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Sabatini and The Irish Language

by Michael Cummins

Given the huge popularity of Rafael Sabatini's writings in the 1920s and beyond, it is unsurprising that his works were translated into a variety of languages. That his work crossed linguistic boundaries was especially significant given that he himself began his working life as a commercial translator and would go on to be a translator of books into English. Indeed it was his working on a translation of a history of the Comédie Française that inspired him to write one of his greatest works, Scarmouche.

One can reasonably speculate that the number of film adaptations of Sabatini's work also helped bring him to the attention of a wider, non-English speaking audience. While the market for Sabatini in the French, Italian, and Spanish markets seems obvious, it is curious to note that some of his works were also translated into languages with much smaller population bases. One of these was Irish.

While Irish as a living langauge had been in steady decline through the 19th Century, it received some boost in the first decades of the 20th century as a part of a national revival movement. Once the new Irish state was formed in 1921 the language regained its official status and various government departments were involved in supporting and encouraging its revival. One of these departments was the Oifig Díolta Foillseacháin Rialtais (Government Publication Office) which set about translating popular, contemporary works into Irish. It was through this means that two of Sabatini's most popular works came to be translated into Irish. The first, Scaramouche, appeared as Scaramúis in 1936, translated by Padraig O Suilleabháin and the second, Captain Blood, was published in 1937 translated by Séamus O Grianna as Caiftín Blood. O Grianna himself, seems a highly appropriate choice to have re-told the story of Peter Blood. The translator had been a migrant worker, then a revolutionary imprisoned for two years by the government for whom he later came to work on Captain Blood, and finally a highly respected author in his own right.

Rafael Sabatini Irish language editions:
Scaramúis. Pádraig Ó Suilleabháin translator Baile Átha Cliath : Oifig Díolta Foillseacháin Rialtais, 1936.
Caiftín Blood. Séamus O Grianna Baile Átha Cliath : Oifig Díolta Foillseacháin Rialtais, 1937.

Figure 1. Cover of Scaramúis with illustration by M. A Keane
Figure 2. Sabatini rendered in the old-fashioned Irish script

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Last updated 18 January 2009. Article copyright 2009 by Michael Cummins.Any concerns or problems about this site, please contact Rimfire.