On Friday and Saturday (20th and 21st November) the young thespians of Rhetoric brought ‘Translations’ by Brian Friel to the stage in Clongowes with resounding success. This devastatingly gorgeous play about the Ordnance Survey of Ireland in the early 19th century is one of the best, if not the best, of Brian Friel’s plays and a classic of world theatre. It is a direct comment on the replacement of Irish with English, and a commentary on the role of mapping as an assertion of imperial control through language and over land. More Pictures here
The action takes place in late August 1833 at a hedge-school in the town land of Baile Beag, an Irish-speaking community in County Donegal. The schoolmaster’s prodigal son is about to return from Dublin in the company of two army officers from the Royal Engineers, who are making the first Ordnance Survey of the country. Their aim is to create a map of the area, and, in the process, replace the Irish place names with English equivalents. It’s an act with unexpected and violent consequences.
In examining the effects of this operation on the lives of a small group, Brian Friel skillfully reveals the far-reaching personal and cultural effects of an action, which is at first sight purely administrative.