Tag Archives: Jack Leary

An open letter to the advisory board of the San Francisco Irish-American Crossroads Festival


Charles Fanning

Katherine Hastings

Caledonia Kearns

Daniele Maraviglia

Linda Norton

Miriam Nyhan

Nancy Quinn

Peter Quinn

James Silas Rogers

Tim Sullivan


Sometimes, our heroes turn out to have feet of clay and even when they were responsible for establishing valid and worthwhile institutions, it can be difficult for those institutions to avoid being contaminated with the scandal associated with a toxic founder.

In the case of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, it rebranded itself as the Livestrong Foundation when Armstrong was exposed as a drugs cheat. It continues to raise money but it is not as successful as it was. Its new name suggests a link to Armstrong (L – strong) but the information on its website gives no indication of the organisation’s history or Armstrong’s role in it.

In the case of the Jimmy Savile Charitable Trust, when the shit hit the fan, it initially considered rebranding itself to remove all links to the serial rapist and paedophile who founded it but a few weeks later, it declared that it was shutting up shop. The scandal and the stigma were just too great.

As for the New College of California, the exposure of its founder as a predatory paedophile came shortly before the wheels came off the institution itself. The exposure of John Leary as a sexual predator was not responsible for the collapse of the institution but it probably didn’t help. Had the college survived, it would have been necessary to remove or rewrite material like this about its founder to reflect the fact that Leary was kicked out of Gonzaga for a sexual assault on a young boy: “Jack, a Jesuit priest and teacher of philosophy, had recently resigned as president of Gonzaga University in Washington state because of his dissatisfaction with the current American model of undergraduate education. He wanted to start over. And so New College of California began as a handful of students and teachers meeting in Jack’s Sausalito living room.”

The San Francisco Irish-American Crossroads Festival was founded by Daniel Cassidy, a ‘professor’ at New College in 2004. After Cassidy’s book was published, Cassidy was criticised immediately by genuine scholars for his poor research but it is only in the last few years that the full extent of Cassidy’s dishonesty and criminality has come to light.

As I have said before on this blog, the In Memoriam section of the Festival’s website gives a fictional and sanitised account of the founder’s life. According to this account, Cassidy had degrees from Columbia and Cornell. In a radio interview with Myles Dungan, Cassidy talks about his Bachelor’s degree from Cornell and taking some ‘graduate’ classes at Columbia. Cornell University has stated that Cassidy was removed from Cornell without gaining a degree and his sister has stated here that he never went to Columbia. This in itself is clear evidence that Cassidy was a fraudster. Cassidy had no degrees or qualifications at all. He was not a real professor.

His book, How The Irish Invented Slang, is one of the most dishonest, ignorant and badly-researched books ever written. Far from being a revelatory work of etymology, it is an insult to the world of scholarship, to the Irish people and to anyone who cares about basic standards of honesty and fair play. This dim-witted collection of disinformation is totally antithetical to the mission statement of the Festival: “Founded in 2004, the Crossroads Irish-American Festival promotes the discovery and understanding of the Irish experience in the Americas to ensure that the richness of the arts, culture, history and traditions of this heritage are both held in great esteem and preserved for generations to come.”

I cannot force the people at the Irish-American Crossroads Festival to tell the truth about Cassidy. All I can do is to point out once again that Cassidy should be held to account for his fraud and criminality, not held up as an inspiration and a good example. Anyone who allows lies like this to be associated with their name is not a decent human being. If you wish to protect your reputation, demand that those responsible for the website remove the lies about Cassidy. If you support Daniel Cassidy and his insane theories, directly or indirectly, you are a willing accessory to this puerile, dishonest nonsense which has been used to swindle tens of thousands of people out of their hard-earned money.

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).