One of the worst things about this atrocious book is its fake radicalism. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that Cassidy wasn’t politically radical or that he didn’t have strong beliefs. What I am saying is that Cassidy cynically turned his defence of this book into an issue of radicalism versus the establishment, when in reality it was nothing of the kind. Cassidy and his supporters like to depict this book as the little man taking on the self-absorbed academics in their ivory towers, David against Goliath, Galileo muttering ‘eppur si muove’ under his breath to the Inquisition. It is a popular trope and you can easily understand why gullible people find it so attractive.
The only problem is, it isn’t true. Cassidy might have been a man of the people in some ways, but he was first and foremost an egoist. He tried desperately to be taken seriously by academics and by the dictionary makers and only decided that they were bigoted when they turned round and disagreed with him. For example, he initially tried to get his ludicrous book published by A & A Farmar and the University of Limerick but as Alexander Cockburn says in an obituary for Cassidy, two weeks before the book was to go to press, Cassidy complained to him that some ‘hooded revisionist anonymous Irish academic’ had recommended that they didn’t publish it. Rather than thinking that maybe this Irish academic (who presumably knew some Irish) was right and that he should think again, his misplaced self-confidence was undented. Thus the book was published by Counterpunch.
According to Grant Barrett, for some time Cassidy regularly sent his derivations to the American Dialect Society, who politely tried to get him to see reason and use some methodology rather than just making everything up. Again, this turned sour and they were treated as rogues and fools by Cassidy because they had the temerity to disagree with him. Like some Stalinist secret policeman, Cassidy decided that anyone who disagreed with him was suffering from false consciousness. Their imperialist ideology made them unable to see the obvious truths that Cassidy was offering, namely, that the Irish who flocked to the States after the famine spoke a completely different version of Irish to that spoken in Ireland now or recorded in thousands of songs, folk tales, books and manuscripts in the 19th century, an unrecorded Cassidese version of Irish in which, for example, uath-anchor (which, if it existed, would really mean something like ‘spontaneous ill-treatment’ – right, Mr Grey, time for your spontaneous ill-treatment session …) is a normal and comprehensible way of referring to masturbation (rather than real words like féintruailliú, féinsuaitheadh, lámhchairdeas or lámhchartadh) and is the origin of the slang word wanker.
And of course, this idea of a right-wing anti-Irish conspiracy is an easy refrain to sing along to, so before long, Cassidy had assembled a choir of idiots who were prepared to be his backing group and repeat the defamatory claim that academics had closed ranks against Cassidy, not because he was an idiot and his ideas were rubbish, but because the academics were a clique of right-wing bigots.
Here are some of the idiots having a sing-song:
Circumstantial evidence? It sure is and it’s damn good circumstantial evidence. Enough to hang a pompous scholar on. Reality check for the ivory tower types …
At the very least, it opens, or should open, new ideas and new avenues of exploration for the professional scholars, and should cause the more open minded of them to reconsider their assumptions – If only they’ll do some swallowing of their own – of their professional pride – and admit that sometimes an amateur can develop insights into a subject that the experts and engineers miss …
I think I detect a trace of scholarship envy going on here. An individual outside the inner cabal of the Irish language establishment goes and produces one of the most interesting texts related to the language and one that is vastly more relevant to the world at large than anything produced by the little incestuous bodies that thrive and prosper on a relentless wastage of state funding. But said individual doesn’t play ball with the cabal. I think I get the picture.
Peter Quinn’s intro/snapshot history hints at the centuries of class and cultural suppression that have kept recognition of the contents of this book from getting the coverage it deserves.
In fact, there is certainly a clique in this story. It is the clique of Cassidy’s friends and family. Time and again, the names on favourable reviews of Cassidy’s work turn out to be New York jazzmen or relatives of Cassidy or people who had read at his Irish Crossroads Festival. The people who have slated him are a much more mixed bag. They include Irish speakers, Hungarian speakers, English speakers, left-wingers, academics, dialect experts … They don’t all know each other and they certainly aren’t conspiring against Cassidy for political reasons. They are opposing Cassidy because his ideas were up the left, not because his ideas were on the left.
There is nothing radical about lying to people to get them to part with their money. In this respect, Cassidy was no better than any grubby little right-wing politico on the planet.