Tag Archives: Liam Hogan

More on Niall O’Dowd …

Recently, I have had a go at Niall O’Dowd and his support for the bizarre conspiracy theory that slavery figured large in Irish history and that this truth has been suppressed by mainstream historians. I wrote several posts on this subject in support of Liam Hogan and other academics who have opposed the Irish slavery myth, not because they are pro-English, but because it is a myth and is being used by racists to belittle the African American experience of slavery. Of course, I have my own motives for piling on Niall O’Dowd and IrishCentral. They have consistently supported the weak-minded nonsense produced by Daniel Cassidy, in spite of all the evidence that Cassidy’s ‘research’ was rubbish and that Cassidy himself was a fraud.

I wrote these posts rather hastily and in the process, I made a mistake, taking a source which contained modern revisionist references to slavery as an accurate account of contemporary court records from New England. Liam Hogan contacted me to point this out and I have now made that clear on the post concerned. (This serves to demonstrate that history is best left to those who know what they’re doing, just as etymology shouldn’t be left to people who are unaware of the most basic facts of historical linguistics.)

In writing these posts, I forgot to mention a point which I had intended to discuss, O’Dowd’s comments on history itself. In his apologia, he says:

We cannot allow racist whites to delineate our history for us, nor politically correct thinking to ignore and deny that any Irish were ever slaves.

This is staggeringly hypocritical. So, it’s somehow letting racist whites win if we change our story and apologise, is it? Or is it those who are politically correct who would be allowed to win? (In fact, forget the politically. It’s people who are correct that O’Dowd doesn’t like, because they show him up!)

He reiterates the same point later on in the same article.

We cheapen it because we are scared of it being taken over by white racists, but we cannot allow them to own our historic reality either.

See how he presents himself as a champion of reason and moderate common sense? This is his focal scoir or parting shot:

History does not belong to any group or individual – it belongs to us all. How the Irish were treated in colonial America is a lesson we should never forget.

How noble! However, let’s just wind back a bit and take a look at the article on IrishCentral which caused all the trouble in the first place. You can find it here:

http://www.irishcentral.com/roots/irish-the-forgotten-white-slaves-says-expert-john-martin-188645531

As you can see, the article simply repeats all kinds of figures which are completely false and belong to the racist discourse. The article is completely indefensible. The most obviously dodgy claim is this one:

The Irish were further exploited when the British began to “breed” Irish women – or girls, sometimes as young as 12 – with African males.

There is absolutely no evidence for this lurid and politically motivated myth which is calculated to make the Aryan blood of rednecked simpletons everywhere boil. History belongs to people who have a commitment to telling the truth. And O’Dowd has shown time and time again that he doesn’t care a damn about getting the facts right. What a creep!

Niall O’Dowd Answers Critics!

A couple of days ago, Niall O’Dowd published a reply to those academics who put their name to Liam Hogan’s open letter criticising him for an article on IrishCentral which supports the idea that the seventeenth-century Irish were victims of enslavement and pointing out that the word slave is an emotive one with a specific meaning. You can find the reply here: http://www.irishcentral.com/opinion/niallodowd/why-the-irish-were-both-slaves-and-indentured-servants-in-colonial-america These Irish people were indentured servants or bonded labourers. Their plight was bad, the circumstances of their kidnap and deportation distressing. But Liam Hogan and others are at pains to point out that they were not chattel slaves the way generations of African-Americans were.

O’Dowd pretty much admits this and claims to deplore the way that the slave label has been used by right-wing groups to play down the legacy of slavery among African Americans.

The controversy has arisen because some far-right groups have claimed that the experience of Irish slaves was interchangeable with (or even in some cases worse than) the experience of black slaves, and have used that as justification for an array of abhorrent racist statements and ideas.

O’Dowd’s answer to his critics is every bit as feeble and incompetent as I would have expected. He mentions a well-known court case where a couple of young men, who were abducted by soldiers and shipped to the Americas against their will from the East Cork area, were effectively sued by their master for a breach of a contract to which they had never consented. To quote O’Dowd:

If we accept that a slave is someone “who is the legal property of another and is forced to obey them,” as does the Oxford Dictionary, then I say let’s call it what it was according to those who lived and reported it: slavery AND indentured servitude.

We cannot allow racist whites to delineate our history for us, nor politically correct thinking to ignore and deny that any Irish were ever slaves.

