Jacob Poole Of Growtown - And the Yola Dialect

Gearoid O'Broin

Thy grave is deep in Forest side,
Unmarked by Cross or column,
Man's vain attempt to consecrate,
The sacred and the solemn.

Thus lamented R. D. Webb in a lengthy poem, shortly after the burial of his esteemed cousin, Jacob Poole, farmer and extensive landowner of Growtown, Taghmon. Contemporaries described Jacob as 'a kindly charitable neighbour' and 'an unassuming scholar and nature-lover'. He was the second son of Sarah and Joseph Poole, owner of lands at Growtown and four surrounding townlands, whose Quaker forebearers had been settled in Wexford since 1665.

Jacob was born in Growtown on February 11, 1774. His elder brother, Joseph, born in 1769, died in 1785. In 1824, Jacob inherited the family estate. Having resided for some years in family property at Killiane, four miles south of Wexford town, he never remained aloof from the locality and he became very interested in the manners, customs and strange dialect of the Baronies of Forth and Bargy - an area of 40,000 statute acres, supporting a population of 24,000 and 13,400 respectively. His fame rests mainly on the glossary (or mini- dictionary) that he compiled of the strange vocabulary and phrases of the people living there.

Jacob Poole's Charitable Disposition

By all accounts, wherever he went he endeared himself to friends and neighbours because of his unassuming charitable disposition, as the following oft-quoted incident exemplifies. Towards the close of the 18th century the sole place of worship for the Catholics of Killiane was a draughty box-like shed near Amen Cross. One wintry Sunday morning in 1795, Poole chanced to pass by on horseback, as Mass was in progress and he was utterly astonished at what he saw - an overflowing congregation of bare-headed men and cloaked women, kneeling devoutly in silent prayer, despite a chilling mist and sharp breeze.

Early next morning the local priest had a most unexpected caller in the person of Jacob Poole who, expressing his sadness at what he had seen, offered the priest the gift of his 'choice of any site on his lands, free of charge forever' - for the building of a more fitting church for his Catholic worshippers. Then, undertaking to provide most of the building cost he placed 'ten golden guineas' in the astonished priest's hands to open a subscription list. Within a couple of years a sturdy, stone-walled slated church had been erected at Kilmacree at the 'angle of Ballykelly townland'. The ruins of this building still stand in tribute to this generous donor.

Poole's Historical Bequests

Poole also bequeathed numerous manuscripts of ecclesiastical and military remains in the two baronies, including informative outlines of botanical and ornithological life there, as well as comprehensive lists of Wexford bird life in the busy Wexford Harbour of his day. In his Gazette of 1823 he named all of the 41 'Teouns' (towns) in Forth and Bargy amongst them being - Barrystown, Butlerstown, Cullenstown, Fardystown, Grantstown, Johnstown, Neamstown, Redmondstown, etc.

Description of Forth and Bargy

We learn that the two baronies were pleasantly wooded and diligently cultivated and 'the peasantry' were remarkably peaceful and industrious. No other Barony in Co Wexford was freer of crime. Agrarian outrages - so commonplace elsewhere, were quite unknown. Yola was 'the mother-tongue of the poorer classes for generations'. The local housewives revered their menfolk as 'masters of the household', and always served them with the first share of broth or cut of meat before the mistress herself, or female guests. Whenever the master was absent his eldest son, or chief male servant, were first served. It was customary for the older folk to have an 'enteete' (siesta) or 'nonteet' (noontide rest) during the long hardworking days of the busy summer season. Their weather seers were wont to stress:

Whenever Carrickadee wears a 'hat',
(a cloud over the highest point of the Forth Mountain)
let Forth and Bargy beware of that.

The earliest settlers were adjudged 'Wessexmen' from the Shires of Somerset or Devon - because of the 'strong tinge of West-English' noticeable in their dialect. Their descendants also managed to preserve with singular fidelity much of the Old Saxon speech, as spoken along the Bristol Channel.

We learn from a lecture given in 1857 by V. Rev. Dr. C.W. Russell, then president of Maynooth College, that the first colonists were followers of Strongbow, and of Robert Fitzstephens, who landed in Wexford during the month of May 1169. The Annals of the Four Masters, (compiled 1632/36) mention that amongst these were '70 Flemings in their Coats of Mail' led by Fitzstephens. Up to the 15th century the surnames most predominant in the Baronies were: Roche, Meyler, Barry, Walsh, Carew, Hay, Stacpoole, Russell, Barrett, Keating and Bryan.


