Tag Archives: Limerick

Of Irish Slaves and Irish Slang

I have recently had cause to criticise the absurd ‘Irish Slavery Meme’ which has been challenged by a number of historians, most notably Liam Hogan of Limerick. While this may seem like a deviation from the aims of CassidySlangScam, which is primarily about the Irish language and more specifically about the ridiculous fake Irish etymologies produced by the late Daniel Cassidy, there are clear parallels between these two dishonest sets of claims.

In both cases, a meme which is almost entirely rubbish is being circulated virally, often by horrible people with a particular agenda. With Cassidy’s work, many of his supporters are naïve and foolish people who believe they are defending the Irish language when they support Cassidy’s ridiculous made-up rubbish. With the Irish Slavery Meme, many of them are White Supremacists who claim that their ancestors had it worse than African slaves but you won’t find them bitching and moaning and asking for positive discrimination, blah blah blah …

In both cases, the meme is of relatively recent origin. Cassidy’s ludicrous nonsense first started to spread when he published his first articles in 2003. The Irish slavery meme has precursors going back over a hundred years in the work of Thomas Addis Emmett but didn’t go mainstream until  the publication of To Hell or Barbados, a highly inaccurate book written by a journalist (not a historian) and published in 2001. It has never had any currency among genuine historians.

In both cases, there is a core of genuine information surrounded by immense quantities of guff. In both cases, the genuine information is non-controversial and accepted by both sides. In the Cassidy case, there is a handful of derivations which are accepted (shebeen, puss, phoney etc.) by all dictionaries but most of Cassidy’s claims link English expressions to made-up ‘Irish’ phrases. In the Irish Slavery meme, there is no doubt that a certain number of people were essentially kidnapped from Ireland and transported against their will to the colonies (especially for a few years in the 1650s) where they were forced to work as indentured servants for a number of years. The followers of this meme vastly inflate the numbers involved, claim that the indentured servants were slaves or were treated worse than slaves, and that this ‘Irish slave trade’ continued for hundreds of years.

In both cases, we find some of the same names supporting this rubbish: IrishCentral and Niall O’Dowd; Donnacha DeLong; Mike McCormack.

In both cases, the fakeness of most of the evidence presented can easily be established. It’s just that people are either too lazy to go looking for it or unwilling to have their fantasy version of the world challenged by facts.

In both cases, anyone who argues that this meme is fake news and completely untrue is verbally attacked by people who claim that their position is ‘anti-Irish’ or Anglophile, or that they are ‘deniers’, as if denial of lies is a bad thing!

In both cases, this results in the claim that orthodox academia has somehow suppressed the truth about the Irish origins of American slang or the suffering of hundreds of thousands of Irish slaves and that these ‘truths’ should be acknowledged by academics or taught in schools – even though there isn’t a shred of evidence that these things happened.

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Science Matters

One of the best things about cyber-reality is the way that, because of its vastness, you can easily find people whose ideas and beliefs coincide with your own. For example, I recently found a blog by an Irish scientist (Science matters: http://blobthescientist.blogspot.co.uk/), whose daughter had noticed the Rubber Bandits’ post on Cassidy’s ‘research’ and wondered whether it was true:

Meanwhile, in another part of the internet, this casual investigation of etymology by two lads from Limerick has been fueling a shit-storm of indignation. That is because the list of supposed Hiberno-Yankee slang seems to be from How The Irish Invented Slang published in 2007 by Daniel Cassidy. There seems to be no sense of de mortuis nil nisi bonum (Cassidy died of pancreatic cancer in 2008) among certain linguists and etymologists. In 2013, an anonymous gaelgeoir started a blog cassidyslangscam.wordpress.com to debunk, eviscerate and pour scorn [an ignorant, narcissistic fraud with no qualifications] on Mr “Deceased” Cassidy and his one book. This chap has been posting several articles a month ever since on this one topic. That shows commendable stamina in setting things right: “Etymologies from Cassidy’s How the Irish Invented Slang are widely duplicated across the internet. However, many of Cassidy’s definitions have been shown to be wishful thinking or completely made up”. As the blog was started a full five years after Cassidy died, this may seem like bolting the stable door after the horse is gone. But one of his (I presume cassidylangscam is a He, because none of the women I know get so cross about such a small annoyance) points is well taken. If nobody complains when things are wrong, the error will fester away and other people, less careful about evidence, will believe them to be true.

