Translations is set in a small Irish town in the summer of 1833. Hugh O'Donnell is the headmaster of a hedge school, a rural school that teaches basic education to farm families. Hugh's older son, Manus, teaches there with him. Hugh insists on teaching in Irish, even though he knows that the language will inevitably change to English. His younger son, Owen, comes to town with the British Royal Engineers, who are mapping the Irish countryside. Owen helps the engineers by translating their foreign words to the townsfolk and assisting with the anglicisation of the Irish town names. One of the engineers, Lieutenant Yolland, is captivated by Irish culture and comes to believe that the work they are doing is an act of destruction. A love triangle develops between Manus, Yolland, and Maire, a strong, young woman in the village who is determined to make a new life for herself. Yolland disappears mysteriously after being seen kissing Maire and Manus leaves town broken-hearted. Although he swears he had nothing to do with it, Owen knows his brother's sudden flight will make him seem guilty. Ending without resolution, Friel's play demonstrates the relationship between language and culture and the ways we choose to ignore or break down our cultural barriers.
Translations guide sections