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 Royal Engineers, who are mapping the Irish countryside. Owen helps the engineers anglicize the Irish town names. One of the engineers, the English Lieutenant Yolland, is captivated by Irish culture and believes 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. Yolland disappears mysteriously, and Manus leaves town, broken-hearted. Owen realizes he must remain true to his roots and decides to join the Irish resistance. The play ends ambiguously, with no resolution to the stories. 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