Let’s take a  look at this one case of the Irish experience in the 17th Century in Massachusetts which certainly looked an awful lot like slavery to me.

That the boys were abducted by British soldiers at the end of the Cromwellian Wars is not in doubt. That this was about money and profit is also well known. That it was inhumane and wrong is also obvious. All the actions of the English in overrunning areas of Ireland which had previously been under native control and oppressing and exploiting the people of Ireland in the seventeenth century were immoral. Of course they were!

But we need to be careful about definitions, or we play into the hands of the racists who will claim that the Irish and the African experience are equivalent. In both the court case and the article below, the boys are referred to as slaves. (See the comment below from Liam Hogan. Apparently they were not referred to as slaves in the original document – this is a modern addition.) But when we look at the circumstances, it looks a lot less like chattel slavery as known among African Americans.

Here’s how the court case between William Downing and Philip Welch and their master Mr Symonds came about:

One Sabbath day evening in March, with plowing and planting foremost in his mind, Philip came into the parlor and asked Mrs. Symonds just who would be expected to do all the springtime work. Displeased with her answer he announced that after seven years of service to the family, he and William would work for them no more unless new terms were struck.

William Downing concurred that they had worked for free long enough and both boys reiterated their demands to Samuel Symonds. They knew of other stolen Irish children sent to Barbados who had been released from slavery after just four years. “If you will free us,” said Philip, “and pay us as other men we will plant your corn and mend your fences but we will not work with you upon the same terms as before.”

When one of the servant girls chastised the lads for troubling their master, Mrs. Symonds was heard to say, “let them alone; now they are speaking let them speak their own minds.” Samuel Symonds was not as tolerant of their protests as his wife. “You must work for me still, unless you run away,” he said, leaving no room for further discussion.

The following morning a constable arrived to arrest the boys. Philip Welch softened slightly at the prospect of incarceration and agreed to serve out his time if his master would promise to give him as good a portion of food as any of his children. Even the constable encouraged Symonds to reconsider his strict stance, but the master wouldn’t budge an inch. He filed charges against both slaves and held his ground.

I don’t know about you, but I would have thought that if any black slaves quibbled about their conditions, they would have been flogged to within an inch of their lives. Another point worth considering is that the boys lost the case and were returned to their servitude and O’Dowd leaves it at that. But that isn’t the end of the story. At least two of the four Irish boys mentioned in the case, Phillip Welch the defendant and John Downing, a witness, survived, married and had free children as free men in New England. Their descendants didn’t have to wait until the 19th century to own themselves, and they didn’t have to wait until the 1960s before they were allowed to register to vote. The point is, the very fact that there was a court case at all shows that this was different from chattel slavery. And did you notice the comment about Barbados? The kidnapped children there were apparently released after four years. Nobody disputes that these abductions were disgusting. But the servitude of the Irish exiles was time-limited. And we have to remember that most indentured servants in the colonies were voluntary. They signed up to it of their own volition and the majority of them weren’t Irish.

So, why is Niall O’Dowd sticking to his guns and refusing to back down? Well, I’m still waiting for an apology or retraction for his promotion of Cassidy’s insane book after two years. I personally don’t believe that O’Dowd has the decency to apologise. I believe that because that’s my experience of his behaviour. He’ll keep on splitting hairs and distorting the truth and dissembling, because being Niall O’Dowd means never having to say you got it wrong – even if everybody else can see you got it wrong.

Anyway, I look forward to reading Liam Hogan’s reply to O’Dowd! Hogan is a competent, intelligent man and a genuine historian and I’m sure he’ll make mincemeat out of him …

 

A Reply To Mark Corbett

One of the things you learn from blogging is that there isn’t much point in arguing with really stupid people, so I don’t intend to get sucked into a debate with anyone on the topic of white slavery. However, I have received a comment from a certain Mark Corbett and I think I will answer it here, just to make sure that everyone understands my position. Corbett says this:

“He’s saying that the way people of African descent were treated was much worse. Which it was.”

If Hogan stuck to claiming that the form of chattel slavery suffered by African slaves in the Americas was worse, there would be little controversy. What he’s actually saying is that people who had their land confiscated, were arrested as vagabonds, shipped to the new world and worked to death on Caribbean plantations were not slaves at all.”

Now, here’s a comment by Liam Hogan in a recently-published article in the New York Times:

Contemporary accounts in Ireland sometimes referred to these people as slaves, Mr. Hogan said. That was true in the sense that any form of coerced labor can be described as slavery, from Ancient Rome to modern-day human trafficking. But in colonial America and the Caribbean, the word “slavery” had a specific legal meaning. Europeans, by definition, were not included in it.

