Yola and Fingalian – the ancient forgotten English dialects of Ireland


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IN 1836, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the Earl of Mulgrave, visited Ballytrent in County Wexford. A member of the English aristocracy, he was a man used to listening to official speeches wherever he went, and this trip would be no different. Mulgrave would have attended many meetings in the Southeast that year, but Ballytrent’s was unlike anything he had ever heard.

There he received “the humble address of the inhabitants of the Barony of Forth, Wexford” or, as they say, “Ye submissively spoke o’ouz Dwelleres o ‘Baronie Forthe, Weisforthe”. The address, read by Edmund Hore, was neither Modern English nor Irish; the Lord Lieutenant listened to one of the last speakers of an almost forgotten dialect – Yola.

Yola: the forgotten language of County Wexford

Yola is most strongly associated with the baronies of Forward and Bargy in Wexford. Its origins are believed to date back to the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in the 12e century. As the newcomers settled in Wexford and the South East, they brought with them their medieval Middle English.

The passage of the centuries had little effect on the dialect; although it subsumed a few Irish and French words, it retained its distinctiveness and remained markedly different from the more modern English which developed elsewhere.

Even in 1836, Yola was disappearing, and the address to the Lord Lieutenant remains one of the most important tales of his last days. Fortunately, this unique and compelling vocabulary has survived long enough to have a glossary of some words recorded in the 18e and 19e centuries.

Here’s how the language differed from what we know today, with the Yola examples written phonetically:

Modern English Yola

Barlich barley

Baan-es beans

Caule horse

Cow Byre Co-pen

Shooner Shoon-maakere

A little Hempeen bird

Limpet Bring-awn

Named Y, cleped

So how did Yola express herself?

How was Yola spoken? The response seems to have been slow. Edmund Hore, who read the address to the Lord Lieutenant in 1836, provided some advice on the correct pronunciation of Yola. Yola’s ‘a’ was always pronounced the same, as ‘Father’s’ ‘a’. Where there was a double “ee” it was pronounced like the “e” in “me”. Another important characteristic of Yola was that the stress was always placed on the second syllable, so the word for “marriage” becomes “married.din‘and’ hatchet ‘become’ hatCheat. ‘

Besides the glossary, a number of Yola songs were also written just in time to back them up. Here’s one called the ‘song of the two market women’ with the modern English translation alongside:

TWI MAARKEET ZONG Moaning (Yola)

A moan vrim a Bearlough an anoor vrim a Baak,

Thaye zhoult upan oother at High Thurns o Cullpaak,

Themost wi egges an hemost wi thick,

Fan a truck and zhoulthered too close to a ditch.

Thick beast fought a spagh with a kick a blaake,

An awi gomes his eggs with a wheel and a taape car,

Shu ztaared an shu ztudied hi near the parsagh moan,

Shu ztaared, clappu son baash an up wi punaan,

Zien, “a blaak vall, a blaak vall, Ich meigh vella knew,

Van a vierd a durst a bargher and a haar galshied too,

In durk Ich red virst mee shoe voted left.

“Swingale”, most extreme co, “you are lying a rent,

A large daal a masled, a slavaal an a kernt.

You lie waltz co secun that you are thick

Maa bee had more anguish than Ich.

SONG OF TWO MARKET WOMEN (Modern English)

A woman from Bearlough and another from Bec,

They met at the high towers of Colepeak,

One had eggs and the other a child,

When the car has moved too close to the ditch.

The angry kid gave a fight, with a kick and a bleat,

And her eggs went away, with the overturned car,

She looked and she studied by the other passive woman,

She looked, clapped her palms and stood up with lamentation,

Say “a black fall, a black fall – I could well have known that,

When a weasel crossed the road, and a hare looked at me too,

In the dark, I first fell on my shoe with my left foot.

“Scam,” said the other, “you know very well,

One jackpot was rotten, dirty, and half-hatched.

You lie wrong, said the second, that you and your kid,

May be upset by more care and hardship than me.

Yola was not the only medieval English dialect in Ireland …

In addition to preserving an impression of this remarkable dialect, the “Zong of Twi Maarkeet Moans” also provides insight into the culture and beliefs of the region. Apparently if you lived in Forth and Bargy it was considered unlucky to see a weasel crossing the road, a hare peering over a ditch, or putting on your left shoe instead of your right.

Incredibly, Wexford was not the only county to have retained a relic form of medieval English until the 19e century. Co.Dublin had its own version, the Fingallian, which, as the name suggests, was spoken in parts of Fingal, in the north of the county. These dialects are part of a rich tapestry of Irish culture that goes beyond what we generally think of as ‘traditional’ Ireland.

A rich tapestry of multicultural medieval Irish society

The last stronghold of the Yola dialect was Lady’s Island in Wexford, but there have been attempts to keep its memory alive in modern times. In the late 1970s, Diarmuid Ó Muirithe traveled to south Wexford to see if he could find traces of Yola in the English that was spoken there. At Kilmore Church, he was able to record Yola Christmas carols, which are part of a tradition stretching back centuries.

Yola and Fingallian deserve to be better known across the country. These remarkable survivals not only give us unique windows to the past, but also show us how multicultural medieval Ireland was.

Hear an example of ancient Christmas carols sung in the Yola language in the RTÉ Archives:

uploaded by snadhghus

This article is based on research conducted by Know Thy Place, which produces historical and archaeological maps telling the stories of different counties, towns and events in Ireland. To learn more about them visit www.knowthyplace.com

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