In Memory of Danny Cassidy

Daniel Cassidy was a Professor of Irish Studies at New College of California as well as the founder of that program. A well known Irish-American activist and winner of the American Book Award in 2007 for his book “How The Irish Invented Slang”. Danny passed away on 10/11/08 from pancreatic cancer. He was my friend and this is my Eulogy to him:

Danny Cassidy, my friend, colleague, and Comrade in Arms, passed away yesterday. Struck down early by pancreatic cancer, Danny’s life was still big and full–intense, loud, and ending in a great awareness, with a final consciousness of what these crazy lives we live really mean. The forwarded email, announcing his passing, described some of Danny’s final sentiments, his last observations. And what Danny said was that he had experienced the unconditional love of his mother and his wife, and that he realized that this was the full message of the Gospel, and that all else was trivia, sidebar, bullshit.

And I reflected on my life and relationship with Danny. We didn’t know each other so very well, having worked in tandem at New College, he in the Weekday and me in the Weekend Humanities BA Program, but we came together closely in the last year of struggle at the College. Sadly, it was too late for that broken institution. We were on “one side” of the battle, classically fighting the “other side”, while those who were truly in power enjoyed our squabble, distracting us all from the deep corruption above, as the poison of those over us seeped deeper into the core of the place, finally killing it in a great toxic implosion. Yes, Danny and I and many others met, and talked, and complained, absurd strategies discussed. All the while, other groups of our colleagues, the “other side” did some version of the same. Laughable in the end, sadly so.

But Danny pulled out before the end of all that. There were deeper problems to confront, as mysterious pains racked his body, finally revealing themselves as the messengers of the cancer that would finally take him. And I think of him, and can only imagine what his inner journey was like in the end and of the struggle we all must engage at some point. Through the pain, Danny could see so clearly and reveal that simple Christian truth, one that lay deep within his Irish Soul, that all is love, and that the only true love is an unconditional one. And that love is the power we all must dig our hands and our hearts into. Who knows what might have happened at New College had we been able to do that. Had we only been able to cut through the putrid gunk of our collective egos, perhaps we might have found the vision and strength to move on, to continue.

But now that the College is gone, we can still take Danny’s simple wisdom, of the truth of unconditional love, its place so central to our humanity, and go ahead, to a place of reconciliation and forgiveness. Because to love is to forgive, to let go so we can go on, our hearts free of the leaden pain of hate and anger.

Danny, thanks for teaching right up to the end. You were and always will be a teacher, an activist, an agitator, a music maker, a writer, a lover, a philosopher, an inspirer. Thanks, my brother, for your brief stint on this planet, for giving so much. You have been loved, and you will be missed.

2 Responses to In Memory of Danny Cassidy

  1. Eduardo says:

    Hey Ricky
    Thank you for your beautiful and passionate words.
    We all miss our brother Danny.
    Eduardo

  2. Bob Fagan says:

    I am saddened to read of Daniel Cassidy’s passing. I only met him once, several years ago, but the meeting has always stayed in my mind. In fact, I recounted it to a friend only a week or so ago.

    I walked into an empty classroom at New College one morning to do some last-minute preparation, for a presentation I was giving in half an hour. Daniel walked in a bit later and told me he would need to use the room in ten minutes. We exchanged a few words as we both fussed with our papers. I forget now how we got there, but for some reason he quoted the opening of the Aeneid – “Arma virumque cano -” and I completed it – “Troiae qui primus ab oris,” like the good Latin student I had been in high school. He said he hadn’t heard anyone quote that passage in Latin in a long time. We talked a bit about our respective Latin studies, and introduced ourselves. When I heard he was Professor of Irish Studies, I asked him if he had ever heard the theory that much Jamaican/reggae slang comes from Gaelic words that had entered their language centuries earlier, when Irish immigrants and indentured servants settled in Jamaica. Forgetting about his papers, he walked up to the blackboard and for the next ten minutes, wrote down every Jamaican slang term I threw at him, and figured out its Gaelic origins. It was obvious to me that this was a man in love with language, with teaching, as well as with learning. It was an unexpected, brief but truly delightful and memorable encounter.

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