So, let’s please get certain things clear here. Hogan is not a Nine Years’ War denier, or a Plantation of Ulster denier. He’s not saying (and neither am I) that the British brought peace and civilisation to Ireland. He’s not saying that those who were in bonded servitude, or those who were captured as ‘vagrants’ and sentenced to work in the Caribbean, were well-treated. He’s not saying that they all survived the experience (though your claim that the Irish were worked to death seems illogical – if you’re a plantation owner who has one of these ‘vagrants’ for a period of seven years, you would want them to work for the full seven years, because labour was valuable). Any evidence for that claim? Having lived in an area where my neighbours were gunned down indiscriminately by pro-British death squads, and being a fluent Irish speaker, I am well aware that the British influence on my country has been baneful and disastrous and I don’t need to be reminded of that fact.

Here are some of the things Hogan is claiming:

  • That there is no evidence that the Irish labourers or prisoners were treated worse than African slaves.
  • That there is no evidence for the claims that Irish women were forced to reproduce with African men.
  • That the whole notion of Irish slavery has been used in recent times, not so much to criticise the British, but to attack African-Americans – “White Irish slaves were treated worse than any other race in the US: when did you last hear an Irishman bitching how the world owes them a living?” (Obviously whoever wrote this never had any contact with Daniel Cassidy and his odious fan club…)
  • That photographs of victims of Japanese prisoner of war camps or 20th century child laborers (like the photo above) are used with claims that they are pictures of Irish slaves.
  • That a reference to a 1625 declaration by King James II to send thousands of Irish prisoners to the West Indies as slaves is a fabrication. James II was not alive at this time.
  • That figures in relation to this have often been plucked out of the air and are completely unsubstantiated.
  • That the first work dealing with this subject was They Were White And They Were Slaves: The Untold History of The Enslavement of Whites In Early America, self-published in the US in 1993 by an anti-Semitic Holocaust denier called Michael A Hoffman II.

It seems to me that this is a pretty good set of reasons to complain about the way this ahistorical nonsense is being spread, even if it does deprive people like Mark of a little bit of that warm feeling of victimhood which certain members of the Irish diaspora seem to enjoy so much.

So, the fact is, slavery was one thing. And what the Irish suffered in the 17th century was bad but it wasn’t the same as slavery. Interestingly, one comment in support of the Irish slaves meme mentions Goody Glover, a woman hanged as a witch in Boston because of superstition and racism and the fact that she was an Irish speaker and could only manage broken English. She had been sent to the Caribbean at some point, whether as a vagrant or an indentured servant isn’t clear. However, she and her children made their way to America. If they had been chattel slaves, she and her husband, and their children and their children’s children would have continued to be someone’s ‘property’ in the Caribbean. Is that a big enough difference for you, Mark?

The fact is, accuracy is important. We all know that there was a famine in Ireland in the 19th century. Historians argue about whether or not this was genocide. To my mind, the English establishment was to blame for the huge loss of life, whichever way you look at it. We don’t need to invent anything. But let’s just suppose that some lonely looney-tune in a dank apartment in Boston or London or Dublin decides that the truth about the famine was a far more hands-on thing. Suppose he claims that Queen Victoria and Trevelyan and Russell and lots of other English aristocrats caused the famine by floating over the West in hot air balloons throwing poison onto the fields and cackling hysterically at their own racist wickedness. A thousand dumbasses will immediately ignore that fact that this isn’t physically possible, that there is plenty of evidence of the virus that caused the blight, or that there is no record of all these upper-class English people going on a prolonged holiday at the time and they will accuse anyone who doubts the veracity of this claim of being soft, and pro-English, and self-hating Irishmen and traitors to the national cause and blah blah blah yada yada yada …

The fact is, I want historians to uncover the truth and tell it like it is, with all its contradictions and uncertainties. If you want a nice pantomime version of history with pantomime heroes and villains, then that’s up to you. But I personally don’t want anyone turning the tragic history of my people into a fucking cartoon, least of all when their motives have more to do with the Aryan Brotherhood than the Fenian Brotherhood.

Anyway, I’ve said what I wanted to say. Don’t bother replying, Mark. I’ve wasted enough time on this stupidity. If you want anything clarified, you can read it again.

