Tag Archives: Maureen Hurley

More on the Tally Stick

A while back, I wrote a short piece in answer to Maureen Hurley. At the end of that article, I said that I would try to write a piece on the bata scóir, so here it is.

What was the bata scóir? Well, the word bata means stick in Irish, while the word scór is a borrowing of the English word score. It means a score or notch and comes ultimately from the Old Norse skor, meaning a notch or (because of its use in tallying) a count of twenty. In other words, it means a tally stick, a device used for counting or tallying. Usually, this was a small wooden block of various forms, which was usually able to be marked with notches indicating various values and then split lengthwise so that the two parts would tally. (Also, you could place the two parts together temporarily to mark new notches on it.)

In Ireland, historically, the bata scóir has had several meanings or uses. It was principally used in the nineteenth century as a kind of time card, used by labourers to prove how many hours they had worked. For example, an tAthair Peadar in his book of 1915, Mo Sgéal Féin, says this about the bata scóir used by labourers and farmers:


Bhíodh an bata scóir acu, agus choimeádaidís araon an cúntas ar an mbata scóir.
Is amhlaidh a bhíodh an bata scóir ‘n-a dhá leath ar a fhaid, agus leath acu ag an bhfear oibre agus an leath eile acu ag an bhfeirmeóir. Nuair a bhíodh an cúntas acu
le cur síos, do thagaidís i bhfochair a chéile agus a leath féin de’n bhata ag gach duine acu. Ansan, cuir i gcás go mbéadh chúig lá oibre déanta ag an bhfear oibre, do shínfidís an dá leath-bhata suas le n-a chéile, agus do ghearfadh duine acu chúig scóir le sgiain ar an dá leath-bhata, scór, nó fáibre, i n-aghaidh gach lae oibre d’ár deineadh. Do gearfaí na fáibrí i dtreó go luighfeadh an sgian ar an dá leath-bhata i n-aonfheacht, agus go mbéadh gach fáibre geartha isteach ionta araon. Ansan do choimeádfadh gach aoinne a leath féin de’n bhata scóir, agus níor bh’fhéidir d’aoinne
acu éagcóir a dhéanamh ar an nduine eile, mar níor bh’ fhéidir scór do ghearadh amach ‘ná scór do chur isteach gan an dá leath-bhata do shíneadh le chéile airís, agus nuair a sínfí le chéile iad do chaithfeadh na fáibrí teacht isteach le n-a chéile cruinn, fé mar a gearadh iad ar dtúis.

They used to have the tally-stick, and they would both keep the account on the tally stick. It so happened that the tally-stick used to be split lengthwise into two halves, one half kept by the workman and the other half by the farmer. When they had to record the account, they would come together, each of them with his own half of the stick. Then, suppose the workman had done five days of work, they would lay the two half-sticks up against each other, and one of them would cut five scores with a knife on the two half sticks, a score, or a groove, for every day of work that was done. The grooves would be cut so that the knife would lie on both of the half-sticks together, and so that each groove would be cut into both of them. Then each one would keep his own half of the tally-stick, and neither of them could cheat the other one, because it was not possible to cut a groove out or to put a score in without laying the two half-sticks together again, and when they were laid together the grooves had to match each other accurately, just as they had originally been cut.

However, many Irish people will be aware of a more sinister meaning to the phrase bata scóir, as a device used to punish Irish-speaking children for using their native language in school. This was particularly associated with the National School system which was brought in in 1831 but the custom seems to have been used to force children to learn English before then in the hedge schools (scoileanna scairte or scoltacha scairte), unofficial local schools run in barns or outdoors by a teacher paid directly by the parents.

This practice was used in many countries where an indigenous language was supplanted by a more powerful language like English or French. The best-known example was probably the famous Welsh Not. This was a badge that was hung on the neck of a child who was heard speaking Welsh. When another child was heard speaking the language, the Welsh Not was transferred to them and so on. At the end of the day the child wearing the Welsh Not was punished. Many years ago, I was told that this was also the pattern in Donegal.

However, most accounts of the bata scóir in Ireland tend to emphasise the scoring or notching aspect. For example, a child called Pádraig Ó Cuirrín from Waterford gave the following account (collected from his father) in the collection of folklore called Bailiúchan na Scol in the 1930s (my translation):

When my grandfather was going to school he used to speak Irish and a Bata Scóir was placed around his neck. He spoke ten words of Irish and ten notches were put in the stick for every word and then he was put outside the door. When he went home, his father gave him a blow for every notch that was in the stick.

