‘Fully able/to write in any language - I’m a babel’: James Clarence Mangan and the task of the Translator

David Wheatley*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


According to the Lebor Gabála Érenn, Fénius Farsaid was among the seventy-two chieftains who built the Tower of Babel.1 After its collapse, F énius journeyed from Scythia to inspect its ruins and contrived to piece together a B érla tóbaide or ‘selected language’, which he named ‘Goidelic’. He also discovered four alphabets, the Hebrew, Latin, Greek and Ogham, with Ogham being the most perfect of all. As linguistic creation myths go this has a Mylesian ring, if by Mylesian we mean not the obscure tribe who once inhabited Ireland but in the spirit of Myles na gCopaleen, celebrated debunker of the Gael’s propensity for self-mythologization. The topic of translation in Irish poetry is one that remains shrouded in mythology, with sociolinguistic fact, romantic-nationalist fantasy and self-image often at odds. The movement between languages has been a constant in Irish history, intimately connected with questions of cultural politics and authority as well as patterns of immigration and emigration. Despite the imperium of English almost 1.66 million people were recorded as able to speak Irish in the 2006 census, though a mere 72,000 spoke the language daily outside the education system. While Irish retains its special constitutional position as the official first language of the Republic, immigrant languages such as Polish and Czech now form part of Ireland’s linguistic map too.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEssays on James Clarence Mangan
Subtitle of host publicationThe Man in the Cloak
EditorsSinéad Sturgeon
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781137273383
ISBN (Print)9781137273376
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


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