Special – Eamon Loingsigh

A while back, I came across a blog by someone called Éamon Loingsigh. I have to confess, I don’t understand the name. It needs to be either Mac Loingsigh or Ó Loingsigh and without either the word for son or grandson the genitive form of Loingseach, Loingsigh makes no sense.

Anyway, his blog contains a number of references to Daniel Cassidy’s work. As you would expect from someone who is an active supporter of a proven charlatan, the blog shows an almost total indifference to the facts. Many of Cassidy’s claims which have been dealt with and dismissed, not only by me but by other scholars, are simply trotted out as though they were facts, though a number of the supposed Irish words as given by Loingsigh are written wrongly, even in terms of the way Cassidy gave them in the book. Thus Loingsigh has béal ánna as the origin of baloney, not béal ónna as Cassidy claimed (and of course, neither of them are genuine Irish anyway!) He has de raig where Cassidy has de ráig, gearr-ol ur where Cassidy has gearr-ól úr and he has bás (the Irish for death, not boss) where Cassidy had bas.

We are also told that the word “moniker” can be attributed to the word, “munik” in Irish gypsy language called Shelta, again, we can thank Mr. Cassidy for figuring this out. Really? So how come my Collins’ English Dictionary, published in 1990, says that moniker comes from Shelta munnik? Wow, that was a difficult discovery to make! That dictionary is quite big and you could do yourself a mischief turning those heavy pages! Loingsigh’s posts show no originality or ability to research or to think critically. Again, this is typical of Cassidy’s supporters. For example, here are a few paragraphs of the utter crap which he offers:

Even as the cloistered British professors and American Anglophiles tried disassembling Cassidy’s evidence, the research ended up becoming a breakthrough that stifled the English language protectorates. These Oxfordonians would much rather avoid admitting any influence on the English language such as slang that came from the tenant farmers in Ireland that were exiled to American cities like Boston, Philadelphia and New York where, on the city streets, the secretive slang of rebels and thieves reached up into daily usage.

When the How the Irish Invented Slang won the 2007 American Book Award for nonfictional, it was settled. Although some research still needed to be done to have multiple sources, it was established that the Irish language had had a profound and previously undocumented influence on the English language.

Unearthed by Cassidy’s studying of a Foclóir Póca, or Irish-EnglishFocloir Poca pocket dictionary along with the skills produced by studying the language and history of the Irish in his position at the head of the Irish Studies program at New College of California, Cassidy uncovered lingual gems such as the word “crony.”

Pure nonsense, without any basis in fact. Whatever stifling their protectorates (???) has meant for the dictionary dudes, they haven’t come any closer to accepting the half-arsed nonsense in Cassidy’s book as fact. Nor will they, because the book is almost entirely rubbish. Yeah, ‘some research needed to be done to have multiple sources’ – multiple as in more than zero, that is! Because there isn’t any evidence for the existence of a word like comhrogha in Irish in the sense of friend or pal, so how can it be the origin of crony? And most of Cassidy’s claims are the same.

The reason why I have decided to have a go at Eamon Loingsigh is very simple and it’s the same reason why I started this blog. I don’t like bullshit. I posted a comment on Loingsigh’s website explaining that Cassidy’s ideas were nonsense and that he had got it wrong. Did he engage in discussion, defend his ideas, find some evidence? Nope. The comment sat awaiting moderation for six weeks and I am assuming that it has now been deleted. This is typical of the behaviour of Cassidy’s supporters. When challenged with hard facts, they scuttle under the nearest rock and refuse to engage in debate. It is probably typical of deniers and pseudoscientists everywhere. They want to hold forth like experts but ask them to actually present some evidence and they turn tail and run. Pathetic!