Eoghan O’Tuairisc’s account of the Irish Civil War is extremely relevant

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The motivation behind the publication of I am Lewy by the new Bullaun Press imprint was to bring this unusual book to the wider audience it deserves, said founder Bridget Farrell.

The editor could not have foreseen the outbreak of war in Ukraine, which makes Eoghan O’Tuairisc’s account of the Irish Civil War from a child’s perspective so relevant.

Six-year-old Lewy’s unique take on 1920s Ireland is the first time she has appeared in English and is based on Ó Tuairisc’s 1977 short story An Lomnachtan.

The Lomnachtan (probably from the words nu and nu) was a figure in classical Irish literature, something like that of the strange Bodach as in the story Bodach an Chota Lachna. The character is that of the underdog, if you will.

Indeed, the translation of the poet Micheal O’hAodha perfectly captures the foreignness of the child.

As he struggles to make sense of his family – his father suffers from shell shock and his mother the seamstress works on the dining room table – the child Lewy (the name comes from pean luaidhe, Irish for pencil) refers to itself in the third person.

The opening of this translation is reminiscent of a Bob Dylan lyric, capturing elements of the soothing rhythm’s childlike nature: “Pain in his right hand bent beneath him, dust in his nose, he’s lost in himself, engulfed by the darkness.

Elsewhere, Lewy breaks down and assembles words into their constituent parts as easily as a child works on legos, or chews through the big ideas and divisions of his time with devastating efficiency: “The ticking of the clock; ticking of the clock. Caitilic, Prodestan, Caitilic; Prodestan; an old clock as boring as the past.

The mixture of senses that is so true of childhood – smells are seen and abstractions are touched – so wonderfully captured in the translation: “The car’s soft top clacked overhead, darkness set in under the canvas you could reach out and feel the ripples of darkness, the rain drumming on the roof, on the dozens of large black umbrellas gathered along the wall of the asylum.

Eoghan Ó Tuairisc, who died in 1982, was a major figure in the Irish-speaking intellectual world. He was a bilingual author of poems, plays, novels and reviews.

A member of Aosdana, he broke literary moulds.

The translator himself is a prominent figure in poetic and academic circles with a particular interest in the Irish-speaking minority in the west of Ireland.

A recent arrival on the Irish publishing scene, Bullaun Press has chosen literature in translation as its sole focus.

The name Bullaun comes from an ancient healing stone, repository of magic.

It is the first press in Ireland to focus on translation and will include not only the Irish language but other languages ​​as well.

Founder Bridget Farrell has a professional background in freelance publishing and has studied several languages, including French and Russian. She wants to see the new press become the advocate of translators, especially Irish.

“One of Bullaun’s main missions will be to provide our readers with international literature in contemporary translation, while building a home for Irish translators,” says Ms Farrell.

Bullaun is open to the approaches of translators looking for a place to host a text that fascinates them.

Translators will be commissioned to work on books that have the potential to strike a chord with an Irish audience and beyond. As well as enriching our reading experiences, it is an important gesture of recognition of the cultural heritage of some of the many speakers of different languages ​​living in Ireland, says the new publisher.

In the meantime, we can with Lewy watch “empty time slip away in dull shards” in this wonderful first book.

  • I am Lewy by Eoghan Ó Tuairisc, translated by Micheál ÓhAodha
  • Bullaun press, €12.95


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