Out of Print

‘Look Back to Look Forward’

Frank O'Connor's Complete Translations from the Irish

By: Frank O’Connor

Edited by: Gregory A. Schirmer

Publication Date: 13 April 2023


‘Look Back to Look Forward’: Frank O’Connor’s Complete Translations from the Irish by Frank O’Connor, edited by Gregory A. Schirmer | LIMITED EDITION HARDBACK

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While Frank O’Connor was known primarily as one of Ireland’s finest short-story writers, he was also an accomplished translator. In the long line of Irish writers given to translating poems in Irish into poems written in English – a tradition stretching back at least as far as Jonathan Swift – he stands out above all the rest.

Between the mid-1920s and the mid-1960s, O’Connor published 121 translations that give voice to the full range of this centuries-old tradition. Collected here in full for the first time, O’Connor’s work shows an uncanny aptitude for carrying over into English verse many of the riches to be found in the originals – the ancient voice of the Hag of Beare lamenting her decline into old age; the voices of the early monks describing the Irish landscape, Irish weather, their religious faith, and, in at least one instance, their cat; the voice of Hugh O’Rourke’s wife torn between loyalty to her husband and a rising desire for her seducer. All these voices haunted O’Connor throughout his career, whatever else he was doing. The collection includes the Irish-language sources for all 121 translations along with literal translations, enabling the reader to see what O’Connor started from.

O’Connor’s translations sprang from a compulsive desire to breathe life into Ireland’s past, to ‘look back to look forward,’ as he once put it; for him the Irish-language tradition was not for scholars and archives alone, but formed a living body of work vitally relevant to an Ireland that seemed puzzlingly indifferent to it.

Thanks to O’Connor’s profound love of his country’s language and its rich, literary subsoil – ‘a literature of which no Irishman need feel ashamed’, he once said – these voices from Ireland’s past can still be heard. Strikingly modern in tone, they conjoin flesh and spirit, the sacred and the secular, in a way that speaks to humankind.

Frank O’Connor (1903–66) was an Irish writer of extraordinary versatility and fecundity, best known for his short stories and memoirs. The Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award is named in his honour.

Born and raised in Cork, in 1918 O’Connor joined the First Brigade of the Irish Republican Army and served in combat during the Irish War of Independence. He was befriended by George William Russell (Æ), Yeats, Lennox Robinson, F. R. Higgins and Augusta Gregory, and from 1937 to 1939 became managing director of the Abbey Theatre. In 1950, he accepted invitations to teach at Stanford and Harvard in the United States of America, where his short stories were published to acclaim in The New Yorker.

Gregory A. Schirmer has written books on Austin Clarke and William Trevor, and Out of What Began: A History of Irish Poetry in English (Cornell University Press, 1998). He edited After the Irish: An Anthology of Poetic Translation (Cork University Press, 2009) and is author of The Midnight Court: Eleven Versions of Merriman (Lilliput Press, 2015). He lives in west Cork with his wife, the fiction writer Jane Mullen.

‘Frank O’Connor was the king, the lords and the commons of Irish translators. His passionate love of Irish literature and tradition is captured here in his life-long endeavour to make that tradition available in English. This wonderful collection is a tribute to his skill in transmitting poetry from the earliest period into modernity. It is the best we have.’ Alan Titley, Emeritus Professor of Modern Irish UCC

‘O’Connor’s range in dealing with Irish-language poetry from different periods is astonishing. Moving from the clipped, gnomic lyrics of the early medieval age to the highly formalised compositions of the bardic period to the accentual richness and narrative complexity of the 18th century, O’Connor’s responsiveness to image and his sensitivity to sound are unrivalled … Gregory A. Schirmer provides an authoritative and informative introduction to the translations and is the most companionable of guides to the work of the Cork translator.’ Michael Cronin, Irish Times

‘A truly astounding collection showcasing the unparalleled translation skills of O’Connor and bringing to life the rich literary subsoil found in our native tongue.’ Hodges Figgis

TheCork.ie: Did you know? Famous Cork author Frank O’Connor was also a translator

Magisterial.’ Paul Muldoon


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Weight 0.920 kg
Dimensions 156 × 234 mm
Publication Date

13 April 2023


Hardback, indexed, 416pp.

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