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Interpreters and the politics of translation and traduction in sixteenth-century Ireland

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 March 2016

Patricia Palmer*
Department of English and Related Literature, University of York
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The story of late Tudor Ireland is, in part, a story of language. The political and military developments that brought New English and native Irish into a closer and increasingly violent proximity also brought two languages into confrontation. The issue of language difference became caught up in the wider conflict: the Irish language joined glibs, brehons and pastoral nomadism as yet another element in the Elizabethans’ dystopic assessment of Gaelic Ireland; in turn, the promotion of English — and the linguistic colonisation which that entailed — assumed its place in their agenda of conquest. Leaving aside larger questions of policy and ideology, language itself — and the experience of language difference — was part of the texture of that encounter. Yet the question of precisely how exchanges across the language frontier were managed has been largely ignored. The misunderstandings between Elizabethan newcomers and the Gaelic Irish were, at their simplest level, literal.

Research Article
Copyright © Irish Historical Studies Publications Ltd 2003

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1 Both issues are explored in Palmer, Patricia, Language and conquest in early modern Ireland (Cambridge, 2001).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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3 ‘Report of … commissioners into Connaught’, 4 May 1589 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1588-92, p. 173); ‘Answer of Sir Rd Bingham to the matters wherewith he is charged’, Nov. 1589 (P.R.O., SP 63/148/39).

4 E.g. S.P. Hen. VIII, ii, 6, 8, 162, 229, 479; Lord Chancellor Gerrard to commissioners, 29 Mar. 1578 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1574-85, p. 130); ‘H.C.’ to Essex, Mar. 1599 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1598-9, p. 507); Holinshed’s Irish chronicle, 1577, ed. Miller, Liam and Power, E. E. (Dublin, 1979), p. 14Google Scholar; Art Cosgrove, ‘Hiberniores ipsis Hibernis’ in idem and Donai McCartney (eds), Studies in Irish history presented to R. Dudley Edwards (Dublin, 1979), p. 14; Cronin, Michael, Translating Ireland (Cork, 1996), p. 23.Google Scholar

5 Letters and memorials of state … written and collected by Sir Henry Sidney, Sir Philip Sidney and his brother, Sir Robert Sidney, ed. Collins, Arthur (2 vols, London, 1746)Google Scholar (henceforth cited as Sidney letters), i, 91.

6 Brady, Ciaran (ed.), A viceroy’s vindication? Sir Henry Sidney’s memoir of service in Ireland, 1556-1578 (Cork, 2002), p. 74.Google Scholar

7 [Henry Malby?], ‘Discourse addressed to L[or]d Burghley’, 1591 (P.R.O., SP 63/161/52).

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9 Facs. nat. MSS Ire., iv, pt 1, p. xxxv.

10 Deposition of Brian McTurlagh McPhelim Boye, May 1598 (P.R.O., SP 63/202, 11/88 ix). I am indebted to Kenneth Nicholls for this reference.

11 Supplement to Bagenal’s journal, Nov. 1593 (Cal. S. P. Ire., 1592-6, pp 181-2).

12 Learned in the languages and tongues of the islands of western Europe’ (A.F.M., iii, 1814-15)Google Scholar; A booke of questions and answars concerning the warrs or rebellions of the kingdome of Irelande’, ed. Morgan, Hiram, in Anal. Hib., no. 36 (1995), pp 96, 122.Google Scholar

13 Gardiner to privy council, 16 Mar. 1594 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1592-6, p. 224); Bishop Jones to Burghley, 22 Mar. 1597[/8] (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1598-9, p. 87).

14 Sir Richard Bingham to George Bingham, 17 Dec. 1593 (P.R.O., SP 63/172/38 ii).

15 Wright, Thomas, The history of Ireland, (3 vols, London, 1848), i, 1356Google Scholar; Bradshaw, Brendan, ‘Manus the Magnificent’ in Cosgrove, & McCartney, (eds), Studies in Ir. hist., p. 98Google Scholar; Shirley, E. P., The history of the county of Monaghan (London, 1879), p. 42Google Scholar; Hogan, James, ‘Shane O’Neill comes to the court of Elizabeth’ in Pender, Séamus (ed.), Féilscríbhinn Torna (Cork, 1947), p. 167Google Scholar; Sir Samuel Bagenal to Séamus Pender, n.d. (P.R.O., SP 63/206/149); examination of Teig O’Corkran, 11 Aug. 1606 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1603-6, pp 567-8).

16 Advertisements from Duke, 26 Oct. 1588 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1588-92, p. 64); Sidney letters, i, 104; MacCurtain, Margaret and O’Dowd, Mary (eds), Women in early modern Ireland (Edinburgh, 1991), p. 164.Google Scholar

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18 Bishop Jones to Burghley, 18 Apr. 1598 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1598-9, p. 119); Lord Deputy Russell’s journal, 23 June 1595 (Cal. Carew MSS, 1589-1600, p. 232).

