The Lost Language of Yola

Image by Patrick Weston Joyce (public domain) via Wikimedia Commons

Image by Patrick Weston Joyce (public domain) via Wikimedia Commons

‘Yola’ is an extinct form of English that was spoken in this area of County Wexford for hundreds of years. The Yola language became extinct in the 1880s but many words and phrases still survive in the locality.

‘Yola’, which means ‘old’, evolved from ‘Old English’. Old English was brought to Ireland by the Normans. When communities of Flemish, French, Welsh, English and Frisian-speaking settlers came here, following the Normans, they and the existing norse/viking and native Irish populations had a major influence on the Yola language. It became a ‘muskaun’ or ‘mix’ of all these languages.

St. Catherine’s Church would have hosted many weddings over the centuries and in honour of this, you will find below a translated extract from an old Yola song, possibly originating in the 15th or 16th century, entitled ‘The Wedding of Ballymore’:

A peepeare struck ap; wough dansth aul in a ring,
The piper struck up, we danced all in a ring,
Earch myde was a queen, an earch bye was a king,
Each maid was a queen, and each boy was a king,
Zoo wough aul veil a-danceen; earch bye gae a poage,
So we all fell a-dancing, each boy gave a kiss,
To his sweethearth, an smack lick a dab of a brough.
To his sweetheart, and a smack like a slap of a shoe.

Zoo wough kisth, au wough parthet; earch man took his laave,
So we kissed and we parted, each man took his leave,
An a boor lithel breedegroom waithed wonderfullee griefte,
And the poor little bridegroom looked wondrously grieved,
Zoo wough aul returnth hyme, contented an gaay,
So we all returned home, contented and gay,
To our pleoughes an mulk-pyles till a neeshte weddeen die.
To our ploughs and our milk-pails till the next wedding day.

This information was shared with us by Bileen Scallaan, a local linguistics student who has studied the Yola language extensively.

Learn more about ‘Yola’:

You can learn more about Yola from this RTÉ-produced radio documentary

The following videos contain some more examples of spoken Yola:

This second video is in Irish with English subtitles. A documentary video about one language, produced in another, with subtitles from a third – a linguist’s dream!

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The Norman Way at St Catherine’s Church

The content below appears on the Norman Way interpretive panel at St. Catherine’s Church.

The text makes for interesting reading but there is nothing quite like visiting these authentic and under-explored heritage locations in person. Visit the beautiful Norman Way in Wexford to feel the history and age-old atmosphere coursing all around you.

A Wonderful Place of Worship for the Normans

St. Catherine’s Church is a wonderful example of medieval church architecture with some impressive features still intact. These include ornate windows and three connected limestone arches.

There is also a ‘bullaun stone’ within the ruins here. It is said that, in ancient times, rainwater which gathered in these large concave stones had healing properties. When the Normans settled in the area, the bullaun stones may have been taken inside the churches and used as Christian holy water fonts.

A Link to Ferns in North Wexford

The graves in the church ruins and graveyard span the centuries. In the northern corner of the chancel there is a medieval grave slab commemorating John Ingram, a Canon of Ferns in 1304. Ferns, in the north of County Wexford, was one of the main Norman strongholds in Ireland at the time. It is the home of another gem of Ireland’s Ancient East, Ferns Castle.

Discover the Norman Way for Yourself

See if you can spot some of the impressive features in these church ruins such as the ornate windows on the east wall; the three connected limestone arches in the centre of the ruins; the bullaun stone; and the medieval grave slab.

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Stories from The Norman Way

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