'One Finger or Two'? Biddy Jenkinson’s “Small Rude Gesture” and a Refusal to Translate

Ellen Corbett

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


When considering translation, it is perhaps the refusal to translate that is the most rebellious act of all. Undoubtedly the most well-known and forthright act of refusal in the Irish-language sphere is that exhibited by poet Biddy Jenkinson who has famously refused to have her work translated into English in Ireland. Her opinion on the English-language translation of her work is widely known and often cited, and in fact, is oftentimes the first thing mentioned about her:

I prefer not to be translated into English in Ireland. It is a small rude gesture to those who think that everything can be harvested and stored without loss in an English-speaking Ireland.
(Jenkinson, 1991, p. 34)

Jenkinson’s stance is held in reverence and with respect, with Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill calling it “entirely valid” (2005, p. 182), and Ciaran Carson declaring it, “[…] a necessary admonishment to those who pay lip-service to the Irish language” (cited in de Búrca, 2010, p. 179). But is Jenkinson’s stance as rebellious as first assumed? In her poetry, Jenkinson is playful, irreverent, and far from prohibiting all translation, has allowed her work to be translated into French, German, Italian, and English on an international stage, while also engaging in the translation process itself as translator. By examining Jenkinson’s writing outside of her most famous Letter to an Editor, we can see that Jenkinson is more than just her refusal to be translated, and should not be so strictly confined to this one position.
This paper argues that Biddy Jenkinson’s refusal to be translated into English in Ireland is not as extreme as is widely believed, and that far from being a stalwart opponent of translation, is irreverent in her decision. It is therefore argued that Jenkinson’s small rude gesture is more akin to two fingers in jest than one raised in opposition.

de Búrca, M. (2010). ‘Biddy Jenkinson’, in R. Ní Fhrighil (ed.) Filíocht Chomhaimseartha na Gaeilge. Baile Átha Cliath: Cois Life Teoranta, pp. 167–180.
Jenkinson, B. (1991). ‘A Letter to an Editor’, Irish University Review, 21(1), pp. 27–34. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25484394 (Accessed: 13 November 2021).
Ní Dhomhnaill, N. (2005). ‘The Field Day Anthology of Irish Women’s Writing, Introduction: Contemporary Poetry’, in O. Frawley (ed.) Selected Essays. Dublin: New Island, pp. 171–184.


ConferenceTranslation Studies Network of Ireland (TSNI) 3rd Annual Conference:
Internet address


  • Irish
  • Gaeilge
  • Filíocht
  • Poetry
  • Translation
  • Biddy Jenkinson
  • Aistriúchán


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