Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Ireland's forgotten English dialects

I love a good story about dialects and forgotten languages, but this one just came from nowhere! Ireland has been invaded, colonised, and done over by just about nation within boat range - but one of the things brought in by every successive invasion has been cultural change.

We often read about the Irish language, and the different dialects of Gaelic across the island. Ulster Gaelic is very different to that much further south, for example, almost Scottish Gaelic in character. One of the fave books on my shelf is Athchló Uladh which has many stories from the northern Antrim island of Rathlin reprinted within it (Sgealtan Rachreann) in both Rathlin Gaelic and a more conventional Irish - the Gaelic I've spent some time trying to understand is that from Scotland, so I find the Rathlin text much easier to read. Then there's the movement in the north that you might have heard of to promote the use of the Ulster dialect of the Scots language, which is not a variant of English, but a separate Germanic language very closely related to English, taken to Ulster during the Plantations.

But how many have you heard of Yola or Fingalian?! Yola is a medieval dialect of English taken to Wexford in the 12th century by Anglo-Normans and used there until the 19th century. Fingalian is a separate medieval dialect of English used near Dublin. Romanticism and politics have a lot to answer for - your ancestor may well not have been a Gaelic or modern English speaker at all!

Do have a look at the following article in The Journal about Ireland's forgotten medieval English dialects, and listen to the songs written in Yola and sung in the YouTube clip on the site - absolutely fascinating stuff - it's available at

And remember, family history is about working out what your ancestors did actually do in the past, not what the broad sweep of history says they did - and if anyone can find a Yola speaking ancestor, do let me know!

By the way - about twenty years ago I remember reading a study, possibly a census report, that showed that neither Gaelic or Scots was the second most spoken language in Northern Ireland back then. It was actually one of the Chinese languages... God only knows where its speakers' politics lay though! :)

(With thanks to @IrishRootsMag)


My new book, Tracing Your Irish Family History on the Internet, is now available from Pen and Sword. My Scottish land and church records ebooks are available at, whilst my next Pharos Scottish course, Scottish Research Online, starts Sep 4th - see Time to smash a few brick walls...!

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