Updated: May 15
Once commonly spoken in the areas of Forth and Bargy, Yola died out in the 19th century. A dialect of middle-English (first brought to Wexford with the arrival of the Normans in 1169), this unique corner of our history has left traces behind it, visible even today.
When you say 'it's quare cold today', you are keeping an echo of the past alive! 'Qaure' is Yola for very/extremely, and is still a popular slang word in Wexford today.
It can be hard to find examples of Yola now, but contemporary writers, including the award-winning Liam O'Neill enjoy using this rare form of middle-English in their work.
Though born in Kilkenny and living in Galway City, Liam has relatives in the Tagoat/Kilraine area, near Rosslare Town (Located in the Barony of 'Forth' mentioned in the Yola poem). As a child, he spent long, hot summers in Rosslare, Carnsore Point and Fethard-on-Sea, and has fond memories of care-free holidays there. Liam's work has been previously published in the Poetry Ireland Magazine, and has work featured in Ropes Literary Journal this year (NUIG, 2021). A number of his poems were published in the Ken Saro-Wiwi Anthology, 'I am a Man of Peace', produced by Maynooth University last year (2020) and on the Extinction Rebellion website. His work mainly covers social and environmental issues.
Liam is looking forward to returning to County Wexford again after the long lockdown is over.
Here is his poem 'Yola', which was long-listed for the Hennessy Prize in 2018:
Ich loove ee mýdhe wee ee ribbonè blúe,
At coome to ee faaythè éarchee arichè too.
My father’s father was a Yola Man,
born on the border of the baronies of Forth and Bargy,
in that great land of County Wexford,
or Weisforthe as it was called, in the Yola tongue.
In the summers of the 70s, my father took us to Forth
to visit his pater, who, by then, was an elderly man.
And our father’s father spoke to us in strange vowels
and drawls and unusual placement of stress and emphasis.
‘Quare hot day’, he’d say, and the ‘Zin be shinin’ a heighe’,
and then warning us of ‘Them been in the treen’,
Meaning ‘take care of the nest of bees in the trees’.
It was words of Yola – the former mother tongue; a Middle English variant.
Brought, it is said, by Wessexmen; once ‘settled’ Normans
from the Shires of Somerset and Devon,
to the sunny southeast of Ireland,
then churned and stirred in a pot with Gaelic, Flemish and Manx.
He’d puff his pipe, then pause and open his mouth to recite,
parts he remembered of old Yola poem and song;
Ich loove ee mýdhe wee ee ribbonè blue,
I love the maid with the ribbons blue,
At coome to ee faaythè éarchee arichè too,
That comes to the fair every morning too.
The old Yola man told stories of the Bargy people
who put stuckeen and bhlock shoone over their toan
and then on with their cooat and garbe
when marching off to chourch for Zindei mass.
And then, after taking leave of their holies, these Bargy people
ate breed and caakes topped off with maate, baanes and bakoon.
I always believed these words of Yola died with my father’s father;
when his mouth closed for the last time
his lips sealed a tomb on a language
on a culture that was mortally wounded many generations before.
Now, older and capable of digging a little deeper, I see,
That some of the rural people of Weisforthe
still go, wee sprong to the yole meadow in the glade, and
sometimes ate maate and baanes and say ‘How are ye?’
and though the life and lexicon of a mother tongue is gone,
somehow, some words and their vowels, still struggle on.
Liam Hennessy, 2018. Link to full article here.
Do you know of any other examples of Yola that we still use?