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Bible, Irish Versions


That Irish scholars busied themselves with Biblical translation from very early times can be deduced from the many Latin manuscripts of Holy Scripture that are glossed with Irish words. Homilies contain many fragments of translation from both the OT and NT, but there is no complete translation of the Bible in Old or Middle Irish.

Protestant. In 1571 Queen Elizabeth I sent a font of type and a press to Dublin for the printing of the Bible in Irish, with the prayerful hope "that God in His mercy would raise up someone to translate the New Testament in Irish." In 1573 the translation was begun, and William O'Donnell, a Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, signed the preface to the complete work in 1602. However, the sheets were not folded for the binder before the Queen died, and a dedication to King James was prefixed to the work. In 1629 William Bedell was consecrated bishop of Kilmore, and at 58 he began to study Irish with a view of producing a complete Irish Bible. He engaged Murtagh O'Conga, an excellent Irish scholar, to help him translate the NT. This Irish Bible was translated from the English version, and there were some misunderstandings of the original at times. Robert Boyle, the physicist, was greatly interested in the Irish Scriptures and paid for the printing in 1685. Fifty copies of the OT were sent to Scotland for the use of the Gaelic-speaking Highlanders, and eventually, by 1767, a translation into Scottish-Gaelic was published, based on the Irish translation. Whitley Stokes, a Trinity College professor of physics and grandfather of the great Celtic scholar of the same name, published a new translation of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles in 1799, and the four Gospels and the Acts in both Irish and English in 1806. In 1817 the British and Foreign Bible Society published the complete Irish Bible.

Catholic. In 1858 Abp. John MacHale of Tuam began a translation of the Vulgate Bible into Irish, but it did not go beyond the Pentateuch, although the title page called for the translation as far as Josue. It was published in 1861 with an English version from the Douay and some notes. Father Peter O'Leary, one of the founders of the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language, published a translation of the Gospels in 1904. The late Msgr. Padraig de Brun, Rector of University College, Galway, published a new translation of the NT from the Greek in 1929.

Bibliography: Bibliography of Irish Philology and of Printed Irish Literature (Dublin 1913) 243244. r. i. best, Bibliography of Irish Philology and Manuscript Literature: 19131941 (Dublin 1942) 204748. t. k. abbott, "On the History of the Irish Bible," Hermathena 17 (1912) 2950. e. r. m. dix, "The First Printing of the N.T. at Dublin," Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, sec.C. no. 6, 29 (1911) 180185; "The N.T. in Erse," Acts of Privy Council of England (sub anno 1587) in Printing in Dublin prior to 1601 (2d ed. Dublin 1932) 32.

[r. t. meyer]

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