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All Dat Jazz
The secret history of how the Irish invented jazz, and skullduggery at the Morris Tribunal.
Eamonn McCann, 18 Mar 2005
Danny Cassidy knows the sanas of the pizzazz of jazz.
Which is to say, the secret etymology.
Some say the Irish language is dead as a Marley Grange doornail. But Cassidy detects it alive and, well, squirting cider in the eyes of unseeing beholders.
He’s traced the first-ever tootle of jazz, and it wasn’t two hippies on a roll: you take some skins, jazz begins. It was taken from the Irish, within the imminence of St. Patrick’s Day, 1913.
New College‘s ace etymological archaeologist explains: “On March 3, 1913 on the sports page of the San Francisco Bulletin, in a ‘Special Dispatch’ from the San Francisco Seals baseball team’s training camp at Boyes Springs, California, just north of the city, Irish American sports reporter ‘Scoop’ Gleeson used the word ‘jazz’ for what many scholars believe is the first time in the published history of the American language.”
The American language. As in Scoop’s 1913 dispatch:
“McCarl has been heralded all along the line as a busher, but now it all develops that this dope is very much to the jazz.”
Which is to say that local baseball writers had spread the word that Seals’ rookie George McCarl was an inexperienced “bush leaguer” or rural, amateur player. But all this was flim-flam and blether – “the jazz,” the excitement and heat of the cute-hoor rumour. McCarl was, in fact, an experienced player.
Three days later, Cassidy continues, in the Bulletin on March 6th, Scoop, responding to a flummoxed readership, expanded on the meaning of “jazz.”
“What is the ‘jazz?’ Why it’s a little of the ‘old life,’ the ‘gin-i-ker,’ the ‘pep,‘ otherwise known as the enthusiasalum. A grain of ‘jazz’ and you feel like going out and eating your way through ‘Twin Peaks.’ It’s that spirit which makes ordinary players step around like Lajoies and Cobbs. The Seals have it and we venture to say that everybody in the big town who has ever stopped to pan the San Francisco club in the past several months will be innoculated with it by the time the coming string of games is over.
“‘Hap’ Hogan gave his men a couple of shots of near-jazz last season and look what happened – the Tigers became the most ferocious set of tossers in the league. Now the Seals have happened upon great quantities of it in the quiet valley of Sonoma and they’re setting the countryside on fire.”
What’s this “gin-i-ker,” then, great quantities of which, imbibed in the valley of Sonoma, had set the countryside on fire?
Cassidy: “Gin-i-ker is the phonetic representation of the Irish phrase 'tine a chur' and literally means ‘to set fire’ – as in, he set fire to the baseball field with his hot play.”
And: “Jazz is Teas – heat, passion, excitement…. whether the jazz of hot music or of a hot double play.” (Donegal and North Mayo slender T (fricative) pronunciation, obviously.)
So now you has jazz, from its Irish roots-music beginnings. I knew it already in the zing of my heart, from first I heard Martin Hayes on a wave of impro at Fort Mason in ‘Frisco, in the company of Cassidy, to whose rough notes on ragged tunes we shall shortly return.
There were 544 pages in the first report from the Morris Tribunal, published last July, but no mention of Jim Smith.
This seems strange, given that the report concerned the alleged failure by gardai properly to report finds of arms and explosives in Donegal, and Smith had provided the Tribunal with an account of just such an incident.
Morris was established in March 2002 to inquire into complaints about an alleged garda attempt to frame members of the McBrearty family for the death of Raphoe cattle-dealer Richie Barron, and about gardai allegedly planting guns and explosives seized from the IRA with a view to winning kudos for “finding” them later.
Smith, whose home at Bonemaine, Bridgend, lies 20 yards from the border, contacted the Tribunal soon after it was set up. He was interviewed on March 4th last year by Tribunal investigator former Garda Superintendent Michael Finn. On April 27th, he gave evidence.
His story is that a neighbour approached him sometime late in 1985 and told that he’d unearthed a large plastic pipe while digging a trench on his land; that he’d called the guards after the pipe split and “stuff” fell out; that three guards, including Supt. Kevin Lennon, had arrived and removed the “stuff”, comprising 12 detonators and 10 timers (or perhaps the other way around) and two handguns.
Smith says that some days later two men whom he believed were members of the IRA called at his home and asked him to bring his friend to a pub at Bridgend so they could question him about the find. He says he did this, but didn’t stay for the conversation.
What initially perplexed Smith was that, although gardai were generally not slow to publicise successes in the hunt for subversive armaments, the Bonemaine find didn’t figure at all at the time in the local or national media.
More puzzling still, ex-Supt. Finn told Smith during their interview on March 4th last year that no reference to the Bonemaine find could be discovered on garda files.
Seven weeks later, however, just as Smith stepped onto the witness stand, Tribunal counsel announced that the missing documentation had been located. A message from Letterkenny had been found at Garda Headquarters telling that, “On 11th December 1985, while doing excavation work at Bridgend, a farmer unearthed a plastic pipe approximately eight feet in length and 12 inches in diameter…The pipe broke in two halves. The farmer saw a green blanket protruding…It fell out and he saw what he thought was explosives. He contacted the gardai…On examination, it was found to contain three timing devices and one magnet…”
It seems plain this was the cache discovered by Smith’s neighbour. But Smith says his friend had been adamant there were 10 or 12 each of detonators and timing devices and two handguns in the hide. Moreover, Garda records suggested that it had been a Sergeant Lavin who had attended the scene and removed the material – whereas the neighbour, says Smith, had been insistent Supt. Lennon had been present and in command, and that he had watched Lennon load the detonators, timers and handguns into the boot of his car and driving off.
There is no mention at all of Smith’s appearance at the Tribunal in Morris’s July report. Smith says this is “inexplicable.”
The July report found that Lennon had been involved in planting fake explosives in Donegal. Lennon has been sacked as a result.
Lennon returned to the witness stand on March 2nd to give evidence relating to the arrests of the two men who, it is said, gardai tried to frame. Curiously, though, it was Lennon who, in March 1998, had first questioned the validity of the men’s “confessions.“
Two other gardai claim to have raised concerns at an early stage about the arrest and questioning of the McBreartys. One is facing unrelated criminal charges. The other has been on sick leave or suspension since 2000.
Meanwhile, Jim Smith wants to know why Morris apparently ignored his evidence.