Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Translations” as Want to Read:
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview


3.82  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,630 Ratings  ·  159 Reviews
The action takes place in late August 1833 at a hedge-school in the townland of Baile Beag, an Irish-speaking community in County Donegal. In a nearby field camps a recently arrived detachment of the Royal Engineers, making the first Ordnance Survey. For the purposes of cartography, the local Gaelic place names have to be recorded and rendered into English. In examining th ...more
Paperback, 91 pages
Published March 16th 1995 by Faber & Faber (first published 1981)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Translations, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Translations

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar WildeAngela's Ashes by Frank McCourtDubliners by James JoyceThe Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats by W.B. YeatsDracula by Bram Stoker
Best Irish Literature
40th out of 447 books — 520 voters
Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourtIn the Woods by Tana FrenchThe Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar WildeUlysses by James JoyceDubliners by James Joyce
Best Irish Books
46th out of 498 books — 402 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Marthine Satris
Jan 02, 2014 Marthine Satris rated it it was amazing
This devastating, gorgeous play about the Ordinance survey of Ireland in the early 19th century is one of the best, if not the best, of Friel's plays. It is a direct comment on the replacement of Gaelic with English, and it also comments on the role of mapping as an assertion of imperial control through language and representation over land. The whole point is that you have to suspend your disbelief really hard via the Brechtian device of having all characters speaking English but the Irish char ...more
Barry Pierce
Oct 27, 2014 Barry Pierce rated it liked it
I like Friel. I feel he's oddly overlooked in the "modern Irish literary canon", especially outside of Ireland. The basic plot of this play can be summed up by simply saying, 'oh weren't the British just awful'. I feel my personal prejudice coming over me when I review this so I'll keep it short. I personally think the Irish language needs to be killed and we have to stop living in the past. I was kinda siding with the British during my reading of this. Yes they were barbaric and brutal and just ...more
Jul 12, 2015 Maxwell rated it really liked it
Shelves: ireland, drama, 2013, 2015
First read in spring of 2013

April 2015: I enjoyed this even more the second time! It was wonderful to revisit it after having read it while studying abroad in Ireland. It not only brought back so many memories for me, but it was easier to understand as well. Having seen the play in Dublin after reading it the first time really helped clarify the image of the play in my mind. And I could revisit that while reading it a second time.

I think this is one of those great plays, like Stoppard's, that r
Feb 03, 2016 Leslie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A real treat! I liked the way that the play works on different levels. The surface story, the historical, the social commentary about colonialism and the arrogance of renaming all of a country's landmarks, the idea of words as signposts, the way characters do & don't communicate even without words.

I have also listened to the BBC Radio adaptation which was marvelous. Perhaps I wouldn't have loved the written play as much if I didn't have those voices in my mind...
Apr 19, 2008 Priya rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those who want to start their own Empire
The last time I read this, I was a young 'un in my teens so I thought my views of the play were coloured by that but it remains as good a read as I recalled. Considering I'm using another Friel work as(The Key to the City) a source for my thesis, this one--since it's more explicitly about language, Colonialism and Ireland--was a good follow-up. It's about Irish history and culture but also about how culture changes in the face of challenges, both internal and external.

The writing (and I'm a Fri
From BBC radio 4 - Saturday Drama:
A new production of Brian Friel's masterpiece about language and power.

It's the summer of 1833. In a hedge-school in Donegal, the schoolmaster's prodigal son is about to return from Dublin. With him are two army officers. 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.

Thirty years ago playwright Brian Friel and actor Stephen Rea founded th
Rima Rashid
Dec 08, 2015 Rima Rashid rated it it was amazing
Some of the best books you read are for school or uni. I absolutely loved this play about Britain's colonial control over rural Ireland.

The characters hit you in the heart in so many different ways. Young and mute Sarah learning to speak. Manus and Hugh witnessing the erosion of their home as English soldiers are sent to change the "confusing names" of places in Baile Beag. Owen realising too late his role in all of this and poor Yolland struggling to find a place where he belongs.

It's gut wren
Nov 02, 2012 Phillip rated it it was amazing
Shelves: drama
Translations is a really interesting play because of the language games it engages in. So many languages lay alongside or atop one another, and the relationships between them are so meaningful that the play becomes incredibly complex. The main two languages in direct conflict are Irish Gaelic and English--the language of the colonized and the colonizers. In early 19th century Ireland (through the 20th century) the British colonial forces tried to (and largely succeeded) wipe out Irish as a langu ...more
Studied at college, which I'm thankful for, because I wouldn't have loved it as much, I'm sure, without all the breaking down and taking apart and criticising. Responsible for innumerable favourite lines and passages which my best friend and I still quote to each other to this day.


Doalty: Ignari, stulti, rustici - pot-boys and peasant-whelps - semi-literates and illegitimates.