IrishCentral and Irish Slavery

Recently, I came across a fascinating document on line by an academic at the University of Limerick called Liam Hogan. In March 2016, in the run up to St Patrick’s Day, Hogan published an open letter to The Irish Examiner, Scientific American and IrishCentral, criticising the nonsense they have promoted which claims that huge numbers of Irish people were enslaved by the British and that the first slaves in the Caribbean and in the Americas were really Irish. Hogan is pointing out that the indentured servitude and penal servitude of the Irish in the 17th century, while it was harsh and brutal, wasn’t the same as chattel slavery and should not be compared directly to it. He also points out that there are outright fabrications, distortions and exaggerations in the accounts of Irish ‘slavery’.

You can find it here: https://medium.com/@Limerick1914/open-letter-to-irish-central-irish-examiner-and-scientific-american-about-their-irish-slaves-3f6cf23b8d7f#.mqeiu3req

Hogan states that it is important for people in the Internet age to check sources and be responsible in what they publish. He points out that white supremacists and opponents of the Black Lives Matter campaign are using this disinformation to make light of the legacy of slavery among African Americans.

The letter was signed by fifty academics, primarily history specialists. Two of the publications targeted by Hogan, the Irish Examiner and Scientific American, accepted the criticism and changed their output accordingly. What was the response of Niall O’Dowd and IrishCentral? Well, anyone who has read this blog will have a pretty good idea. The response was to ignore it. The original article is still on IrishCentral. You can find it here: http://www.irishcentral.com/roots/irish-the-forgotten-white-slaves-says-expert-john-martin-188645531

There are some interesting parallels here to my issues with IrishCentral. For a number of years, IrishCentral has published and republished an article by Brendan Patrick Keane about the theories of the late Daniel Cassidy, who claimed that much American and English slang comes from the Irish language. This article, like Cassidy’s book, is an incompetent collection of lying garbage. I have repeatedly criticised it here, along with IrishCentral’s editor, Niall O’Dowd, who has continued to promote this pompous crap. My criticisms have been ignored. This is only a small blog, so perhaps that is unsurprising. However, the fact that Niall O’Dowd is such a creep that he simply ignores fifty prominent academics who are accusing him of supporting false claims which have been used by white supremacists to further their ends is a surprise, even to me. (And I have actually read Niall O’Dowd’s autobiography. Jeez, what a tedious waste of a day that was! Still, thank God I only read it. I didn’t have to live it …)

There is another interesting parallel. While we don’t know who penned the IrishCentral article on Irish slaves (it’s just labelled IrishCentral Staff) it quotes from a prominent 9/11 Truther called John Martin, who is described as an ‘expert’. Brendan Patrick Keane, the author of the crap article on Cassidy, is also a 9/11 Truther.

An even stranger parallel is that an Irish numpty called Donnacha DeLong supported Cassidy and was criticised by me here. Guess who published an article critical of Hogan on his blog in May 2016? Yep, Donnacha DeLong! You can find it here: https://donnachadelong.info/2016/05/13/irish-slavery-fact-or-myth/

DeLong’s arguments are as imbecilic as the crap he advanced in defence of Cassidy. He describes this as a ‘stupid debate’ and accuses Hogan of making ‘a name for himself condemning those who talk about the Irish history of slavery’. DeLong condemns racism and the racists who misuse the Irish slave meme but then says ‘lumping everyone who’s looking into the treatment of the Irish in the 17th Century in with neonazis and racists is simply wrong.’ He doesn’t explain who exactly is doing this lumping. Hogan is certainly not accusing everyone who believes in the Irish slavery meme of being a racist and he’s not saying that the English treated the Irish well. He’s saying that the way people of African descent were treated was much worse. Which it was.

DeLong recommends that people should look at other sources, like Peter Linebaugh’s co-written The Many-Headed Hydra. Linebaugh, a very mediocre Marxist historian, was also a big fan of Cassidy’s nonsense. Like DeLong’s, Linebaugh’s response to Cassidy’s work shows that he simply can’t be arsed doing the research a real historian or journalist should do.

Anyway, a thousand thanks and a big round of applause to Liam Hogan and to everybody else in this story who has stood up for honest, evidence-based research and journalism. As for Donnacha DeLong, Niall O’Dowd, John Martin, Brendan Patrick Keane and all the rest, shame on the lot of you, you shower of dim-witted post-truth arseholes! People like you make me ashamed to be Irish!