19 See Palmer, Language & conquest, ch. 1.

20 Brady, Ciaran, The chief governors: the rise and fall of reform government in Tudor Ireland, 1536-1588 (Cambridge, 1994), p. 245.Google Scholar

21 StLeger, to VIII, Henry, 14 May 1543 (S.P. Hen. VIII, iii, 450, 454)Google Scholar; Digges, James to Essex, , 20 Oct. 1598 (H.M.C., Salisbury, viii, 401)Google Scholar; indenture with Sir Donai O’Connor Sligo, 20 Jan. 1568 (Cal. Carew MSS, 1515-74, p. 378).

22 The Walsingham letter-book, ed. Hogan, James and O’Farrell, N. McNeill (Dublin, 1959), p. 191.Google Scholar

23 Drury and Fitton to privy council, 20 Nov. 1578 (Cal. Carew M SS, 1575-88, p. 141); Perrott, James, The chronicle of Ireland, 1584-1608, ed. Wood, Herbert (Dublin, 1933), p. 92Google Scholar; Brady (ed.), A viceroy’s vindication?, p. 82.

24 Malby to Fitzwilliam, 19 Oct. 1573 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1509-73, p. 525); Shirley, Monaghan, p. 84; MacCarthy, Daniel, The life and letters of Florence Mac Carthy Reagh (London, 1867), p. 289Google Scholar; ‘Copie of an Irish letter sent by odonnell to Sir Richard Bingham’, 14 Nov. 1595 (P.R.O., SP 63/184/25).

25 Farmer, William, ‘Chronicles of Ireland’ in E.H.R., xxii (1907), pp 129-30Google Scholar; Morley, Henry (ed.), Ireland under Elizabeth and James the First (London, 1890), p. 363.Google Scholar

26 Hooker, John, ‘The Irish historie … unto … 1587’ in Holinshed, Ralph (ed.), Chronicle of England, Scotland and Ireland (6 vols, London, 1807-8), vi, 437Google Scholar. The Irishmen in shadowy attendance on Raleigh — his ‘verie good guide’; Patrick Fagaw, the soldier who saved his life — or Captain Piers, identified above as the translator of Turlough Luineach’s ‘badd speaches’ and who served with Raleigh in Munster, could have doubled as interpreters.

27 Moryson, Fynes, An history of Ireland (2 vols, Dublin, 1735), i, 68Google Scholar; Shirley, Monaghan, p. 48.

28 Liber Hib., pt ii, 183; B.M. cat. Ir. MSS, i, 483; O’Donovan, John, ‘Military proclamation in the Irish language, issued by Hugh O’Neill in 1601’ in U.I.A., 1st ser., vi (1858), pp 5765Google Scholar; Jackson, Donald, ‘The Irish language and Tudor government’ in Eire-Ireland, viii (1973), p. 24Google Scholar; petition of Lye to Elizabeth I, 5 Jan. 1587 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1586-8, p. 244); Stow, John, Annales (London, 1631), p. 763.Google Scholar

29 Bryskett, to Cecil, , 1600 (H.M.C., Salisbury, x, 463)Google Scholar. Crosby himself points us towards another language mediator in a letter to Cecil. Lamenting that the queen’s earl of Desmond had been deprived of the services of one Captain Price during his ill-fated visit to Ireland, he riddlingly comments: ‘I would that he had the lik still about him to holde the helme, so he could speak the languadge’ (MacCarthy, Florence Mac Carthy Reagh, p. 493).

30 O’Neill’s articles of detection, 17 July 1600 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1600, p. 310).

31 Facs. nat. MSS Ire., pt 1, p. liv.

32 Humphrey Willis to Simon Willis, 25 May 1600 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1600, p. 201); Docwra to privy council, 24 May 1600 (ibid., p. 195).

33 Commissioners to Russell, 23 Jan. 1596 (Cal. Carew MSS, 1589-1600, p. 144).

34 Henley, Pauline, ‘The treason of Sir John Perrot’ in Studies, xxi (1932), pp 404-22Google Scholar; Morgan, Hiram, ‘The fall of Sir John Perrot’ in Guy, J. A. (ed.), The reign of Elizabeth I (Cambridge, 1995), pp 109-25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

35 Examination of Bingham, 26 Feb, 1590[/1] (P.R.O., SP 63/157/24); Bingham to Burghley, 27June 1591 (ibid., SP63/158/57); Fitzwilliam to Burghley, 30 Oct. 1591 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1588-92, p. 432); Canny, Nicholas, Making Ireland British, 1580-1650 (Oxford, 2001), p. 96CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Bingham to commissioners, 1 Nov. 1591 (P.R.O., SP 63/161/1).