Another account is in an Irish translation of an essay by William Smith O’Brien (written in 1893 but translated in 1905):

Ba mhinic, le deich mbliadhna is dachad do labhradh go trom ar lucht cnáide leanbh Gaedhealach scoile nuair a bheirtí ortha ag labhairt na teangan do thugadar leó ó lacht chíche a máthar, agus níl amhras ná gur bh’aithiseach an bheart í. Ní hé an cipín scóir do cuireadh ar chrochadh fé bhrághaid leanbh labhartha na Gaedhilge, mar tharcuisne ar a dteangain, fé ndeara dhi bheith ar gcúl, acht teicheadh na ndaoine thar sáile.

People have frequently spoken critically for the last fifty years about those tormenters of Irish-speaking school children when they were caught speaking the language they were given from their mother’s milk, and there is no doubt that this was a shameful act. It was not the tally-stick which was hung around the neck of children who spoke Irish to scorn the language which was the reason for its decline but the emigration of people overseas.

(The original version is: Bitter things have been said of those who in the last fifty years were used to chide Irish school children caught lapsing into their own mother-tongue; and no doubt it was a sorry spectacle. But it was emigration, not the ferule of the old pedants, that drove the Irish language out of fashion.)

An article called The Hedge Schools of County Limerick by Tony Lyons states that the bata scóir did not originate in the National School system but in the earlier hedge schools. In some places, according to Lyons, the individual schoolmasters were favourable to the Irish language but in others, they used bataí scóir or ‘tally sticks’ to discourage pupils from speaking the language. These were sometimes called by other names. In Kerry it was known as a cingulum or singulum.

Sir William Wilde in 1853 mentioned seeing a man hearing his child speaking Irish and marking a tally around his neck (called a scoreen or scóirín) so that he could be punished.

All this is very interesting but very contradictory. Anybody examining this and other evidence will quickly realise that there is a very clear difference between the standard nationalist polemic about the bata scóir and the reality.

The polemic has it that the English came into Ireland and as part of a concerted campaign of cultural genocide, they imposed compulsory education in English and cruelly punished any children who spoke their own native language, regardless of their parents’ wishes, by hanging a badge of shame around their necks called a tally or a bata scóir and beating them accordingly.

How do the facts differ from the polemic version?

1. The use of the tally stick began in the hedge schools, which were nothing to do with the English.

2. The tallies were certainly used in the National Schools but the National Schools were not compulsory, Compulsory education was not brought in in Ireland until 1893, sixty years after the National Schools. Many schools in Ireland had begun teaching Irish by this time.

3. The idea that the very word bata scóir struck shame and anger into the hearts of Irish speakers throughout the nineteenth century is false. The main use of the term was for a kind of device for counting the hours or days worked by a labourer.

4. Not only did parents not have to send their children to a National School, they were often part of the system of punishment, carrying out the beatings. In some cases, it is stated that the tally was used to prevent children speaking Irish outside school, not inside it. The painful truth is that Irish-speaking parents bowed to strong cultural and economic pressures (many derived from the English – they aren’t blameless in this) in trying to prevent their own children from speaking Irish. They did this because they feared that their children would end up starving in Boston or Birmingham because they couldn’t get a job in an English-speaking environment.

5. We have no idea what the original bata scóir would have looked like and as far as I know, there are no examples of a bata scóir in existence. Pictures purporting to be bataí scóir on the internet are fakes, tally sticks with a different purpose from Germany or Canada.

Hurley’s Stick

I noticed recently that I have been defamed by one of Cassidy’s lickspittle ‘friends’ in California, Maureen Hurley. This is in relation to a comment made on this blog by someone called Robo and my reply to Robo:


“The bata scóir or tally stick was usually a piece of wood which Irish-speaking children were forced to wear around their necks. Anybody who heard the child speaking Irish was expected to mark the stick with a notch. At the end of the day the marks were counted and the child was punished for each offence. Watch your language : an bata scóir, the insidious silencer.”

From https://cassidyslangscam.wordpress.com/tag/bata-scoir/

PS The person (unnamed) responsible for the blog where I got this info, at cassidyslangscam, who continues to slander my friend Danny Cassidy, after his death, is a vindictive scourge. He maligns Robo’s comment, yet my Bantry grandmother, FFS, told me the same story. So it certainly was true in the middle to late 19th c., in the West of Ireland. STET!

While I’m not really bothered (being attacked by someone as stupid as Maureen Hurley is like being savaged by a dead sheep), it is a little irritating when somebody lies so casually about you.  As readers of this blog will know, I have not slandered Cassidy, nor even libelled him. (You would think someone claiming to be a poet would know the difference!) The fact is, of course, that expressing your disdain for someone only becomes any kind of defamation if the bad things you are saying are untrue. Because my criticisms of Cassidy are entirely justified, all I am guilty of is not agreeing with Maureen Hurley and I can certainly live with that!

