This study surveys the course of verse translation from the Irish, starting with the notorious Macpherson controversy and ending with the publication of George Sigerson’s Bards of the Gael and Gall in 1897. Professor Welch considers some of the problems and challenges relating to the translation of Irish verse into English in the context of translation theory and ideas about cultural differentiation.
He outlines the historical and cultural background of Anglo-Irish literary relations in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the surprising fashion for Celticism at the end of that period. It was this cultural phenomenon that provided the context for the endeavours of Charlotte Brooke and of later translators to render something of the spirit of Gaelic poetry in English verse. Throughout the book, we see again and again the dilemma of poets who must be faithful to the spirit or the form of Irish verse, but who rarely have the ability to capture both.
The relationship between Irish and English in the nineteenth century was, necessarily, a critical one, and the translators were often working at the centre of the crisis, whether they were aware of it or not. As Celticism evolved into nationalism and heroic idealism, these influences can be clearly seen in the development of verse translation from the Irish.