Sunday, 1 December 2019

Charles Stewart Parnell and Wexford Quare Wans!

A girl from Liverpool once told me I was “smashing.” It was probably the best compliment I’ve ever received, coming as it did with a Beatles accent.

She definitely had more than a couple of drinks taken but what matter? How many compliments does a man get in the dreary daylight hours of sobriety?

Nowadays there are only two compliment choices - you’re either “hot” or more likely you’re not – “smashing” only applies to atoms and pumpkins.

Words are indeed on the decline. Some feel that President Trump got elected because his vocabulary doesn’t make the less loquacious feel inadequate. 

“Great,” “sad,” bad,” “perfect” do the trick – and who can argue, after all he’s the president and we’re not!

He’d never get elected in Wexford – you can bet the Bull Ring on that, hon - for the vocabulary back home is ever mutating and takes skill to deploy.

For over two thousand years Wexford has been sacked and settled by all manner of bowsies from Celts to Vikings, Normans to Limeys and returned Yanks.

No joke, but it gave us our own language – Yola – a mix of Middle English, Gaelic, and French, with smatterings of Saxon, Hessian, and Dutch – double and otherwise. 

When these invaders weren’t raping and pillaging down our narrow streets they were adding their linguistic licks to our arcane dialect, Wexford “shpake.”

Here’s a gentle introduction: a gentleman describing the looks of a lady might describe her thus: “She’s the real segocia, I’m not coddin’ yeh, boy, and not hard to look at either!”

Whereas a lady of my acquaintance upon being accused of fluttering her eyelids at a local Lothario was heard to declare, “If he was the last creatúr this side of the cyrpt, I wouldn’t ride him for the exercise!”

Words have always mattered in Wexford. When Charles Stewart Parnell gave a speech at the Imperial Hotel in October 1881 he was promptly accused of “seditious language” and deposited in Kilmainham Gaol.

His crime - denouncing Prime Minister Gladstone as a “a masquerading knight errant, the pretending champion of the rights of every other nation except those of the Irish nation.” (Try that line on your base, Mr. Trump!)

Whereupon, a Wexican hard chaw was heard to retort, “Divil a word of sedition did the man utter! Sure wasn’t he only actin’ the gatch.” (the clown)

As one approached puberty you had to delve even deeper into “Wexican shpake” to figure out the birds and the bees. What would you say this following statement meant?

“Did you get a gander at the quare wan from the Red City and her skidaddlin’ off to the Harbour bundled up to her tonsils on the lethalest day of the year?”

Well, simply put, this is a coded reference to a young unmarried lady from the Maudlintown area seen leaving for Rosslare Harbour to take the ferry to the UK while wearing a long coat to hide the evidence of her pregnancy on the hottest day of the year.

Ah now, “family way” used to be the great Wexford gossip item, and yet notice that even in our barbarous past the unfortunate lady was not named. 

With no contraception available “quare wans” (queer ones) were ubiquitous back then, but if you were of a charitable nature you could let matters rest and inquire no further into the lady’s identity.

Alas, all in the past, for on a recent visit I heard an auld wan comment on the current crop of unmarried pregnant girls: “Sure dem young hussies do be going around as brazen as brass monkeys, they’d do anything for a medical card!”

Take note of the “do be going around” for in Wexford we’ve always put great store in the continuous present tense and lament that proper English do be wanting in that department.

Americans, however, do be very welcome in our metropolis, for as Wexicans fondly note, “Sure didn’t we give yez John Barry, John F. Kennedy and ran Kirwan the hell out of here to New York!”

But always remember, the past is ever present in the old town, and the present is beyond active, and there’s often more to Wexican shpake than meets the eye – or the ear. And whatever you do, don’t go drinking with quare wans!

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