However, before discussing Hurley’s failings in greater detail, let’s just get one thing straight. Anyone reading her comment above would assume that I am arguing that the bata scóir didn’t exist. If you go to my blog and read it you will find the following line: The bata scóir in the National Schools is certainly a fact.

Could I have expressed it any more clearly or unambiguously? The bata scóir was a fact. It existed and I have never denied the fact. Presumably, Hurley failed to actually read my blog post before commenting on it. Either that, or, if she is a total liar like the rest of Cassidy’s friends, she is providing a ‘straw man’ argument, where you set up a nice easy fake target, ascribe it to your opponent, and knock that down instead of actually engaging with your opponent’s real arguments.

As I said in a previous post on Hurley, she actually realises that at least some of Cassidy’s work was nonsense, saying that he played it a little too fast and loose with linguistics, that he didn’t speak Irish and didn’t know the grammatical rules of Irish. Fair play to her for recognising that much. Unfortunately, she does not take it to its conclusion and makes a lot of half-baked and moronic excuses for Cassidy. Here is Hurley sneering at real academics who criticised her friend:

Some pedagogues groused that Danny was an amateur etymologist, and ever-so-eloquently stated that his linguistic claims were “a big heaping load of hooey”; that maybe the award should have been given for fiction instead. I’m sure that was the response Danny was expecting from that crowd. He was a great one to challenge the halls of academe.

In other words, she is giving us the typical unintelligent guff that we have come to expect from the Cassidy apologists. The academics hated Cassidy because they’re a stuck-up crowd of snobs sitting in their ivory towers, not because it was incompetent rubbish. According to Hurley, Cassidy was sometimes wrong but got it right a lot of the time.

As you will discover if you read my blog rather than Hurley’s ramblings, Cassidy was almost never right about anything. It isn’t that there is a solid core of genuine research in Cassidy’s book and that the academic linguists are just carping about a few marginal cases. The truth is that Cassidy’s book is a monumental waste of time, a collection of childish lies and distortions. There are no words of genuine Irish origin in his book apart from the ones that were already acknowledged as such in the dictionaries. Everything original to Cassidy is infantile garbage. And while an Anglo dilettante like Maureen Hurley wouldn’t really care about the Irish language, those of us who speak Irish and use it on a daily basis find Cassidy’s work deeply insulting.

Hurley tries to demonstrate that there is value in Cassidy’s work but because she can’t be bothered reading what anybody else writes, she makes a total mess of it. She quotes what she thinks is a comment given by Daniel Cassidy. In fact, it’s from Terence Dolan, one of Cassidy’s critics, and it’s clearly denying Cassidy’s core thesis:

In an interview, Danny said: “The English language does not often absorb other languages, especially the Celtic languages. Irish has the longest association with English of any language on the planet, yet in England all we’ve got are a handful of words such as whiskey.”

I mean, obviously, if there are only a handful of Celtic words such as whiskey in English, then Cassidy must have been wrong!

After that, things get really surreal.

For example, Danny said the word buckaroo came from the Irish bocaí rua, “wild playboys” or “bloody bucks.” But bó is cow, buachaill is a cowherder (or cowboy, if you will), and ruadh, is, well, red (or red-haired)—so the meaning is close enough. Even if he came at it all wrong.


I have no idea what she is talking about here. This is a total non-sequitur. Bocaí rua means a red-haired playboy – if if means anything. (Bocaí is a singular word meaning playboy, not the plural of boc, which would be boic.) And another word, buachaill means boy and etymologically is linked to the Irish word for cow. But are the two facts connected? No. And where does buckaroo really come from? It comes from vaquero, the Spanish for cowboy. How is the meaning ‘close enough’? Close enough to what, FFS?

Anyway, unbelievably, it gets worse:


When Danny began to point out words “of uncertain origin” is often code for Irish, it struck a chord with me. I knew there were many more Irish words buried within the English language, despite what the Oxford English Dictionary claimed—aside from the usual suspects: smithereens, hoolighan (a surname), and shanty. 
There’s also shebeen, shebang, shindig, Sheila, slew, slogan, lollapalooza, colleen, clan, keen, kabosh, banshee, brogue, brogan, bar, ben, glamour, gombeen, leprechaun, whiskey, etc., to name a few.

This is also nonsense. Shanty, of course, is from French, not Irish, whether it refers to a cabin or a song. Shebeen is from Irish and all dictionaries say so. They are also quite happy to admit that slew, colleen, keen, banshee, brogue, gombeen, leprechaun, gob and whiskey are Irish. (Hurley also treats us to some rubbish about how the e of whiskey is related to Irish uisce – the convention of the spelling of whiskey and whisky by country is a recent convention in English and has nothing whatever to do with different varieties of Gaelic.) Kabosh probably isn’t Irish, lollapalooza certainly isn’t and it isn’t mentioned in Cassidy’s book, and neither is glamour, which certainly isn’t Irish. Shindig doesn’t come from Cassidy’s seinnt-theach, because it doesn’t exist. (It doesn’t come from Loretto Todd’s sínteach either, which does exist but has no appropriate meanings.) Bar doesn’t come from Irish and I’m not aware of anyone ever claiming it did. She says that boycott is an Irish word. Obviously, it isn’t because it’s an English surname, though it did originate in Ireland and like most languages, we have a version of the verb derived from it in Irish (baghcatáil, to boycott).