The strange dialect of the Forth and Bargy inhabitants eventually became known as Yola (meaning 'old'). It included numerous words and phrases assimilated from other languages - notably, from the Irish tongue (then widely spoken throughout Wexford), and from cross - channel traders (e.g. Manx and Flemish), as well as from the works of the leading poet of his day, Geoffrey Chaucer (1340 - 1400). His famous 'Canterbury Tales' (written in 1387) set a literary headline for others to follow, akin to the following descriptive extracts:
'It snewed in his hous of mete and drinke' (reference to the lavish 'Franklin'), and 'Have ye not seyn som-time a pale face among a preese'(the 'felon'). Richard Stanyhurst (1541-1610), a noted Dublin historian in his day, commenting on Yola asserted:
Yola only preserved the dregs of ancient Chaucerian English ... Yola speakers have so acquainted themselves with the Irish, that they have made a 'gallimaufrere' (or 'mingle- mangle'), of both languages, so that the natives of Forth and Bargy speak neither good English , nor good Irish'.

The Glossary

Nevertheless, Poole's Glossary is our sole guide to the study of the Yola dialect. At best it is a mini-dictionary of 1700 words and phrases, accompanied by a handful of folk songs of little literary merit. It first appeared in print in 1867, forty years after its compiler's death, under the editorship of Rev. William Barnes, author of a grammar on the dialect of Devon, who appended some useful 'observations', - but with 'faulty etymologies', according to Wexford scholar Dr Diarmaid O' Muirithe. It was printed by E. B. Webb of Dublin in collaboration with Messrs Russell-Smith of Soho Square, London. In 1979 an 'amended edition' was published jointly by T.P. Dolan and Diarmaid O'Muirithe at the behest of the Ui Chinsealaigh Historical Society.

As Dolan and O'Muirithe aptly pointed out, Yola includes a number of archaic words whose original roots are now impossible to trace e.g. ihuske (a flock), palsk (a kind of cake), curkite (adverse or contrary). Its inadequacy, even as a standard dictionary, may be gauged from the fact that it contains only 1700 words, whilst the average Gaeltacht speaker of Irish has an acknowledged vocabulary of over 3,000 words. Moreover, the standard Irish-English Dictionary of Rev. Dr. Padraig Dinneen, (published in 1924, soon after the establishment of Saorstat Eireann), contains over 50,000 words and phrases. Besides, in its present format the Yola-English Glossary is of little service to a beginner or student of that dialect; and not withstanding the 26 letters in the English language, words beginning with the letter 'x' are not listed and barely a dozen words are included under the following letters; i,j,o,q,u and y. Worse still, it provides scant guidance about the local pronunciation, or essential rules of grammar.


According to Edmund Hore, a prominent Wexford antiquarian, the Yola dialect should be spoken slowly. The vowels in words of one syllable are usually 'drawled' or prolonged e.g. caake (cake), coorn (corn), gooun (gun), maate (meat), chourch (church), nieght (night). On words of two syllables the drawl or stress is usually on the ultimate or second syllable e.g. baskeat (basket), markeat (market), comfoort etc. Although plurals are usually formed by adding on 's' or 'es' to the word, as in the English language, 'n' or 'en' is also added as in - ashen (ashes), fleen (fleas), shoone (shoes), been (bees), toan (toes), treen (trees), kyne (cows), pizzen (peas), etc.

Assimilation of Irish Words

Up to the Famine Years, Irish was widely spoken throughout Wexford, and thus Yola inevitably assimilated numerous Gaelic words e.g. bakoon (bacon), patroon (a patron), gorsoon (a lad), sneesheen (snuff), poag (a kiss), borde (a table), stuckeen (a stocking), pucane (a goat), usbaugh (whiskey). It is also noteworthy that 'f 'in words beginning with the letter 'f ' is pronounced 'v' e.g. vire (fire), viesh (flesh), vew (few), vill ( fill), voal (foal). The 's'in words beginning with 's'is pronounced 'z' e.g. zea (sea), zhip (ship), zong (song), zound (sound), zoot (soot) etc.

