Socialist Worker

Irish place names written in the occupiers’ language

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2608

Judith Roddy as Marie and Dermot Crowley as Jimmy Jack

Brian Friel’s play Translations is set in Ireland in 1833 as a new phase of intensified British rule is beginning.

A rural school, teaching in Irish, is about to be replaced by a national education network—teaching in English.

And British soldiers are carrying out a major mapping exercise. This apparently innocuous and useful project is taking Irish place names and turning them into a version of English.

Poll na gCaorach, becomes Poolkerry.

Hugh, who runs the local school, is the opposite of the racist stereotype of the “stupid Irish”.


He’s fluent in Latin and Greek and knows the classics of literature.

It’s the British who are backward, not him.

Hugh’s son is an interpreter for the occupying army. Alongside him is an army lieutenant, Yolland, who falls in love with Ireland and with Maire, one of the rural school’s pupils.

There’s a brilliant scene where Yolland and Maire try to show their feelings although neither speaks more than a phrase of each other’s language.

This excellent production brings out the importance of language and the ways in which colonialism tries to crush its victims.

There’s a bit of a message that we can “reach across the divide” if only we communicate better—and the Maire and Yolland story has some of the features of a Romeo and Juliet whose love is thwarted by their uncomprehending tribes.

But near the end the brutality of imperialism is revealed as the British forces threaten horrendous reprisals for Irish resistance.

It’s a powerful piece of theatre.


National Theatre, London

Until 11 August

Box office: 020 7452 3000. Tickets start at £15

Aftermath - Art in the Wake of World War One

This exhibition marking 100 hundred years since the end of the First World War looks at how artists responded to the devastation it left behind.

It includes the work of the revolutionary German artist George Grosz. His works searingly depicted the horror and hypocrisy of the post war society in the Weimar Republic. His painting Grey Day is a portrait of class society.

In the exhibition we also see how artists Hannah Hoch and Andre Masson developed new art forms Dada and Surrealism.

Tate Britain, Millbank. London, SW1.

Until 23 September

Tickets £15 with some concessions

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