Translating Irish: Two Attempts

Attempt #1: Dublin

For some reason, I decided that we were going to see a play. I mean, I like plays and all, but I think the main reason I wanted to go to a play was that every other night in Ireland was going to consist of drinking and listening to music, and I wanted one thing that was different. I have no idea how I landed on Howie the Rookie by Mark O’Rowe, which was playing at some small theater the name of which is lost to memory. But it was a great choice. I missed some of the beginning of the play, which is told in two monologues, one per act, that continue the same bizarre, violent story from different points of view, because of the accent of the actor. But once I got used to it–a little like with Shakespeare, I need a scene or so to soak in the language before I can understand–it was a fantastic play. The characters were strange and vivid, and the plot twists were shocking, all the more so for the absolute lack of set, props, or other actors. I was completely engrossed and would give anything to see it performed again, although I’m sure it wouldn’t be quite the same taken out of Dublin without Irish actors.

Attempt #2: Train to Galway

We were riding the train across Ireland from Dublin to Galway. It was a Friday, and the train was packed solid with kids going home from university for the weekend, so we had to sit at a table with one random other guy. We were both exhausted from too much music and beer the night before, so we weren’t really speaking much, mostly dozing or staring out the windows. But as we neared the end of the line, we started talking about where we were staying, what we wanted to do first, blah blah. Upon hearing us talk, our seatmate perked up and asked, “Are ya Yanks?” Rather, he said something, and I said, “Sorry?” and then he repeated it, and then I sort of figured that what he meant was, “Are ya Yanks?”  Yes, we were Yanks. Where was he from? A small town near Galway, but he was working in Dublin. I had to ask him to repeat everything at least twice, though, because his Western Irish accent was impenetrable to my ears. He began telling us, with obvious enthusiasm and pride, about his homeland, particularly about the rocky landscape we were traveling through, which is known as the Burren. It’s beautiful in a strange and sort of harsh way, and apparently there was some kind of legend about it, regarding a woman and her child and…. something else? Part of it is that my memory has faded, but most of it is that I just couldn’t understand more than every fifth word, and I stopped asking him to slow down or repeat himself, because it was more lovely to listen to the sound of his voice while watching the countryside roll by than to try to actually learn the history. Sometimes, the meaning just doesn’t matter.

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