'Brief List of Familiar Things'

The following 'Brief Lists of Familiar Things' will provide a clearer conception of the Yola language, now defunct for over a century:
The home hime, heouse, chaamer, sthiers, vire.
The family vamilee, vather, moodher, mistrace, daughtere.
Food breed, buththere, milke, caake, bidaades.
Clothes garbe, cooat, skoorth, shoone, stuckeen.
Religion chourch, priesth, parieshe, Gud, Messe, Cresst.
Colours whit, bhlock, reed, yellou, gry.
Days mondei, tuesdei, wennesdei, thorsdei, vreedei, zatherdei, zindei
Numbers oan, twye, dhree, vowre, veeve, zeese, zeven, aught, ween, dhen.
Animals dug, keouw, callef, garrane, voal, zheep.
Birds burdes, croowe, sparroon, lereke, drush, duucks.
More enlightening still are everyday sayings such as:
Lhause a dher Open the door.
Theene a dher Close the door
How yarthe to die? How are you today?
Yer hele! Your health!
Hele an greve apa thee! Health & Wealth to you!
Faade teit thee - zo lournagh? What ails you, you're so sad?
Zo wough kisth an wough parthet. So we kissed and we parted.
Aar's no gazb in him. There's not a breath of life in him.
Aar's a dole o'sneow apa greoune to die. There's a lot of snow on the ground today.
Aar's dhurth a heighe! There's dirty weather above (in the sky)
Caules will na get to wullow to die. Horses won't be able to tumble today.
A portion ich gae her was keow an dwanty shilleen. The dowry I gave her was a cow and twenty shillings.

Folk Songs

Also included in the Glossary is a small group of very simple folk songs. The longest, entitled 'A Yola Zong', is regarded as 'the oldest and the purest'. It recalls a hurling game played on 'the Commons' of the Forth ... The second song, a satire called 'The Weddeen of Ballymore', with a 'repetitive chorus sung to the well-known Gaelic Air 'Thugamar fein an Samhradh Linn', is an unnamed Forth song based on a rather flimsy theme -about a 'clouk' (a simple-minded fellow) who married a 'slouck' (a slovenly person)... The shortest of the group is an amusing ditty with an imaginative theme - the musings of an old sow as it was about to be slaughtered. It might aptly be named 'The Old Sow's Fate'. 'Casteale Cudd's Lamentation' bemoans the loss of a sturdy cock that was swiped by a marauding fox one quiet Good Friday morning. It is recorded that Tobias Butler recited it for Poole in 1823.

An epigram, quoted in William Barnes's Introductory 'Observations' is worthy of mention here:

A maide vrem a Bearlough,
Aneure vrem ee Barke,
Eshoethet own anoree
Nich th' hia thoras a Culpake.
meaning -
A maid from Bearlough,
Another from Bake,
Met one another
Nigh the tall thistles of Culpake.

According to local lore, one maid was bringing a young goat (a kid), and the other a basket of eggs, as they headed for the town market. Unfortunately, the frisky goat knocked against the basket of eggs and broke the entire contents. A bitter verbal battle of abuse resulted.

The Death of Yola

Without a thriving literature the ultimate fate of Yola seemed inevitable. It came about in a rather unexpected manner, however following the enactment of 'Stanley's Irish Education Bill of 1830'. This caused a gradual spread of literacy throughout Ireland. The younger generation of Forth and Bargy soon became aware of the obvious limitations of their 'home' language. Not only were their newly-found friends and acquaintances unable to understand their language, but were highly amused at their utterances. Thus Yola steadily declined, and by the mid-1870s it had died out, following the demise of the older folk.

Yola words still survive in the present-day speech of the older generations living in Kilmore, Lady's Island and Rosslare - even though it has been a dead language for well over a century now. Remote Carnsore Point was the 'last retreat' of the dialect. Martin Parle who passed away at the age of ninety years, was the last known speaker there.

Jacob Poole's Final Years

During the latter years of his life Jacob Poole was painfully afflicted with rheumatics, and repeatedly sought relief while staying with his sister, who then resided in Brunswick Street, Dublin. But on becoming less mobile he eventually spent his final years in his native Growtown, where he died on November 20, 1827. He was buried on the side of a hill in the 'Burial Ground of Friends' in the townland of Forest, Taghmon. Sadly his grave is now badly overgrown, neglected and unmarked. But the Glossary will long remain a monument to his name and memory.


Poole's Glossary (1867) -Ed. Rev. William Barnes (Editorial 'Observations')
Poole's Glossary (1979) - Ed. Dr. D. O'Muirithe & T.P. Dolan (Corrected Etymologies)
Quaker Records (1650 - 1860) - Olive Goodbody (Poole Family)
The National Ideal (1931) - Joseph Hanley, F.R.C.Sc.I, (Irish Language Facts, P49/50)
Chronicles of Co. Wexford (1877)- George Griffiths (Kilmachree Church) P. 244-247)
Student's English Literature (1910) - A. Hamilton Thompson ('Canterbury Tales'- P.52)
Dictionary of Irish Biography (1988) - Henry Boylan (P.330)