However Friel also prepares the audience for the potential deterioration of these schools and their decreasing availability throughout Ireland. Manus, through his conversation with Maire about a job application at a new national school shows the audience the first signs of British influence through education as they were the ones to establish these schools, and he hints at the damage this influence may have on Irish education by noting that “When it opens, this is finished: nobody’s going to pay to go to a hedge-school.”
Being as successful as this hedge school is in educating the likes of Jimmy and Maire, there seems little likelihood that any national school will be as effective or as culturally aware and so as these schools begin to increase in numbers and more students leave the hedge-schools, so will decrease the standard of traditional Irish education.
The opening sequence prepares the audience not only for the deterioration of education, but for the struggle to preserve Irish culture. Jimmy Jack acts as the representation of cultural importance to Baile Beag through his vast knowledge of Classical history and in being “fluent in Latin and Greek but in no way pedantic” the knowledge he has gained of ancient mythology has allowed him to preserve the image of the culture of antiquity, shown in the remark that “for Jimmy the world of the gods and the ancient myths is as real and as immediate as everyday life.”
Reinforcing this is critic Brannigan who notes his “organic connection to the classical word” as crucial to understanding the importance of Irish culture and heritage as a whole as Friel ultimately uses the ancient, mostly dead societies of Rome and Greece here to foreshadow the potential outcome of Gaelic if no attempts to preserve it are made.
If the hedge schools are not continued which is likely as a result of British influence, preserving the essence of Irish culture will become much more difficult as Irish mythology would no longer be taught in a British environment, and thus the audience is presented with the potential for decay within this area of Irish society.
As well as this, all throughout the passage are references to Irish place names such as ‘Poll na gCaorach’ ‘Cnoc na Mona’ and ‘Tor’, which all prove familiar to those in the schoolroom so to suggest a sense of significance within them as it is apparent that the history and stories that stand with them allow Irish people of all ages, from Jimmy to Sarah, to know where they are and the importance of them, such as everyone’s familiarity with ‘Tor’ and its residents.
The British equivalent of some of these names would ultimately lack the sentimentality that comes with them, and so it is suggested that it is this sense of Irish pride that is endangered as the British begin to map certain areas of Ireland. Mazzara argues that “Translations’ is inextricably related to the question of power and, specifically, the power of naming oneself.”
Such a remark links to Britain’s mapping of Ireland and the subsequent masking of its identity in that there is clear backlash from the Irish for changing their place names to the British equivalents. Doalty’s theft of a mapping pole reinforces this as it is likely that he did this as a protest to the labelling. It therefore proves to the audience that that there is unrest amongst the people for this British arrival for not only attempting to restructure the schooling system, but also altering the land.
Following on from this idea of unrest, it is important to note the impact that the silence has on the audience upon the first mention of the Donnelly twins as Doalty states “haven’t seen them. Not about these days.” Being the first transition into a sombre atmosphere in the play, this silence essentially connotes the tension between the guerrilla resistance that the twins embody and the British army in that it is clear from Bridget’s comment that “two of the soldiers’ horses were found last night at the foot of the cliffs” that the Donnellys are capable of committing serious crimes against them.
Additionally Doalty’s abrupt response to Manus asking if they are at home in saying ‘No’ would suggest an underlying fear in him, as he doesn’t wish to pry into any of their affairs and thus chooses to stay away from them so not to get into any trouble. This therefore accentuates the gravity of the conflict between the two sides and makes clear to the audience the potential chaos that may erupt as a result of it. This ultimately turns out to be the disappearance of English soldier Yolland, and the consequent British threat to kill the livestock of Baile Beag.
A discussion of the ‘sweet smell’ of potatoes in this sequence seems to be also used to not only foreshadow the infamous Irish potato famine as such a smell is common to blight, but also as a metaphor to connote the nature of British imperialism in Ireland’s culture. Bridget’s remark that the decay starts with the smell “and then one morning the stalks are all black and limp” seems to parallel the way in which the British started only with making relations with the Irish, but proceeded to colonise and slowly wash away the remnants of their culture.
The audience is therefore able to recognise through this metaphor the degree to which British ignorance may take its toll on Ireland. Additionally Maire and Doalty’s dismissal of Bridget’s suspicions seem to present more futility to the audience for events to come as, much like with the blight, the Irish may not be aware of how of an effect British imperialism will have on them.