Shane has made a number of both radio and television documentaries across a broad range of subjects. You’ll find links to some of them here.
Yola – Lost For Words
The search for a lost language called Yola takes Shane Dunphy from a sunken island in Wexford harbour to the heart of rural Dorset and the ancient pathways of Cornwall.
‘Yola: Lost for Words’ tells the story of Shane, a Wexford native, and his fascination with Yola, a lost dialect which was spoken in the isolated baronies of Forth and Bargy, arriving with the very first Norman landings, and finally disappearing, literally, in a freak storm on the Wexford coast in 1922.
Shane’s journey to discover if any last speakers of this strange tongue still exist takes him from a sunken island in Wexford bay to ancient villages in Dorset. He discusses pagan rituals with witches in Cornwall and witnesses the archaic customs of Mumming in Baldwinstown, deep in the heart of what was once Yola country.
Along the way, Shane hunts for some sense of who the Yoles were. Jacob Poole, a Quaker farmer and amateur anthropologist collected a glossary of their language and folk songs in 1867. Poole describes these people as being, even back then, out of their time, living lives of great isolation and abject poverty. It seems that they were very much second class citizens within the wider Wexford culture, treated with derision and superstition. Yet they clung to their language and their ways, stolidly refusing to change or move with the developments of the oncoming industrial age.
Reports of their lives on the island in Wexford bay, where the last Yola community lived in the early years of the 20th century, paint them as a kind of hunter-gatherer group, scratching a living from the sea and the surrounding salt marshes. They must have lived desperately harsh lives in that inhospitable place, a spot they were granted by the business interests who owned Rosslare port in a bid to utilise their sailing skills (they worked as pilots, guiding the ships through the treachorous harbour entrance).
Shane is amazed that, even in Wexford, where Yola remains a factor of daily speech, the people themselves are never spoken of, and there is a real sense of discomfort when they are mentioned. The only answer seems to be to seek out the root of the dialect. Where did it come from? The Yoles, according to Poole, arrived as footmen to Strongbow in the 12th century. Academics like Diarmuid O’Muirithe and Nicholas Furlong suggest that there are traces of their speech in both Dorset and Cornwall.
With Richie O’Hara, a native Irish speaker interested in the links between Yola and Wexford Gaelic, Shane travels to England, where he finds remarkable similarities, not just with the dialects, but also the personalities and cultures of both groups. Songs and folk customs resonate, and the general state of mind seems almost like a shared consciousness.
The only living Wexford person who still uses the dialect is folk singer Paddy Berry, who freely admits that his singing of ‘A Yola Zong’ may not be an accurate rendition of how it was actually sang by true speakers, but Shane feels, at the end of his voyage, that he did find the Yoles. They survive in folk memory as a strong, single-minded, deeply spiritual people, who deserve not to be forgotten.
Breaded or Battered?
Wexford Town chippers are different: they serve a local delicacy called the Wexford Rissole – a combination of old chips, old cooking oil, herbs and bread or batter.
People think they’ve been around since the dinosaurs but, Shane Dunphy, has discovered that they only arrived in the town, from Britain, after The Emergency.
They’re the ideal Irish comfort food but there’s a tragic tale in their history.
Although they’re venerated, people aren’t afraid to experiment – the latest creation is a ‘haute cuisine’ Wexford Rissole.
As for the ‘breaded or battered’? You can’t have both – you have to get off the fence and decide quickly.
The Sinking of the St Patrick
The Sinking of the Saint Patrick tells the story of Wexford native Shane Dunphy’s exploration of the greatest (yet least known) marine disaster in his county’s long seafaring history. The Saint Patrick, which was a Rosslare to Fishguard passenger ferry, was bombed by the Luftwaffe on 13th of June 1941, resulting in the deaths of 30 people. The ship had been targeted by a German machine gunner the previous year, so was clearly a target, even though it was not a military vessel.
The central question Shane sets out to answer is: why was the ship bombed – why did these people die, marking the lives of their families forever? Ireland was not at war, and the boat was principally a passenger liner and a mail carrier. The Sinking of the St Patrick follows Shane’s quest to finds those answers.
