The Irish Language and its Literature: A Brief Overview Part 5 | Magazine | Interviews | Our Literary Heritage

By Gabriel Rosenstock

A number of writers, mostly poets it must be said, such as Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Gearóid Mac Lochlainn, Cathal Ó Searcaigh and myself, have been given the opportunity of reading on the international circuit. Poets who meet up at such festivals as Struga in Macedonia, Vilenica in Slovenia or Kritya in India often strike up a working relationship with other poets, which can result in translating each other’s work. If English is the common denominator, well and good.

I have translated Kristiina Ehin into Irish without knowing Estonian, I have translated Nikola Madzirov into Irish without knowing Macedonian, and K. Satchidanandan without knowing Malalayam, but I can stand by my versions and I hope, in a very small way, that they add some little colour to the Irish-language literary scene. Only pathological purists fear cross-fertilization. I know many Irish-language writers who have never been invited to a literary festival abroad. We need to set things in motion!

An important scheme to help up and coming writers is a tutoring programme called Scéim na nOidí.What this means is that an aspiring writer can apprentice himself/herself to an established writer for a year.

A year is more than enough as one wouldn’t want a young voice to be muffled or over-influenced by a senior or more experienced writer, but the advantages of the scheme are obvious. The senior writer acts, in a way, like an editor, suggesting ways in which a manuscript might be improved or urging the apprentice to experiment with different approaches. It is a situation that must be handled delicately.

Success is not automatically ensured. But it’s something. There is also the long-running Writers in Schools scheme administered by Poetry Ireland/Éigse Éireann, which is open to writers in both languages.

Books in Irish are rarely seen in bookshop windows. Window space is frequently bought by London-based publishers and other big players and I don’t think we are going to stage or win any battles with them. We must rely on one or two small specialist bookshops and on electronic shopping from now on.

If this series of articles is short on facts, figures and statistics there is a reason: sales figures and market analysis are difficult if not impossible to obtain. I hope we’re not hiding anything too unpleasant to know.

To look no further than the literatures of the Celtic nations, clearly no discussion can be had on literature or literature in translation without taking a sober look at the state of the languages which is as follows according to Unesco’s Atlas of World Languages in Danger (December 2010):

Cymraeg/Welsh: Vulnerable (611,000)

Gaeilge/Irish: Definitely endangered (80,000 speakers)

Gàidhlig/Scottish: Definitely endangered (58,652 speakers)

Brezhoneg/Breton: Severely endangered (200,000 speakers)

Gaelg/Manx: Critically endangered (revitalised) (1,689 speakers)

Kernewek/Cornish: Critically endangered (revitalised) (2000 speakers)

About the author

(c) Gabriel Rosenstock August 2012

Gabriel Rosenstock is an esteemed Irish writer. A member of Aosdána, he is a poet, haikuist and translator. Born in Kilfinane, Co. Limerick in 1949, he studied at University College Cork, where he associated with the Innti group of poets. He has written or translated more than 100 books, principally in Irish. Rogha Rosenstock, a selection from 10 different volumes of his poetry, appeared in 1994, and a selection of his children’s poetry, Dánta Duitse, was published in 1998. He also published another volume of poetry, Syójó, and A Treasury of Irish Love, a compilation. Other recent titles include the Krishnamurphy trilogy from Coiscéim, Krishnamurphy Ambaist!; Eachtraí Krishnamurphy and Tuairiscíonn Krishnamurphy ó Bhagdad, the travelogue Ólann mo Mhiúil as an nGainséis (CIC 2003), the bilingual selection Rogha Dánta/ Selected Poems (CIC) and the bilingual volume Bliain an Bhandé/ Year of the Goddess (Dedalus 2007). A former chairman of Poetry Ireland, Gabriel is a member of several international haiku associations, and holds an honorary life membership of the Irish Translators’ and Interpreters’ Association. He lives in Dublin.

Gabriel’s debut novel in English My Head is Missing is a fantastic concoction of highly original humour and lyrical poignancy.

My Head is Missing scintillates along the borders of the mythical and the real. It is set in the Irish village of Powl Duv where Shane O’Neil, formerly with Interpol and Europol, sets up the Kerry Detective Agency. Although this unique event occurs with very little fanfare, it sets in train a series of strange manifestations. Suffice to say that life is never the same again for the denizens of Powl Duv, a village where time moves slowly and to a mysterious rhythm all of its own.

Available in paperback and eBook, click here for more information and to read a sample.


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