Hennessy New Irish Writing: April 2018’s winning poems

‘Yola’ by Liam O’Neill and ‘Perhaps’ by Marie MacSweeney


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.

Formerly an urban planner, Liam O'Neill is now a social care worker and writer living in Galway city. He has had his work published in A New Ulster and the Kilkenny Poetry Broadsheet. He has recently published a non-fiction ebook on Amazon entitled All the Days of Winter, a true story about one person's search for their mother.

Inspired by Object Number 89 in the series Ireland in 100 Objects, an Invitation to the launch of The Titanic.



the night was lazy

or the moon roused herself half-heartedly

or wayward stars stretched too far wide.


the music was unsubtle,

or strings slack

on the double bass.


if that pallid woman

at the cabin window

had seen other than herself,


if the crow’s nest

had not been

utterly barren,

or those loitering

sweethearts on deck

were not kiss hungry,


might have noticed

that ice

was in the air,

have sniffed

its sly


in the murky dark

and mapped

another route

through hubris

to the New World.

Always in love with words but came to writer’s groups and publication late, Marie MacSweeney now writes poetry and short stories, and also had radio plays produced by RTÉ. Published in several journals and anthologies, she is a winner of many awards including the Francis MacManus Short Story for Radio Award, The Books Ireland 2017 Short Story Competition 1st Prize, the Phizzfest Poetry Award, David Burland Award and the Kells Poetry Award.

Published too in Irish Short Stories (Ed. David Marcus), Books Ireland, 'Here's me Bus' (New York), Fortnight, Sunday Tribune and STET. Two poetry chapbooks were published by Lapwing. These are Mother Cecily's Music Room (2005) and Flying during the Hours of Darkness (2009). She has broadcast many radio scripts for Sunday Miscellany. Mother of three adult sons, she lives in Drogheda.