Despite the deaths and the trauma attached to the event, the memory of the ship and those who went down with her has largely been lost. There has never been a true commemoration in Ireland of the disaster Yet there are those who remember – Shane meets Alice Hunt, who lost a father and brother on each of the two attacks respectively. RTÉ’s Charlie Bird has a link to the boat, and as Shane continues to ask questions and explore the history of Ireland’s emergency, a very different reality begins to emerge: despite our neutrality, World War II had a massive impact on Ireland and the lives of the Irish. Far from being a passive observer, Ireland saw a tremendous amount of action during the war years.
Shane did not focus all of his attentions on Ireland – on a trip to Germany he found the last surviving Heinkel bomber – exactly the sort of plane which would have been used to attack the St Patrick, and he was able to ask a German officer some probing questions about Ireland’s role in the war, and Germany’s attitude towards shipping and what might be termed ‘fair’ targets.
The Sinking of the Saint Patrick is, primarily, a human drama. This was a different Ireland, in many ways a simpler time, but it was also a time when the world was changing rapidly, and when all the factors De Valera wanted to keep out of Ireland were trying to force their way in. Planes fought dog fights over our towns and crashed into our mountains. International figures argued over rights to use our ports and accused us of cowardice for not getting involved. And yet people’s lives continued, despite imminent danger and real adversity.
In many ways the St Patrick is a symbol of the kind of fear many people felt during those dark times.
Tusk – Hunting For Ireland’s Ireland’s Wild Boar
There have been reports over the past seven years of boar being sighted all over Ireland, and beasts – some of alarming sizes – have been shot, both by hunters and the Parks and Wildlife rangers in places like Wicklow, Wexford, Kilkenny and Tipperary.
The Boar is a formidable creature. Growing to sizes of up to 600 pounds, these animals are voracious eaters, determined breeders, and highly aggressive when challenged – in places like Eastern Europe there have been stories of unwary forest hikers being severely injured when accidentally coming upon a female with her young.
In Tusk: Hunting for Ireland’s Wild Boar, Shane Dunphy seeks out the true story behind this enigmatic animal, going into the wild places it calls home, speaking to people who have hunted it and discussing its history with biologists and archaeologists.
On this remarkable journey Shane encounters boar on a Kilkenny farm, on a pitch black hillside while hunter’s guns boom close by, on his plate in a restaurant in Wexford and in a glass case in the Dead Zoo.
Through all this, he tries to answer some controversial questions: are the beasts currently stalking our mountains and woods true wild boar, or are they something else? How did they get here? Are they escapees from farms or have they been released for more cynical reasons? And, perhaps most importantly, is their presence in Ireland’s delicate ecosystem a good thing or a bad thing?
Tusk: Hunting for Ireland’s Wild Boar meets these powerful, beautiful and sometimes dangerous animals – and the people who hunt, study and cook them – head on, and draws some interesting conclusions.
Fantastic Beasts and the People Who Love Them
Tibet has the Yeti. Scotland has Nessie. Russia has the Almasty. But have you ever wondered about Ireland’s mystery animals, and have you ever actually gone in search of one?
If you have, then you have taken your first steps into the world of cryptozoology, the pseudo-science that examines the unexplained side of nature that has, despite its detractors, led to the discovery of very real creatures like the Mountain Gorilla and the Collosal Squid.
In ‘Fantastic Beasts and the People who Love Them’, Shane Dunphy talks to people who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of strange, unusual and mythical animals, and learns where in Ireland one might come across one. He goes on a monster-hunting tour of the country and chats to Zoologists and Folklorists about the hard facts behind some sensational stories.
In Waterford he hears the first hand testimony of an eerie encounter, in Connemara, on a tiny island just off the West coast, has his own experience with something very unexpected.
‘Fantastic Beasts and the People who Love Them’ reveals a part of Ireland’s culture and natural world most of us have never experienced.
A Friend in the Forest – Spooked
Shane’s telling of the ‘Thomas’ thread from The Boy They Tried to Hide, from National Public Radio’s Spooked series.