Cré na Cille, Translated Twice.

For ages I’ve been saving this American Scholar link, in which Stephanie Bastek compares two versions of the same passage from “Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s modernist masterpiece, Cré na Cille,” Liam Mac Con Iomaire and Tim Robinson’s translation, called Graveyard Clay, and Alan Titley’s, called The Dirty Dust. The first begins “. . . Nóra Filthy-Feet standing for election! Good God above, they’ve lost all respect for themselves in this cemetery if the best they can offer is Nóra of the Fleas from Mangy Field,” the second “. . . Toejam Nora standing for election! Jesus Christ Almighty, they have no respect left for themselves in this cemetery, especially if they can’t put up anyone else only Fleabag Nora from Gort Ribbuck.” I love that sort of comparison, and if you do too, hie thee to the link.

And now Trevor sends me this interview with John Donatich, Director at Yale University Press, about the two versions:

“The book was so difficult to translate in the first place. The stakes were made higher as this would most likely be the first exposure many global readers might have to this purported classic. We had to make sure to get it right. That said, we felt the book could stand two different kinds of interpretations, much like a great musical piece might stand several interpretations: a rigorous, elegant and faithful version and one that took more expressive risks.”

I have two books by Ó Cadhain, but alas, not Cré na Cille; one of these days I’ll have to remedy that. I love modernist masterpieces!


  1. What’s the curse that’s translated once as Good God above and the other time Jesus Christ Almighty? Something religious that doesn’t quite mean either of those things?

  2. I wrote at the site:

    Alas, it seems the American Scholar is not scholarly enough to print the original Irish so that those of us with that language, but who have never read the book, can see how the translators actually did.

    (Not of course to imply that I myself am one of “those of us”.)

  3. A Google Books search gives:

    Cré Na Cille: Leagan Drámatúil
    Máirtín Ó Cadhain – 2006 – ‎No preview

    (Emphasis added.) Not even snippet view? Why, Google Books, why??

  4. Easily told. The publisher is not one with which Google has an agreement, nor is the book held by any library that Google is dealing with. Or if so, it has yet to be scanned. Worldcat shows only six hits for the original work: Harvard College Library, the University of Notre Dame, St. Francis Xavier University (in Antigonish, N.S., home of the little man who wasn’t there), the National University of Ireland–Galway, the University of Limerick, and Dublin City University.

    So what you are getting is pure metadata from one or more of Google’s ten thousand metadata providers. When it comes to metadata, it’s not that Google thinks it knows better than the experts; it’s that it knows all too thoroughly how much the experts disagree.

  5. per incuriam says:

    What’s the curse that’s translated once as Good God above and the other time Jesus Christ Almighty?

    A Dhia agus a Chríosta = God and Christ, in the vocative.

  6. Thanks. I was having a hard time believing there was a curse for which both translations might be reasonable . I see the error of my ways now, a Dhia agus a Chriosta.

  7. I’ve lost most of my Connemara Irish learned over forty years ago and briefly practiced on the Aran Islands, but I can still respond to the greeting “Dia dhuit” ‘God with you’ with a crisp “Dia is Muire dhuit” ‘God and Mary with you.’

  8. You can listen to the leagan drámatúil here (I had to click ‘Download’ rather than the ‘play’ arrow because Chrome was being overprotective).

  9. Thanks very much! And many thanks to whichever LH reader gave me a copy of the book in Irish for my Kindle; it will inspire me to immerse myself in that wonderful language again.

  10. Have you read the book at all?

  11. Not yet!

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