36 Ap Parry seems to have been a Welshman settled in Laois. In 1538 he was described as being ‘of Rathangan, gent’ (indictment against Peter Fitzgerald, 13 May 1538 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1509-73, p. 40)). He may not have been the only Welsh interpreter. Owen Wood, the dean of Armagh, sent Sir John Perrot a letter from Brian na Múrtha to Turlough Luineach ‘according to the best interpretation as followeth’ (26 Jan. 1590) (P.R.O., SP 63/150/21).

37 Grey, to VIII, Henry, 26 July 1538 (S.P. Hen. VIII, iii, 5863).Google Scholar

38 MacCarthy, Florence Mac Carthy Reagh, p. 292; Lord Delvin to Burghley, 13 Sept. 1592 (Cal. S.R Ire., 1588-92, p. 577); Lord Delvin to Mountjoy, 26 Apr. 1600 (Cal. S.R Ire., 1600, p. 125); Garvey to Burghley, 2 Mar. 1590 (P.R.O., SP 63/157/28); ‘A journey made by the earl of Sussex’, 25 July 1558 (Cal. Carew MSS, 1515-74, p. 274).

39 ‘Sheane McCongawney’s Relation’, Sept. 1593 (Cal. Carew MSS, 1589-1600, p. 76).

40 Brigid, countess of Tyrconnell, to Chichester, Oct. 1607 (Cal. S.R Ire., 1606-8, pp 296-7); Hainle, Cathal Ó, ‘Flattery rejected: two seventeenth-century Irish poems’ in Hermathena, cxxxviii (1985), pp 527.Google Scholar

41 Sir William Darcy to the English council, 24 June 1515 (Cal. Carew MSS, 1515-74, p. 7); Surrey to Henry VIII, 23 July 1528 (ibid., p. 9).

42 Beare, Philip O’Sullivan, Ireland under Elizabeth, trans. Byrne, M. J. (Dublin, 1903), p. 34Google Scholar; Crofton, H. T., Crofton memoir (York, 1911), p. 46Google Scholar; report of the commissioners for Connacht, 14 May 1589 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1588-92, p. 177); Fitzwilliam to privy council, 10 Sept. 1590 (ibid., p. 362); Fitzwilliam to Burghley, 14 May 1591 (ibid., p. 394).

43 ‘Information against Neale Garve’, 25 Apr. 1602 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1601-3, pp 374, 376); Fenton to Cecil, 27 Nov. 1600 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1600-01, p. 36).

44 Cuív, Brian Ó, ‘The Irish language in the early modern period’ in New hist. Ire., iii, 90.Google Scholar

45 Walsh, Reginald, ‘Irish manners and customs in the sixteenth century’ in Archiv. Mb., v (1916), p. 19Google Scholar; Rawlinson, Richard (ed.), The history of Sir John Perrott (London, 1728), p. 62Google Scholar; Harington to Loftus, 29 May 1599 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1599-1600, p. 59).

46 Bodiclogh’s statement, 14 Mar. 1570 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1509-73, p. 428); Meehan, C. P., The fate and fortunes of Hugh O’Neill and Rory O’Donnell (Dublin, 1887), p. 268Google Scholar; Jones, to Burghley, , 28 Dec. 1597 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1596-7, p. 486).Google Scholar

47 Mountjoy to privy council, 9 June 1600 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1600, p. 229); Russell to privy council, 12 Sept. 1594 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1592-6, p. 269).

48 Examination of John Benyon, 6 May 1588 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1586-8, p. 515); Fitzwilliam’s note of the dividend, 31 May 1589 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1588-92, p. 195). Benyon’s sometime companion, Captain Nicholas Merriman, seems to have played a similar role (see Russell’s journal, 28 June 1597 (Cal. Carew MSS, 1589-1600, p. 232); Merriman to Walsingham, 13 Nov. 1589 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1588-92, p. 261)).

49 Wallop and Gardiner to council, Jan. 1596, 26 Jan. 1596 (Cal. Carew MSS, 1589-1600, pp 134, 139).

50 Ceis, a causeway of hurdles: Duke to Fitzwilliam, 9 Jan. 1588 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1586-8, p. 466); seanbhean, old woman: John Dowdall to Fitzwilliam, 20 Apr. 1594 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1592-6, p. 235).

51 Duke to Fitzwilliam, 7 Oct. 1588 (P.R.O., SP 63/137/10 xii); Duke to Fitzwilliam, 1 May 1594 (P.R.O., SP 63/174/37 viii); Gardiner and St Leger to privy council, 16 Mar 1594 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1592-6, p. 224).

52 In 1574 he offered to send his ‘secret interpreter’ to Turlough Luineach ‘until my coming unto him, which I hope shall do much good’ (articles of Capt. Piers, Nov. 1574 (Cal. Carew MSS, 1515-74, p. 491)).

