A Rebel Act

A Rebel Act

Michael Hartnett's Farewell to English


Pat Walsh
Mercier Press

In June 1974 from the stage of the Peacock Theatre in Dublin, Michael Hartnett announced his intention to stop writing poetry in English. He said he would write exclusively in Irish from then on. Hartnett was one of the leading poets of his generation so it was a curious act of defiance, taking a vow of silence in the language in which he had developed a reputation. He said he was going to concentrate on writing in a language in which he could speak but was not fluent. It was a momentous decision. 'I have made my choice and leave with little weeping, I have come with meagre voice to court the language of my people.' He eventually returned to writing in English, using his knowledge of the Irish language to translate the poetry of Bruadair, Rathaille and Haicéad. Rather than view this reversal as a defeat, it should be seen as a compromise as he could identify with the estrangement from society that those Gaelic poets felt, which mirrored his own alienation from modern Ireland.


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