"The British are bad news to the Irish" - "Explore critical views and explain your own viewpoint as to whether this is the point Brian Friel is making in his play Translations."

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Name: Ciara Simons

Candidate No: 7179

Centre No: 71530

Assignment Title: “Translations”, By Brian Friel


By Brian Friel

“The British are bad news to the Irish”

“Explore critical views and explain your own viewpoint as to whether this is the point Brian Friel is making in his play Translations.”

The quote “The British are bad news to the Irish” is taken from the article “What’s On in London” and it was the writer Kenneth Hurren who wrote the column. Kenneth Hurren also wrote in this column,

     “With Translations it transpires that Friel is not at all foolish and has shrewdly cottoned on to where he was making this mistake in pressing for the withdrawal of Britain and her troops from his country. Fundamentally he is still making the same points, he is still saying that the British are bad news to the Irish; but he is saying it subtly and persuasively in terms of a marvellously eloquent and ostensibly fair

- minded play, full of humour and humanity, instinct with grace and understanding.”  

Brian Friel was born in 1929 and has had a successful career as a play-writer he is known for his famous plays “Philadelphia here I come”, “Lovers”, “Freedom of the city”, “Faith Healer” and many more excellent plays. All of Friel’s work has had something to do with Ireland and Irish themes.


Brian Friel’s “Translations” is a play, which is an interpretation of Ireland in the 1830s and the play shows a great change in the society at that time. At the time “Translations” was set Ireland was a predominately rural, Catholic, Gaelic speaking country. The ‘penal laws’ were in force throughout the country until the end of the eighteenth century and were removed in 1829 with the Catholic Emancipation Act.  These laws caused a lot of damage to Irish society and culture. The Catholics were forbidden to implement their faith, they were forbidden to receive Catholic Education and were forbidden from getting a profession. They were forbidden from general things in life for instance owning a horse that cost over £5 and from voting. The laws lead the Irish Catholic people to live abnormal lives hiding what they did from the English authorities. Irish people were allowed to become traders and merchants but they had to learn how to speak English to do so. Catholics were not allowed to become landowners if they didn’t follow the Anglican faith. By the end of the 19th century most of the middle and upper class in Ireland spoke English and were Anglican-Protestant, they either owned land or worked in professional occupations in the towns, while lower classes spoke Gaelic.                                                                                                                                     


“Translations” gives us a picture of what Ireland’s peasant population was like during that period.  Marie chooses to emigrate, and Hugh and Jimmy were inspired to

take up arms against Britain in the 1798 rebellion. The Donnelly twins are not introduced to the audience at any point throughout the play but we get the impression

that they have something to do with the agitation against the British e.g. their camp going on fire and Yolland’s disappearance.


At this time local communities gathered together to practice their faith in open air masses or in remote areas where the authorities couldn’t find them. They also formed hedge schools as the English wouldn’t let Catholics get educated elsewhere. The Irish at the time became dependant on the potato crop but it struck blight and disease fourteen times between 1816 and 1842 including 1833. The Great Famine struck Ireland 1845 to 1851 with horrendous consequences for its people. The disease attacked the potato plant and turned the leaves black and withered them as if they were decaying and this gave off a sweet stench of decay. During these dreadful times 1 million people died and 1.5 million emigrated to Britain and America. These people came from the west and south of the country and were from the poor Gaelic speaking communities like Baile Beag.

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During the play Bridget mentions that she could smell a sweet smell and each time she said this with a certain sense of fear in her voice. This is significant because Friel is reminding us that disaster awaits this society in the future, the disaster being the Great Famine. As a result of this Great Famine thousands emigrated to different countries such as America and other English speaking countries. These people emigrated on ships called “Coffin ships”. Hundreds got on these ships at a time and only a third of them got off at their destined port as the ...

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