Translations by Brian FrielThe action of this play takes place in late August 1833 at a hedge-school in the townland of Baile Beag - an Irish speaking community in County Donegal. The scholars are a cross-section of the local community, from a semi-literate young farmer to and elderly polygot autodidact who reads and quotes Homer in the orginal. In a nearby field camps a recently arrived detachment of the Royal Engineers, engaged on behalf of the Britsh Army and Government in making the first Ordnance Survey. For the purposes ofr cartography, the local Gaelic place names have to be recorded and transliterated - or translated - into English, in examining the effects of this operation on the lives of a small group of people, Irish and English, Brian Friel skillfully reveals the unexperctedly far-reaching personal and cultural effects of an action which is at first sight purely administrative and harmless. While remaining faithful to the personalities and relationshiops of those people at that time he makes a richly suggestive statement about Irish - and English - history.
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In a hedge school situated in an old barn, Manus , a lame man in his late twenties or early thirties, is teaching Sarah , a waif-like young woman with a severe speech defect, to say her name. In the corner is Jimmy Jack Cassie , a bachelor in his sixties who loves reading Homer aloud in ancient Greek. Manus wonders where Hugh , his father and the school master, is. Sarah mimes rocking a baby and drinking, which Manus understands to mean that Hugh is at a pub following a christening. She and Jimmy have a brief conversation in Latin before Maire comments that she is even worse in English—a theatrical conceit becomes clear in this moment that the characters on stage are actually speaking Irish, even as an audience hears English.