The publishing, explanation and translation of Scottish Gaelic Literature in Ireland

Wilson McLeod


This article considers the varied ways in which texts in Scottish Gaelic have been presented in Irish-language books and journals since the early twentieth century. Although Irish and Scottish Gaelic are closely related to each other, the extent to which readers of Irish can understand written Scottish Gaelic is somewhat unclear. Views on the matter are sometimes clouded by ‘pan-Gaelic’ idealism, which gives rise to an imagined (or hoped-for) linguistic affinity. Given this uncertainty, several different ways of presenting Scottish Gaelic texts can be discerned, and these arguably rest on incompatible understandings of the extent of mutual intelligibility between the two varieties. Sometimes the Scottish Gaelic original is presented with no explanatory notes, sometimes with them; sometimes a translation into Irish or a translation into English is provided; sometimes only an Irish translation is given, without the original. Particularly in relation to prose texts (which are typically longer) it is most common not to provide the Scottish Gaelic original. These varying publication strategies can be seen, for example, in the work of editors and critics in relation to the poetry of the celebrated twentieth-century Scottish poet Sorley MacLean. On balance, the middle ground of providing an Irish translation may seem the most practical solution, although it is best to ensure that the original text is appropriately prioritised, for example through putting the translation in italics or below the original.

An underlying difficulty is the relative weakness of the cultural connections between Ireland and Gaelic Scotland, so that readers of Irish have little opportunity to become familiar with Scottish Gaelic. In addition, over the last century the linguistic gap between the two varieties has tended to widen, due to diverging processes of modernisation and standardisation. Although there have been various cultural initiatives to link the two language communities, these have tended to have relatively little lasting impact.

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© Comhar Teoranta, 2020.
ISSN: 2009-8626