Literature Studies Site

The Ireland of Translations

Note: this resource is designed as a WebPath. It will direct you through a number of useful resources, mainly on the internet, which are relevant to your study of the text. One of its key functions is to guide your use of the internet, so that you are directed to useful areas and can be discriminating and selective about what you find.

To use it, follow these instructions.
. Open a document, in any application you are used to using, such as Microsoft Word or AppleWorks.
2. Save this document immediately, giving it a title such as "Translations Web Research".
3. Keep this document open on screen as you use the Translations WebPath.
4. As you read the documents and pages to which you are directed, find sections in them which are of particular interest. Copy and paste these into your own document, together with the URL from which they have come.
5. This should mean you read the resources with care, in order to make your selections. The URLs will enable you to acknowledge your sources if you use any of this material in an essay.
6. Keep saving your own document as you work.

The WebPath

Friel’s play is set in County Donegal, August 1833, in what is now the north of the Republic of Ireland.
You can see the location by following this Google Maps link, centred on Burnfoot, the first new name Owen decides on at the beginning of Act 2. Zoom out to see the general geographic placement and the distance from Dublin.

These references help us to recognise the geographical reality of Friel’s setting in Translations. It is also important to understand the historical reality, too. Although his play is firmly set in 1833, the issues of English political and military involvement in Ireland as are alive today as they were then. The play was first performed in 1980, and it is unlikely that Friel was writing a play of purely historical interest. He was making an implicit connection between English control of Ireland in 1833 and 1980, a connection which is just as valid 22 years later, with the suspension of devolved government in Northern Ireland.

Some understanding of this political history is necessary when studying the play, although Friel establishes all that is dramatically necessary in the course of the play’s action.

The opening setting of the Hedge School is highly significant, demonstrating as it does the self-reliance and yearning for learning of the characters, which contrasts with Lancey on his entrance.

More information about Hedge Schools can be found by following this link.
The rural Irish way of life is described on this site, which should give you a snapshot of the way of life of the characters in the play

This link will take you to a site which looks at Irish history through maps, which is particularly appropriate for Translations. Follow the link to the introductory page, and from there follow the bottom two links, to 1800 and the 1840s.

The 1800 section will give you plenty of information about the relationship between England and Ireland, and its religious divisions, with Protestantism the incoming religion from England. Take some notes on the events, uprisings and English control leading up to 1933. Note in particular the Act of Union in 1800, and the reasons for it. You will also note that the period of the play saw mass emigration from Ireland to the United States, which also features in Maire’s aspirations.

The 1840 sections concerns the period following the play, but is interesting to read nevertheless — this is the time the play is leading up to, and is one of the most traumatic times in Irish history. The fear of potato blight is apparent in Friel’s play, even before the devastating effects of the famine, which ran from 1845-51. What conclusions do you draw from the table of declining population?

Take note also of the literacy figures on the map. Compare areas close to cities, like Dublin, with outlying rural areas. Compare counties on the east coast (nearest England) with those towards the west. What conclusions do you draw from this?

Particularly worthy of attention are the ‘overall impacts of the Famine’.

You will find mention in this section of Daniel O’Connell, a name raised by Maire in Act 1. More information about Daniel O’Connell can be found by following this link.

From these links you should have been able to from a reasonable understanding of the historical and geographical context of Translations, which will inform your reading of the play. Any appropriate references to this research, made directly relevant to your comments on the text, will help fulfil your requirements for AO5i (show understanding of the contexts in which literary texts are written and understood).

This article, published in emagazine (issue 14), highlights the contemporary political resonance that the play created at its first production.

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