"Translations" is a three-act play by Irish playwright Brian Friel written in 1980. It is set in Baile Beag (Ballybeg), a small village at the heart of 19th century agricultural Ireland. Friel has said that "Translations" is "a play about language and only about language", but it deals with a wide range of issues, stretching from language and communication to Irish history and cultural imperialism. Despite the 1833 setting, there are obvious parallels between Baile Beag and today's world.

Baile Beag may be presumed to be a fictional village, although such a placename does exist: as a working class suburb of Waterford, a village in County Wicklow and a village in County Down (all in Ireland). However, it is also a generic name for a small village, which Friel uses in several of his other plays.


Performance and publication

"Translations" was first performed at the Guildhall in Derry, Northern Ireland, on Tuesday, 23 September 1980. It was the first production by the Field Day Theatre Company founded by Brian Friel and Stephen Rea. It was directed by Art O Briain and featured the following castFriel, Brian (1981). "Translations." London: Faber and Faber.] :

:Mick Lally (Manus)
:Ann Hasson (Sarah)
:Jack Roy Hanlon (Jimmy Jack)
:Nuala Hayes (Maire)
:Liam Neeson (Doalty)
:Brenda Scallon (Bridget)
:Ray McAnally (Hugh)
:Stephen Rea (Owen)
:David Heap (Captain Lancey)
:Shaun Scott (Lieutenant Yolland)

The play was staged in New York City in 1981 by the Manhattan Theatre Club, starring Barnard Hughes. It was briefly revived on Broadway in 1995 in a production starring Brian Dennehy. In 2006-07, the Manhattan Theatre Club returned it to the stage at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey and the Biltmore Theatre in New York, directed by Garry Hynes.Gluck, Victor. [ "Translations"] Review at, 29 January 2007. Retrieved 11 March 2008.]

The play was published in 1981 by Faber and Faber, who still publish it today.In the UK it remains a popular set text among English and Drama & Theatre A-Level students.


This play is set in the quiet community of Baile Beag (later anglicized to Ballybeg), in County Donegal, Ireland. Many of the inhabitants have little experience of the world outside the village. In spite of this, tales about Greek goddesses are as commonplace as those about the potato crops, and many languages (ancient and modern) are spoken in the village. Friel uses language as a tool to highlight the problems of communication - lingual, cultural, and generational. In the world of the play, the characters, both Irish and English, "speak" their respective languages, but in actuality English is predominantly spoken. This allows the audience to understand all the languages, as if a translator were provided. However, onstage the characters cannot comprehend each other if a common language is not shared.

The action begins with Owen (mistakenly pronounced as Roland by his British counterparts), younger son of the schoolmaster Hugh and brother to aspiring teacher Manus, returning home after six years away in Dublin. With him are Captain Lancey, a middle-aged, pragmatic cartographer, and Lieutenant Yolland, a young, idealistic and romantic orthographer. Owen acts as a translator and go-between for the British and Irish.

Yolland and Owen work to translate local placenames into English for purposes of the

Complicating matters is a love triangle between Yolland, Manus, and a local woman, Maire Chatach. Yolland and Maire manage to show their feelings for each other despite the fact that Yolland speaks only English and Maire only Irish. Manus, however, had been hoping to marry Maire, and is infuriated by Yolland. He sets out to attack him, but in the end cannot bring himself to do it.

Unfortunately, Yolland goes missing overnight (it is hinted that he has been attacked, or worse, by any of a number of locals with rebellious intent), and Manus flees. Maire is in denial about Yolland's disappearance and remains convinced that he will return unharmed. The British soldiers, forming a search party, rampage across Baile Beag, and Captain Lancey threatens first shooting all livestock and then evicting and destroying houses if Yolland is not found. The play ends ambiguously, with the schoolmaster Hugh consoling himself by reciting the opening of the Aeneid, which tells of the impermanence of conquests. Unfortunately, Hugh's stumbling attempts at recitation are evidence that our memory is also impermanent.

Friel's play tells of the current struggle between both England and Ireland during this turbulent time. The play focuses mainly on (mis)communication and language to tell of the desperate situation between these two countries with an unsure and questionable outcome.

Historical references

* The Englishmen in the play are a detachment of the Royal Engineers and function as part of the Ordnance Survey creating six-inch to the mile maps of all of Ireland. The characters of Lancey and Yolland are fictionalized representations of two real soldiers who took part in the survey: Thomas Colby and William Yolland.cite journal
last = Bullock
first = Kurt
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Possessing Wor(l)ds:Brian Friel’s Translations and the Ordnance Survey
journal = New Hibernia Review
volume = 4
issue =2
pages =
publisher =
location = St Pauls, MN
date = 2000
url =
doi =
id = ISSN 1092-3977
accessdate =

* The character Maire contemplates emigration to America, reflecting the mass emigration of Irish people to America in the 19th century.

* There are fearful references to potato blight, reminding the reader of the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s, even though the play is set in 1833.

* Irish politician and hero Daniel O'Connell is mentioned and quoted as saying that Irish people should learn English and that the Irish language was a barrier to modern progress. Anglicization of place names, including Baile Beag (the setting), is prominent in the dialog, because it is Lieutenant Yolland's professional assignment.

* A national school is to open in the town, replacing the existing hedge-school.

* Characters Hugh and Jimmy remember how they marched to battle during the 1798 rebellion against the British influence in Ireland, only to march back home upon feeling homesick.


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • translations —    by Richard G. Smith   Baudrillard began his career in 1956, teaching German at a provincial French high school (lycée). From 1966, Baudrillard was employed by the University of Paris X at Nanterre to teach sociology and rapidly established… …   The Baudrillard dictionary

  • translations — trans la·tion || trænz leɪʃn , s n. act of rendering something into another language; version published in a language other than the original language (i.e. book, film, etc.) …   English contemporary dictionary

  • Translations of The Lord of the Rings — The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien appeared 1954–55 in the original English. It has since been translated, with various degrees of success, into dozens of other languages. Tolkien, an expert in Germanic philology, scrutinized those that… …   Wikipedia

  • Translations of The Lord's Prayer — The Lord s Prayer is a common tool used to compare languages. Since the publication of the Mithridates booksTwo examples are Mithridates de differentis linguis , Conrad Gessner, 1555; and Mithridates oder allgemeine Sprachenkunde mit dem Vater… …   Wikipedia

  • Translations of Frère Jacques — The song Frère Jacques is well known in English speaking countries in both its French and English forms. Many other translations and versions exist; some are an exact structural match to the French version, while others vary in the details to… …   Wikipedia

  • Translations of The Hobbit — J. R. R. Tolkien s The Hobbit has been translated into many languages. Known translations, with the first date of publishing, are:ee also*Translations of The Lord of the RingsExternal links* [ Babel Hobbits Personal… …   Wikipedia

  • translations of the Bible into modern English — What has been known in Britain since 1611 as the ‘Authorized Version’ though it was never formally authorized (or in the USA as the ‘King James Version’) was a revision of earlier Bibles by six companies: three groups worked on the OT, two on the …   Dictionary of the Bible

  • Translations of Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser — Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser ( God Save Emperor Franz ) is an anthem to the Austrian Emperor Francis II, set to music by Joseph Haydn, the anthem served as the national anthem of Austria Hungary. For full information on this anthem, see the main …   Wikipedia

  • Translations from the Elvish —    The beginnings of the Silmarillion.    Three volumes written by Bilbo Baggins in Rivendell that formed the basis for the collection of tales known as the The Silmarillion …   J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth glossary

  • translations, biblical —  Переводы библейские …   Вестминстерский словарь теологических терминов

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.