Yolland: It wasn't an awareness of direction being changed but of experience being of a totally different order. I had
Lindsay Wilson
May 30, 2012 Lindsay Wilson rated it did not like it
Shelves: plays
I really hated this play. The premise was moderately promising, the idea of languages and cultures colliding as the British tried to come up with new names for places throughout Ireland. But what a snooze it ended up being. Everything seemed deliberately pretentious, particularly the ridiculous amount of obscure Greek history thrown in. But the thing that was most infuriating was the fact that while all characters are speaking English, you have to suspend your disbelief enough to believe that th ...more
Jan 10, 2009 S rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2008, college, plays, 2009
The first time I read this for college I thought it was terrible, but then realised the way we read plays in english class would make anybody hate them. I've had to read it again for a resit and I've read it about 3 or 4 times in a few weeks, I can't get enough of it. The structure is just fantastic.

I think plays are closer to poetry than prose/novels in their technical sense - it's not about a load of people sitting around complaining about the english, but just the right amount of different t
Oct 15, 2015 Samurdhi rated it it was ok
“He said the sooner we all learn to speak English the better! ”

This play clearly shows the manipulation of language. How do you measure the importance of one language over the other? How do you establish that your language is better than the other? Language is something which is entwined with your culture so denying your language and embracing another language can mean rejection of your culture. Some like to do it whole heartedly (those like Owen and Maire) but some reject it (Manus).

I liked the
May 05, 2014 Audra rated it it was ok
The concept for this play sounded interesting and some of the wordplay was. In the end I felt like the story didn't quite get where it was going. Or maybe the problem is that it's the same old story of colonization and its ugly truths. I thought the relationship between the two brothers might be flushed out, but it wasn't. In the end there wasn't enough newness or depth of character for my taste.
Quite the cast of characters, a fantastic play regarding language and colonialism that never quite gives you its opinion.

Full review to come TOMORROW because I need to get caught up.
Oh Brian Friel, how I love you.
There's somethings so poignant and familiar about this play. It's tragic and yet jovial and silly. Ireland is me homeland and, although it's full of bogs and mush, it's history has been so painstakingly preserved by those who refused to allow bullies to override it.

Yet, no matter how hard they tried, they couldn't preserve the language. Many gaelteacht areas in Ireland still maintain the language but the fact is, most speak English and despite practically 14 year
Feb 13, 2014 Princess rated it liked it
This is a familiar enough story for the reader from a former British colony. The English arrive in a small Irish townland, for what appears - at first - to be a purely innocuous reason: they want to draw a map of the area, and they want to Anglicize the Gaelic names that the locals have attached to particular places. Interestingly, the local that they choose to work with - the interpreter, if you will - is a handsome young man, charming and cheerful, where his brother - who resists the English - ...more
Emily Philbin
Oct 21, 2013 Emily Philbin rated it it was amazing
An excellent drama! Friel's "Translations" is a short but powerful play, yet in its own way quiet and understated somewhat, written in 1980 that clearly brings to life the struggle of maintaining a cultural identity by couching such a battle in the seemingly endless dispute between Ireland and England. Taking place in Ireland in the 1830s, Friel depicts a young man unable to see he is compromising his own cultural identity by willingly working to replace Irish place names with Anglicised ones. A ...more
Laura Buechler
Aug 12, 2009 Laura Buechler rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-for-school
A few weeks ago I read a play in my History of Drama class that really capitivated me. It's Translations by Brian Friel, set in the early nineteenth century, and it tells the story of a group of Irish peasants/farmers struggling to get an education in a hedge-school because the British Empire has made public Irish education illegal. This is set agains the backdrop of the arrival of a group of British army surveyors who are there to map the region - meaning, either renaming or translating the Gae ...more
Oct 23, 2011 Zan rated it it was amazing
Everyone in my programme was buzzing about this play the other day, and I've heard a great deal about it before, so I finally sat down to read it. And I loved it.

This play is based on the concept of the Ordnance Surveys taking place in Ireland in the 1830. The purpose of the project was to map the country in great detail, six inches to the mile, as well as to standardize the names of places in Ireland. The action of the play also revolves around a hedge school, a type of school that predated the
Anna-Maria Morgenstern
Mar 30, 2016 Anna-Maria Morgenstern rated it really liked it
Even though this book just has 91 pages, the characters grew on me in that short time. The book was interesting and the plot went into a direction I did not expect at all.
Definitely recommending this one! Loved it.
Mar 04, 2009 Sarah rated it it was amazing
Shelves: new-classics, drama
A gorgeous play, one Friel might be more remembered for in the long run, rather than Dancing At Lughnasa. This work centers on an 1800s Irish village, and its struggle to maintain the Irish language when the new British rulers come in and start renaming everything in sight. Only one of the soldiers is charmed by the indigenous culture and his attempts to communicate in the incorrect language with Sarah, the local he has fallen in love with, create the beating heart of the matter: language define ...more
Rachel York
Nov 26, 2014 Rachel York rated it really liked it
"please, maire, i want to jouk in the back here" has got to be the best line in the whole thing
Apr 26, 2009 Joseph rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, favorites
About the only thing I can say against this play is that I'm completely incapable of imagining it inside my head. The Celtic words are so strange that they continually drag me away from the play, as I try to figure out how they sound, and the fact that Friel uses English to represent two different languages doesn't help.