This is a good take on the story. I will ignore the line about maleness and getting angry about trivial annoyances – yes I am a man (though using the divine He is perhaps overegging the mixture a bit and my wife would certainly disagree that there is anything God-like about me), but I don’t consider the Irish language a trivial matter and unlike the author of Science matters, I don’t measure my gripes in nanometres! However, I have to say that I find his blog very enjoyable and interesting. There is a truly astonishing range of subjects, from Matisse to vaccination, from Flannan Isle to family history. He writes well and argues intelligently. Like myself, his default position is scepticism. He also has a very good sense of humour. I don’t agree with everything he says. His ideas on fluoridation seem irrational to me (well, he says that this is because of his ‘tree-hugging’ nature) and I am deeply suspicious of attempts to treat historical linguistics like programs showing the spread of epidemics (https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1107054532/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_S_ttl?_encoding=UTF8&colid=1TMMT8PVFH50O&coliid=I1MU2OK2I90522)

However, in general, this is a very good blog and well worth a read. However, there is one thing about this blog that I really hate and I hope its author will pay heed. The font is way too small, which gives it an off-putting appearance. It looks more like an academic journal article than something you would read for fun.

Please experiment with different fonts and sizes until you find something that doesn’t offend the eye and doesn’t need to be measured in nanometres!

Put It Up On The Web, Limerick Traitors!

Hats off to Murchadh Mór. Not only has he written an excellent article on The Rubber Bandits’ foolish post about Cassidy’s fake etymology on Nós, and a post giving a number of genuine words which derive from Irish, he has also posted a pic of a document which gives the real origins of the words given by the Rubber Bandits in their list.

Unfortunately, the Rubber Bandits themselves seem unwilling to post the truth on this subject. When Murchadh Mór asked them to circulate the true list, this was their reply:

Stuff about Cassidy being dubious was shared under the original thread. We commented on it, too. It would have been seen.

It’s disappointing to see them refusing to do the right thing here. You see, what they’re failing to acknowledge here is that this isn’t a level playing field. In the world in general, and to an even greater extent on social media, nonsense has longer legs than sense, and lies are faster and better runners than the truth. The figures for shares and likes show that. The original (wrong) post got far more than Murchadh Mór’s corrections.

Why? Well, for a number of reasons. Because lies sparkle and shine, because they can be as glittery and bright and attractive as the human imagination can make them. All truths can be are what they are. Because lies are presented as simple certainties, while the truth is often messy and complex. Because the truth doesn’t have an agenda, while lies are often blended with xenophobia and hatred, which tastes like honey to many people. Because people’s memories are fickle and they selectively filter out anything that doesn’t make a good narrative, which is why the thousands of times homeopathy fails are ignored but the one time where it coincides with a sudden improvement is proof that homeopathy works (mar dhea). (And perhaps it also explains why the definition of the English word dude is given as the definition of the Irish word dúid in the original list of nonsense given by the Rubber Bandits. Or perhaps someone was just lying …)

Because of these facts, it makes me wonder what the real story is about the RB’s post on Cassidy. Who wrote it? Did the RBs themselves write it, or was the (mis)information supplied to them by somebody else? A friend, a relative, a fan? Someone they don’t want to offend by getting off the fence and telling it like it is?

William Blake wrote that ‘the road to Hell is paved with good intentions’. So just remember this. Cassidy wasn’t a nice man who got it a bit wrong. He was a malicious fraud and people who support him are choosing lies over truth. It’s that simple. And as I’ve said above, lies already have an inbuilt advantage over the truth, so for fuck’s sake, lads, let’s stop giving liars and their falsehoods a head start.

JUST COPY THE POST, YA GOWLS!!!

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 …