I’ve got a mate. A spirit friend. A soul sister.


She’s been saying for some time. I’ve got a book you must read.


Then she sends it through the post to me.


Translations by Brian Friel


August 1833

an Irish speaking community in County Donegal.

A ‘hedge-school’ and troops of English soldiers sent in to create an English language map of Ireland. The task: to translate place names into English.


The hedge-schoolmaster’s son, Owen, back from Dublin after 6 years, is the go-between, translating for the non-Irish speaking English soldiers Captain Lancey and Lieutenant George Yolland.


When Captain Lancey announces the purpose of the map, Owen deliberately mistranslates to make the purpose more acceptable to his family, friends, community.


Owen’s lame brother, Manus, assistant at the school, realises the bluff and later comments,

‘There are always the Rolands, aren’t there?’


The Irish soldiers call Owen Roland for some unknown reason.


Owen hasn’t corrected them.


There’s always a collaborator with the spirit of adventure who makes personal gain


Not striving nor agitated

but at ease

with their own conviction

and assurance.


This is Lieutenant’s ideal of the local Irish in their community.

He toys with the idea of staying with them.

He hears the music every night from the neighbouring house.

‘Why don’t you drop in?’

‘Could I?’

He asks for permission

He falls for Maire – they escape from the dance together. They don’t have words for each other. They talk at cross purposes. Repeating each other in their own language. Making suppositions.


Yolland goes missing after walking Maire home after the dance.

In revenge, Lancey threatens the community with killing their animals – and if that doesn’t bring forth Yolland or news of him, he threatens to start evicting people from their homes.

A baby is baptized. No one knows who the father is. A baby is baptized with his father’s name. 

The baby dies.

There is a woman with a speech defect and she can’t speak. She goes to the hedge-school to try to learn. She manages My name is Sarah at the beginning of the play. She is speechless at the end when Lancey threatens the community.

To remember everything is a form of madness.

 Translations was first performed by Field Day Theatre Company, which was formed by Brian Friel and Stephen Rea, in Derry on Tuesday 23 September 1980. The book is dedicated to Stephen Rea, who played Owen.

A co labour of love. A co-love.

By listening to friends, we can hear the direction that we need to turn to.

They provide us with the books.