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County Wexford couple explores cultural connection between Ireland and Newfoundland

Irish traditional singer Aileen Lambert will perform Sunday afternoon at The Rooms in St. John’s, singing selections from her CD, “Lovers – Songs and Ballads of County Wexford and Newfoundland.”
Irish traditional singer Aileen Lambert will perform Sunday afternoon at The Rooms in St. John’s, singing selections from her CD, “Lovers – Songs and Ballads of County Wexford and Newfoundland.” - Contributed
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Do you know a sleeven who’s always traipsing around? Have you told someone to sing out if they need help? Ever had a mug up on your day off?

If you live in this province — particularly the Cape Shore — you probably have, and know exactly what these phrases mean.

These distinctive sayings are just a few examples of the ways a visiting Irish couple are finding cultural links between the people of this province and their homeland.

Aileen Lambert, an Irish traditional singer, and her husband, Michael (Mick) Fortune, a folklorist and filmmaker, are from County Wexford in southeast Ireland, and have been staying in Branch for close to a month to record and document traditional song, folklore, customs and sayings.

“It’s really like meeting relatives or cousins, coming here,” Lambert said about the similarities in phrases and songs. “We just naturally connect in so many ways. It’s kind of a mirror image, but in a different scenario.”

The couple decided to stay in Branch because they found it an area strong in traditional songs and the place where County Wexford people had emigrated and settled in the 1700s.

“For this, there’s nowhere else like it,” Lambert said. “It was almost like a little experiment — like they took a couple of hundred people from our place and put them here.”

Lambert regularly works on projects with communities of all shapes and sizes, sharing her love and enthusiasm for traditional song, but she has a particular interest in the shared songs of Newfoundland and southeast Ireland.

She recently produced a CD entitled, “The Wexford Lovers – Songs and Ballads of County Wexford and Newfoundland,” and will perform a selection of these songs at a concert Sunday at The Rooms, beginning at 2 p.m.

The first half of the concert will be centred on child-friendly songs. She will be joined by the couple’s daughters, Nellie, 9, Eppie, 6, and Nan, 4, to perform selected tunes, while Nellie will also share her love of “sean-nós,” Irish dancing (Gaelic for “old-style”).

Lambert was thrilled to have found two Wexford songs in the Newfoundland repertoire that are no longer in circulation in Ireland.

She found a recording of the song, “Wexford Lovers,” in the McEdward Leech collection under another title, “Willie Reilly,” sung by Anastasia Ghaney (nee Ryan, 1883–1959) of Fermeuse.

Another song, “The Newtownbarry Tragedy,” is known as “Hush-a-bye-Baby” in Newfoundland, where a number of recordings of it exist.

“When people came over here (to Newfoundland), they were rich in their intangible culture — their songs, their stories, their language,” she said.
Fortune is glad to be discovering so much about the shared culture by talking to people, instead of academics, and checking archives.

One of the most interesting cultural similarities he has found between here and Ireland is the belief in the supernatural.

“This idea where people say they saw something or there was a sign, those kinds of things we grew up on,” said Fortune, adding that counting crows here is similar to magpies in Ireland.

He said it’s incredible that traditions have lasted three centuries.

“One thing that struck me was that many, particularly in the Catholic community, have that superstition element,” he said, noting such practices as placing palm over the door, putting coins in the foundation of a house and blessing boats with holy water. “It’s that same fear of the unknown, the need to feel protected.”

When it comes to words and phrases, Fortune said many commonly used in Newfoundland that are “pure Irish,” like “going on a tear” to indicate you’re going to a party, and “he always be’s in St. John’s.”

“It’s great that we learn new things from media and social media,” he said, “but it’s good to be aware of our culture and be confident to say these words and phrases without having to feel like we’re backward or ignorant.”

Larry Dohey, director of programming and public engagement at The Rooms, is excited about the work that is being done by Lambert and Fortune.

“When I think of our relationship with Ireland, I think that we (Newfoundlanders) are like people given up for adoption. We go looking for our birth families and they don’t remember who we are,” he said. “But Aileen and Michael, in the work that they are doing, are stirring that memory.”

To follow Lambert’s and Fortune’s activities and research, visit Folklore.ie or follow Aileen Lambert on Facebook.

rosie.mullaley@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelyRosie


Through their work and conversations over the past month staying in Branch, Aileen Lambert and her husband, Michael Lambert, have confirmed at least 45 unique words, sayings and pronunciations from the Cape Shore with direct connections to Ireland:

Shaddybrook/Shaddybroo — A snail

Bolldoon — A tom-cat; a nickname for a man

Scraub — A scratch

Sleeven — A lazy person, sly

To Cod You/Codding You — Tricking or fooling someone

Gommel — Foolish person

Maukas — Scarecrow

Mauzzy Day — Foggy day

Shanks-mare — To walk

Brógs — Shoes

My auld cobeen — My old hat

Siddors/Sidders — Scissors

Sing out — To call out

Full (as in ‘full to the gills’) — Drunk

Full as an egg — Drunk

Guggy — Egg

Go on the tear/Go on a tear — Go out, go to a party

Some — Very

Traipsing around — Wandering around

Sprong — For spronging dung/kelp

Kelp — Seaweed (called “woar” in Wexford)

A Mug Up — Tea outside

Big Galoot — A lazy person who wouldn’t do what you’d ask him

Whisht — Stay quiet or shut up

Arseways — Something done wrong or put on backwards

Geansaí — Fisherman’s jumper

Door — pronounced “duar”

Floor — pronounced “fluar”

Drenched — pronounced “drenched”

Meat — pronounced “mate”

Heat — pronounced “hate”

Cold — pronounced “cowld”

Tea — pronounced “tay” as in a “cup of tay”

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