Nothing lost in this version of Translations

THE postcode versus townland names in rural addresses is an issue which has been hotly debated in Northern Ireland for many years now.

As a former employee of Royal Mail myself, my ears recently pricked up when I heard a radio debate discussing identical stirred emotions in the Republic of Ireland over the forthcoming ‘digitalisation’ of rural addresses.

And watching Brian Friel’s Translations in the Millennium Forum - in the presence of the author himself - I was reminded of just how deeply attached the people of this island are to their townland names and their associated ‘back stories’ - whether based in myth and legend, seated in local retellings of local tragedies or date-stamping the treading of new feet on the shores.

Adrian Dunbar’s production of the play about a hedge school in Ballybeg certainly allowed us to look at every angle of the “townland name” debate.

From the enthusiasic British Lieutanant Yoland relishing the wonderous sounds of these new Irish names by which he found himself surrounded to the difficulty experienced by Ballybeg-native-made-good Owen trying to Anglicise the townland names of his home parish, while struggling to reconcile local hostility to British mapping of the district with his analytical mind’s confusion over the staunch protection of townland names which themselves are incorrect corruptions of their original meaning.

Director Dunbar brought out the staggeringly complex struggle of emotions faced by the characters in a wonderfully sympathetic way. The staging of the production was simple and effective with a staggeringly beautiful night sky backdrop.

The lack of a shared method of communication - whether English, Irish, Greek, Latin - was illustrated poignantly and amusingly by the talented troupe who gelled well together.

There was a fantastic buzz in the theatre that evening - possibly created by the presence of the author - and added to by the feeling that Translations (frist performed in the Guildhall in Derry in 1980) had ‘come home’ that night to be part of the City of Culture.

Translations is now on tour in the Republic of Ireland before moving to Wales and Scotland and finally returning to Belfast later in April. UC