She also repeats the claim that the OED and Webster’s were rabidly anti-Irish and therefore lied about the Irish origins of words but without any evidence or any reason for claiming this other than her own bigotry and misplaced loyalty to Cassidy. She complains about these dictionaries saying that words were Scottish Gaelic rather than Irish and uses the idiotic argument that somehow Scottish Gaelic IS Irish.

Where did the British think Scots Gaelic came from? Donegal Irish in another lexicon.

Hurley is showing here once again that for a so-called poet, she has a very poor grasp of the English language.  What does ‘in another lexicon’ mean? The fact is, of course, that the Irish and Scottish versions of Gaelic are mutually incomprehensible, though similar. Does ‘in another lexicon’ mean that they are similar but have different words? And if so, could you say that Dutch is English in another lexicon? Or that Portuguese is Spanish in another lexicon? Similar but totally different? What the fuck are you wittering about, Hurley?

And of course, some words come from Scottish Gaelic while others come from Irish. Smithereens and shebeen are from Irish. Pibroch and claymore are from Scottish Gaelic. Bog and whisk(e)y could be from either, or indeed both.

Hurley also claims that glom isn’t in the dictionary. In reality, glom is recognised as deriving from Scots glaum, on record since the 18th century, which in turn came from Scottish Gaelic glàm.

Anyway, I already hated Cassidy’s guts when I first started this blog seven years ago, because of the lying nonsense he had made up about the Irish language. However, writing works of crap research is not illegal. Using false qualifications to get a job you are not entitled to is illegal, as well as being immoral and deeply hypocritical in someone who spent much of his time blathering about social justice. This is the big pile of elephant dung in the room that people like Hurley refuse to talk about.

Cassidy’s sister tipped me off that her brother had no qualifications about five years ago. I contacted the Registrar of Cornell University, Cassie Dembosky, who confirmed that Cassidy was removed from Cornell after four years of study without a degree. And this was later confirmed by one of Cassidy’s supporters, his brother Michael, who says that he used to needle his brother about not having a degree.

In theory, of course, it is quite possible to become a professor without having a degree. If you are a poet of international standing, or a brilliant novelist, or a film director with a dozen highly-regarded movies under your belt, that will be regarded as equivalent to or better than a doctorate. However, Cassidy did not have any such staggering achievements. In fact, he didn’t have any achievements, staggering or not. He was a nobody with no degrees and the only reasonable explanation for his having the status of a university professor without even a BA is that he lied about his qualifications to get that job.

Hurley and people like Hurley might consider that there is nothing wrong with doing that. However, there are rules in relation to fair employment, protocols that protect us from the worst kinds of discrimination. Rules that make it hard for someone to give a job to an Orangeman with no qualifications rather than to a Catholic with an MA on the grounds that the Catholic’s face wouldn’t fit. Rules that guarantee that a gay woman of West African heritage will not be passed over in a recruitment process in favour of a straight, chalk-white Christian dude like the late Daniel Cassidy because he’s a friend of the Dean. I think that Daniel Cassidy essentially ignored these rules and was allowed to do so and I think I am entirely justified in saying that he was a worthless, hypocritical prick for doing that.

Finally, before I finish, I just want to make an observation about the silly little internet picture of a bata scóir which Hurley posted along with her criticism of this blog. As I have said, I know that the bata scóir existed. However, I don’t believe that 19th century schoolteachers had that much time to whittle elaborate notches on pieces of wood, so it seemed to me unlikely that this was a genuine Irish bata scóir. I therefore acted on my hunch and put the words tally stick into Google image and within a few seconds, I found out where the picture came from. It’s of a tally stick that was used to guarantee a debt. It dates from the 16th century and was discovered in 2011 in an excavation in Wittenberg, Germany, so it is not an Irish bata scóir and has nothing to do with the English or Irish languages.

You can find out more here: https://archive.archaeology.org/1111/artifact/wittenberg_germany_tally_stick.html

There are also other pictures of bataí scóir on line which are tally sticks from Baffin Island in Canada. To the best of my knowledge, there are no genuine bataí scóir from the Irish National Schools in existence and we don’t really know what they would have looked like. If I get time, I will post on the whole question of the bata scóir and the available evidence about it, as it is an interesting subject.