But none of this is any fault of the play, but merely a symptom of my own ignorance. In truth, the play is brilliant, addressing language as both a form of healing and as a corru
Dan Gorman
Apr 13, 2016 Dan Gorman rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Brian Friel's masterful tragedy is a rumination on language, observing the ways that language can obscure or produce truth. Friel believes that there are cultural identities that, if not immutable, are shaped through language. If we destroy a language, we destroy ourselves. This is the lesson young Irishman Owen learns while in the service of the British Empire. A colonizing power will try to supplant an indigenous language, robbing the colonized people of their pasts. By the end of the show, Ma ...more
Mar 05, 2016 Marie-Claude rated it really liked it
I didn't know Brian Friel; well, I haven't read a lot of theatre plays from outside Québec. Strangely enough, while I read books from very diverse origins, I confined myself to playwrights from Québec, almost exclusively so far. But then, I stumbled upon this title, which, given my own trade, I couldn't resist reading. Also, given our situation in Québec, with French often colliding with English and the constant fear by some that we'll end up assimilated, I guess the play is very relevant to us. ...more
Feb 10, 2016 Elise rated it it was ok
I loved the idea of the story. I think that at the time, it said something that really needed to be said about the marginalising of Irish language and culture.

However, as a theatre person, I have one huge complaint: this would not work on stage. Of course, it does to an extent because I am aware that it's been performed several times, but the thing about plays is that they tend to be character based. This is because you don't get as much focus on description or historical context as you do in b

A new production of Brian Friel's masterpiece about language and power.

It's the summer of 1833. In a hedge-school in Donegal, the schoolmaster's prodigal son is about to return from Dublin. With him are two army officers. 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.

Thirty years ago playwright Brian Friel and actor Stephen Rea founded the Field Day Theatre Company in
Feb 28, 2011 Jaslyn rated it really liked it
The ending made me quite melancholy. It was really a quite striking play. Manus, Yolland, Maire, Sally. They're all such tragic characters. What happened to George?
E.C. Newman
Mar 20, 2016 E.C. Newman rated it really liked it
Shelves: re-read, play
I read this play more than a decade ago, when I did an independent study in college. It was Irish Drama and my goodness did I like studying that. I read Yeats, Synge, etc. Translations by Brian Friel was the last play I read for that study, modern as it was for being written in 1980 something.

So, when myself and the other Brit Lit teacher talked at the beginning of this year about what works to cover, I mentioned this one as it is Irish (I know, not British, but really) and very much about langu
Gina Boyd
Apr 14, 2014 Gina Boyd rated it it was amazing
I didn't know this play existed, but thats part of the joy of having a kid in high school, bringing home books.

It's beautiful and sad, and also quite funny. Writing and staging it all in English but with the understanding that the Irish characters are speaking Gaelic and the English characters are speaking English is brilliant and seems almost daring, and adds to the humor and the heartbreak. So does the idea of translating the Irish place names into English. It's not something I'd ever conside
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
  • Three Plays: Juno and the Paycock / The Shadow of a Gunman / The Plow and the Stars
  • Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme
  • The Playboy of the Western World
  • Modern and Contemporary Irish Drama (Norton Critical Editions)
  • John Bull's Other Island
  • Cathleen Ni Houlihan
  • Inventing Ireland
  • Our Country's Good
  • By the Bog of Cats - Acting Edition
  • The Complete Dramatic Works
  • The Lieutenant of Inishmore
  • Travesties
  • The Burial at Thebes: A Version of Sophocles' Antigone
  • The Weir
  • Fires in the Mirror
Brian Friel is a playwright and, more recently, director of his own works from Ireland who now resides in County Donegal.

Friel was born in Omagh County Tyrone, the son of Patrick "Paddy" Friel, a primary school teacher and later a borough councillor in Derry, and Mary McLoone, postmistress of Glenties, County Donegal (Ulf Dantanus provides the most detail regarding Friel's parents and grandparents
More about Brian Friel...

Share This Book

No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »

“To remember everything is a form of madness.” 24 likes
“...that it is not the literal past, the 'facts' of history, that shape us, but images of the past embodied in language.” 12 likes
More quotes…