The author of a new history and dictionary of the fascinating Forth and Bargy dialect of Yola, began his research at the age of 15 while still a student in Wexford CBS.
Now aged 20, Sascha Santschi-Cooney of Carne, is currently studying for a degree in Linguistics with German, French and Italian in University College Dublin.
'The Forth and Bargy Dialect' just published by Wexford County Council, was a spare time labour of love during his studies for the Leaving Cert.
'I always had an interest in local folklore and history. I was fascinated by the fact that there was a dialect that had survived for so long,' said Sascha, whose interest in the extinct dialect was sparked by hearing certain words still spoken locally.
He approached James Maloney of Ballyhitt, Broadway who was able to tell him much of the history and also supplied words and phrases. Jimmy is credited in the acknowledgements with helping Sascha put together the glossary and other Forth and Bargy residents are also thanked for their assistance, including Dessie White of the Lane of Stones in Carne, the late Tommy Watson of Hilltown, Carne, and Paddy Berry of Rosemount, Drinagh, Maria Mullins and her late father-in-law Brendan Mullins of Ballask, Carne are also thanked as well as Robbie Sinnott of Trinity College for his wealth of knowledge.
The Society of Friends' Library in Quaker House, Dublin allowed Sascha access to Jacob Poole's original manuscript. 'Poole's glossary was from Yola to English. My intention was to flip it over,' said Sascha who grew up speaking English and Swiss German, as his mother Claudia Santschi is a native of Switzerland. His dad Brendan Cooney is a senior executive environmental engineer with Wexford County Council.
The foreword to the book is written by the Labour TD Brendan Howlin who said it is not only an important treasury of the past but an explanation of our present and an ingredient of our future. 'No son or daughter of County Wexford is unaware of the existence of Yola - but not much more. Scholarly work has been carried out before but Sascha's combination of history, geography, customs and family traditions adds greatly to our store of knowledge.'
Deputy Howlin said that when he uses in common speech, the word 'fornint' as in 'it's there fornint you', he is unaware that he is reaching back into the history of his family, the evolution of generations of the people who lived in this corner of our island.
'It is our story and not a story of isolation or exclusion. It is a story of embracing and mingling, enriching as we constantly redefine ourselves. We are fortunate as our culture expands and develops to have such deep roots, such solid anchors', he said.
As Sascha outlines in the book, Yola was a dialect of the West Germanic branch of languages (including English, German and Dutch), formerly spoken in the two south-eastern baronies of Wexford called Forth and Bargy. It was similar to the dialect spoken in the Fingal district of Dublin.
It is a mixture of multiple languages (including Irish, Anglo-Norman and Old French) and dialects with the core vocabulary deriving from Anglo-Saxon. It developed in Wexford as a result of the Norman invasion of Ireland.
Yola didn't evolve much, apart from acquiring a large number of Irish words, with about as many Irish words in Yola as there are words of Old English origin.
The 16th century Irish historian Richard Stanihurst wrote: 'If a traveller of the Irish had picht his foote within the Pile and spoken Irishe, the Weisefordians would commaunde him fortwith to turn the other ende of his tongue and speake Englishe, or else bring his trouchman with him. But in our days, they have also aquainted themselves with the Irish, as they have made a mingle-mangle, or gallamaulfrey of both the languages, and have in such medley or checkerwise so crabbedly jumbled both togyther, as commonly the inhabitants of the meaner sort speake neyther good English nor good Irishe'.
A hundred years later, the Cromwellian governor of Wexford, Colonel Solomon Richards remarked that: 'The idiom of speech, though it's not Irish, nor seems English as English is now refined, yet is it more easy to be understood by an Englishman that never heard Irish spoken than by any Irishman that lives remote...Whoever hath read old Chaucer and is at all acquainted therewith, will better understand the barony of Forth dialect than either an English or Irishman, that never read him, though otherwise a good linguist.'
The earlier lifestyles of the inhabitants and the origins of some of the old wedding, funeral and working traditions and customs of Forth and Bargy are also described and explained, including some still practised to this day.
The Yola dialect was not only used in speech but also in placenames. In Carne, The Lugs (Hollows) and The Forlorn (Furlone Far Lane) and other placenames came from Yola.
One of the last retreats of the dialect was Carne, in the extreme south-east corner of the Barony of Forth. Martin Parle of Carnsore Point, who died at the age of almost 90, in the mid 19th century, was the last known person who could speak the distinct dialect. Elsewhere, Jack Devereux of Kilmore Quay, who died in 1998, is said to have been the last speaker of Yola. Jack was a member of the Kilmore Carol singers - some of the carols are sung in the Yola dialect.
A map outlining the Forth and Bargy area in south Wexford was produced for the book by Mark Mitchell, GIS Officer with Wexford County Council.
The book is available in the Book Centre, Wexford, Red Books in Peter Square, the Irish National Heritage Park and O'Doherty's Londis in Our Lady's Island.
Sascha who has also studied piano and flute, thanked everyone who helped him with his research into the book and also the County Council for funding its publication.