Spectrums within Spectrums: Self-Translation as Aspect of Broader Translation Practices in Irish to English Translation in Ireland

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Self-translation in the Irish literary tradition is no new foray. Despite the most researched (migrant) self-translator, Samuel Beckett, coming from Ireland, the other language in this tradition, the Irish language, and those using the language have been largely overlooked. Self- translation has also been practiced by Irish-language poets; minority-language speakers living, working, and writing in a majority English-speaking country. Definitions of self-translation tend to embody Beckett’s version of self-translation, that is, self-translation in its simplest form as the translation of a work from one language into another by the original author with no added involvement by other agents. Yet can self-translation in Ireland be so neatly confined to these parameters? In reality, as will be discussed in this paper, this practice is not so exclusive and, instead, frequently engages a diversity of agents.

Self-translation has taken on multiple roles in the writing and editing processes of Irish-language poets on the island of Ireland. For Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, one of the foremost Irish-language poets of the modern era, self-translation was firstly a feasible option for gaining a larger readership and being included in the wider Irish literary canon at the beginning of her career, and was subsequently used to create cribs of her work to then pass on to her translators andcollaborators. Gearóid Mac Lochlainn—the Belfast-born writer whose poetry examines culture, heritage, language, and life on the Falls Road at the height of the Troubles—initially translated his own poetry, but then collaborated with poet and academic, Frank Sewell, to create English translations for his collection Sruth Teangacha/Stream of Tongues (2002). In the process, Mac Lochlainn edited and refined his own work, even omitting lines from the English-language translation with the final and finished translation left at his discretion.

When do these practices, broadly categorised as self-translation, become collaborative translation, or even trans-editing (i.e. any and all editorial activity that goes beyond what is considered common practice within translation)? Can we, or should we, pigeonhole these methods of engagement with translation into one box and one box alone? Or should we approach engagement with translation, rather than as a range of options, but as a sliding scale?

Based on an ongoing PhD project, this paper proposes that Irish-language poets who engage with self-translation do so using a diverse range of approaches. It will also build on prior discussions in this panel and on existing scholarship on the intersections between translation, self-translation, and collaboration, to argue that these practices are part of a much larger spectrum of translational engagement, which spans from refusal to translate, to self-translation, tocollaborative translation, and to trans-editing and ‘free’ translation.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 20 Sept 2023
EventSelf-Translation: Inclusion of Diversity - Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna, Bologna, Italy
Duration: 20 Sept 202321 Sept 2023


ConferenceSelf-Translation: Inclusion of Diversity
Internet address

Bibliographical note

Paper presented at conference; not currently published


  • Translation
  • Self-Translation
  • Irish
  • Gaeilge
  • Poetry


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