53 Sidney letters, i, 77, 164, 218; Hogan, ‘Shane O’Neill comes to the court of Elizabeth’, p. 166; Brady (ed.), A viceroy’s vindication?’, p. 76; MacCarthy, B. G., ‘The riddle of Rose O’Toole’ in Pender, (ed.), Féilscríbhinn Torna, p. 175.Google Scholar

54 Philip II to Hugh O’Neill, 22 Jan. 1596 (Cal. Carew MSS, 1589-1600, p. 141); O’Neill and O’Donnell to Philip II, 27 Sept. 1595 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1592-6, p. 406); intelligences from Tyrone, 10 Nov.1601 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1601-3, p. 185).

55 Walsh, M. K., ‘The anonymous Spaniard of the flight of the earls’ in Ir. Sword, iii (1957-8), pp 8890.Google Scholar

56 Fenton to Cecil, 15 Apr. 1597 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1596-7, p. 264); MacCarthy, Florence Mac Carthy Reagh, p. 30.

57 Examination of George Cawill, 24 June 1596 (P.R.O., SP 63/190/42 i; ibid., SP 63/190/47 i); Gardiner to Cecil, 17 Oct. 1598 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1598-9, p. 288); Loftus, Gardiner et al. to privy council, 31 Oct. 1598 (ibid., p. 308).

58 Fitzwilliam to Burghley, 23 June 1590 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1588-92, p. 353); Docwra to Cecil, 2 Nov. 1600 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1600-01, p. 13); paper on the causes of the rebellion, Dec. 1600 (ibid., p. 123).

59 Rich, Barnaby, ‘A looking-glass for Her Majesty’, May 1599 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1599-1600, pp 48, 50).Google Scholar

60 ‘Account of the messages … sent by O’Connor Sligo’, Sept. 1599 (ibid., p. 159); Fenton et al. to Hatton and Burghley, 9 Sept. 1590 (Cal. S.P. dom., 1581-90, p. 688).

61 Bellingham to Hatton 24 Nov. 1548 (P.R.O., SP 61/1/139); Saxey, William, ‘Imperfections in the state of Munster’, 5 Dec. 1598 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1598-9, p. 394)Google Scholar; Walsh, M. K., Hugh O’Neill (Dublin, 1996), p. 41Google Scholar. Zúñiga had previously asked Richard Stanihurst to be his interpreter (see Lennon, Colm, Richard Stanihurst the Dubliner, 1547-1618 (Dublin, 1981), p. 56).Google Scholar

62 Holinshed’s Irish chronicle, ed. Miller & Power, pp 279-80.

63 O’Sullivan Beare, Ire. under Eliz., p. 24; O’Daly, Dominic, The rise, increase and exit of the Geraldines, trans. Meehan, C. P. (Dublin, 1878), pp 96-7.Google Scholar

64 Perrot to Burghley, 17 July 1587 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1586-8, p. 390).

65 Trollop to Burghley, 27 Oct. 1587 (ibid., p. 428); Graves, James, ‘The taking of the earl of Ormond, A.D. 1600’ in R.S.A.I. Jn., vi (1860-61), p. 428.Google Scholar

66 Ranger, Terence, ‘Richard Boyle and the making of an Irish fortune, 1588-1614’ in I.H.S., x, no. 39 (Mar. 1957), p. 273Google Scholar; Hill, George, The flight of the earls (Belfast, 1878), p. 21.Google Scholar

67 ‘Gave him absolution in a whisper’. See Marron, Lawrence, ‘Documents from the State Papers concerning Miler McGrath’ in Archiv. Hib., xxi (1958), p.166Google Scholar; Stow, Annales, p. 764; Carney, James (ed.), ‘Tract on the O’Rourkes’ in Celtica, i (1950), p. 245.Google Scholar

68 ‘Examination of Knowde’, 16 Feb. 1601 (Cat S.P. dom., 1598-160, p. 569); Lee to Blackadell, 24 Dec. 1600 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1600-01, p. 103); Lee to Cecil, 14 Feb. 1601 (ibid., p. 194).

69 Wilson, Robert, The three lords and three ladies of London, ed. Mithai, H. S. D. (New York, 1988), II 1622-3, 1731-2Google Scholar. Wilson is probably punning on scaoilte, ‘loose’, which had the advantage over the more grammatically and lexically apposite adjectival form scaoilteach, ‘loose-tongued’, of rhyming with ‘Fealty’, Shealty’s English opposite.

70 Wotton to [John Donne?],[1599] (Smith, L. P., The life and letters of Sir Henry Wotton (2 vols, Oxford, 1907), i, 308).Google Scholar

71 Facs. nat. MSS Ire., iv, pt 1, p. xxxv.

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