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A TRANSLATOR OF THE IRISH LANGUAGE TODAY BREANDÁN Ó DOIBHLIN the story goes that in parts of Ireland a request for directions to a place difficult of access may meet with the answer: “If I were going there, I would not start from here at all.” It is the sort of reaction that I have to confess to at the prospect of discussing my own work as a translator, into and out of the Irish language. I constantly marvel at the contemporary fashion for theorizing about translation and feel not a little humbled by its recondite diction and sophisticated, not to say abstruse, psychology. Because—what have I got to say? Why do I translate? Answer: For the hell of it, basically. For whom do I translate? In the first place, for myself, and for the almost sensual pleasure of molding a long underused language; and in the second place, for anyone who wants to share the result. Do I believe that translation is really possible? I don’t know, but for fun it certainly beats crosswords . Nonetheless, if only out of courtesy to the editor’s invitation, I must try to repress my wayward instinct and try to say something ordered and rational about a topic that I would prefer to leave to others. It is, I suppose, unnecessary to stress that a language as reduced, both demographically and socially, as Irish Gaelic has long been, needs all the help it can get if it is to survive. Hanging on by its fingernails to the last rocky outposts of the West European coastline and swamped from all directions by the tides of the vast anglophone world, Irish nevertheless still represents for many of us practically the only thing completely specific to us as a people, the only Ariadne’s thread guiding us through the labyrinth of our fifteen centuries of recorded history. And if it is to survive, it must be made ready to express the intellect and the imagination of the end of the twentieth century. It is in this spirit that I translate: to develop the language and to provide new experience for those who read it in particular, experience from beyond the anglophone world, to which our bilingualism gives us a ready, and perhaps overwhelming, access. I translate, then, to acA TRANSLATOR OF THE IRISH LANGUAGE TODAY 9 climatize literary works from other languages in Irish, and if I have any guiding principles, they are simply these: to produce a text that reads as naturally as may be possible to the Gaelic eye and ear, and at the same time to remain as faithful as may be possible to the experience of reading the work in its original language. My aim is not primarily scholarly or academic , but literary. If I may be permitted to quote one of my own prefaces, “to bring a fresh melody to the ears of the Irish-speaking public, some echo of the peculiar timbre of [another language] and possibly, in that way, to recommend to them the Gaelic voice in the harmony of nations.” To offer some extenuating circumstances for such grandiloquent aims, I should perhaps outline what translation work I have so far accomplished, and what experience I have had in the process. This work falls into roughly four categories: the first is biblical, the Book of Isaiah done from Hebrew for the Maynooth translation of the Bible in the 1970s. The second is poetry , an anthology of French verse from the Middle Ages to 1900; a selection of the Fables of La Fontaine; an anthology of Gaelic poetry and prose from 1500 to the Great Famine translated into French, occasional translations into Irish from Latin, German, Spanish, Italian, and English—Latin hymns, Catullus, Goethe, Yeats. The third category is philosophical and religious prose, represented by Pascal’s Pensées and Prière pour le bon usage des maladies. Finally, I am working on a technical theological text, the translation from the original French into Irish of the Catéchisme de l’Église Catholique. These categories are not, of course, neatly separate: thus Isaiah is highly poetic, the anthology of French verse contains philosophical poems like Valéry’s...


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