Translations Characters
by Brian Friel

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Translations Characters

Translations is a play by Brian Friel set in Ireland in 1833. The characters are:

Manus - Eldest son of Hugh. He is in love with Maire and leaves the village after learning she is in love with Yolland.

Owen - Manus's younger brother. He is employed by the British army to help Yolland anglicize the Irish place names around the village.

Hugh - Headmaster of the hedge-school in Baile Beag. Despite being drunk most of the time, he teaches Irish, Latin, and Greek.

Sarah - A young Irish girl who has difficulty speaking at all.

Lieutenant Yolland - An Englishman sent to Ireland as part of the Ordnance Survey. He falls in love with Maire, and his disappearance causes the English army to threaten the village.

Jimmy Jack - An educated man who feels trapped in provincial Ireland.

Captain Lancey - Yolland's commanding officer. When Yolland disappears, Lancey threatens to shoot the villagers if Yolland is not found within forty-eight hours.

Doalty and Bridget - The Donnelly twins. Young villagers who are proud of their Irish heritage and feel a strong connection to the village and their homeland.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Hugh Mor O’Donnell

Hugh Mor O’Donnell, the master of an Irish hedge school, in his early sixties, who persists in educating his charges (most of whom are adults) in the classical languages, despite his growing recognition that English is the language of the future. Fond of his pint, he has usually taken a drop too much, but he is never really drunk. Irascible and arrogant, he, more than anyone else in the play, understands that the translation of Irish place-names into English involves a transition from one world to another. Furthermore, despite his personal regret at the cultural violence done by such translation, he recognizes the inevitability of the transition if Ireland is to avoid being “imprisoned in a linguistic contour which no longer matches the landscape of . . . fact.” a poet writing in a language few can read, he understands the extent to which language shapes humankind’s understanding of the world and sees clearly the forces sweeping his country from “spiritual” Irish to “commercial” English.


Manus, Hugh’s eldest son, in his late twenties or early thirties. He assists Hugh in the hedge school, makes his dinner, and sees him safely through the hours of drink. For all of this, his father pays him no salary and treats him like a footman. Manus loves Maire and would like to marry her, but he has no way to support her and will not go against his father for the job at the new national school the British are building. He is lame because his father, drunk, fell on him while he was a baby. Manus somehow turns the incident into a reason for being responsible for his father. He is a gentle, caring man, hurt by what is happening to Ireland and hurt by Maire’s defection but without the capacity to resist either effectively.


Owen, Hugh’s youngest son, in his late twenties, who had “escaped” to England and returns now in service to the British, who need him to help remap Ireland because they do not speak Irish. The British never get his name right and call him Roland. Initially pleased to have avoided his brother’s fate and to be earning a good salary, he is finally appalled by the consequences of the process of which he has been a part.


(The entire section is 857 words.)