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Who Was Eoghan McNarey?


        As it contains a chapter dealing with Irish chiefs and the Mac Carthy Mór affair, the writer decided to refer to Catherine Nash's Of Irish Descent: Origin Stories, Genealogy and the Politics of Belonging, Syracuse University Press 2008. This volume may be considered to feature the first academic treatment of the MacCarthy Mór scandal, if one does not count my Twilight of the Chiefs (2004), which quite a number do not, including apparently Professor Nash who gives my work short shrift. Nash describes herself as a 'feminist cultural geographer' - masculinist geography and indeed genealogy of course being greatly to be deplored -  and writes in resolutely postmodern style, eg, 'diasporic identifications', 'arborescent thinking', 'alternative conceptual imaginary', 'problematized', 'imaginations of fixity' and something called 'Foucauldian genealogy' (pages 11, 13, 16, 272). Here is a flavour of the kind of perverse and pointless paradoxing in which Michel Foucault specialised, from an article supposedly dealing with genealogy and history: 'Truth is undoubtedly the sort of error that cannot be refuted because it was hardened into an unalterable form in the long baking process of history' ('Nietzsche, Genealogy, History', accessed on Google Books). With its adherence to plain non-Focauldian genealogy and insistence that one can and should seek to establish historical truth, my work could not be expected to hold Nash's attention for long, and she disposes of it with just one reference (page 128) and an endnote which mentions my having 'contributed to' as well as 'traced the controversy' concerning chiefs (page 293, note 56).
        In addition to exploring Terence MacCarthy's ideas in some detail, Nash devotes quite a bit of space in Of Irish Descent to summarising the views of one Eoghan McNarey, quoting from an article published under his name in an Irish genealogical magazine in the 1990s ('Gaelic Chiefship and the Irish Republic: I've got a little list', Irish Roots, 1993, Number 4, pages 14-15). McNarey's article features the usual Terentine criticisms of Chief Herald Edward MacLysaght's efforts to distinguish between genuine and bogus chiefs, alleging that his list of recognised claimants 'caused more damage to Gaelic chiefship than Oliver Cromwell!' McNarey also charged that MacLysaght's list had 'inhibited the re-establishment of the Gaelic order' as well as having restricted the number of chiefs and 'prevented any sensible development of a clan spirit in Ireland' (quoted in Nash, pages 122-23).
        Who is this Eoghan McNarey? While I did not consider McNarey's article significant enough to mention in my own book, I have long suspected that its author was really Terence MacCarthy writing under an assumed name. Consider the following passage from McNarey's article:

Lord Justice FitzWilliam, writing to Cecil in 1562, a decade after the foundation of Ulster Office, implicitly associated the progress of heraldry among the Gaelic lords with the progress of anglicisation, complaining that it was 'the discountenance of heraldry and the prevalence of rhymers' (the Gaelic Bards and Brehons) which encouraged the chiefs to resist his authority'. ('Gaelic Chiefship', page 14).

This matches almost verbatim a passage in a work by MacCarthy which was based on an MA thesis he completed in 1983:

Lord Justice FiztWilliam, writing to Cecil in 1562, a decade after the installation of the first Ulster King of Arms, implicitly associated the progress of heraldry among the Gaelic lords, or lack thereof, with the rate of their anglicisation. FitzWilliam complained bitterly of the 'discountenance of heraldry and the prevalence of rhymers who set forth the beastliest and most odious of men's doings'. (The Foundation of Ulster's Office, Little Rock, Arkansas, 1996, page 33).

        Now either MacCarthy plagiarised McNarey, or McNarey plagiarised MacCarthy, or as is more likely, MacCarthy and McNarey were one and the same person. Before I raised the matter online in June 2010, a Google search for Eoghan McNarey returned only a single hit, generated by snippets from Nash's volume on Google Books. If McNarey has written anything else of significance, posted to newsgroups, opened a FaceBook account, twittered/tweeted, been the subject of media coverage or featured on an employer's website, then the usually sharp eye of Google does not seem to have noticed. McNarey's existence thus appeared to be validated only by a magazine article and references in Professor Nash's book. In fairness, it should be noted that in response to an e-mail query Nash has conceded that perhaps she should have been 'more forthright in her critique' and has accepted that McNarey and MacCarthy could be one and the same. Nash also stated that she had spoken to me by phone when conducting her research, although I must admit that if this happened it has entirely slipped my mind and my name is not included among the acknowledgements in Of Irish Descent. Whatever, but we can conclude that a lie is halfway around the world before the truth has got its boots on, and in the case of Eoghan McNarey a particular untruth has been sent on a second circumnavigation which hopefully the present article will do a little to impede.

Sean J Murphy MA
Centre for Irish Genealogical and Historical Studies
2 June 2010, last revised 22 September 2010