Irish translation of ‘Dracula’ funded by minister who slashed the old-age pension

A fresh insight into Mr Blythe’s economic stewardship has been highlighted by the discovery of a rare copy of Dracula “as Gaeilge”

Former minister for finance Ernest Blythe who, in a previous era of austerity, cut the old-age pension still found public funds to translate Dracula into Irish, it has emerged.

A fresh insight into Mr Blythe’s economic stewardship has been highlighted by the discovery of a rare copy of Dracula “as Gaeilge”.

Published in 1933, with a translation by Seán Ó Cuirrín, it introduced native Irish speakers to those, hitherto alien, Gothic-horror Transylvanian creatures: vampire (súmaire) and undead/zombie (Neamhmarbh).

Mr Blythe, who was minister for finance during Ireland’s first decade of independence after British rule, notoriously cut the old-age pension by a shilling in 1924 – reducing the weekly payment from 10 to nine shillings.

He justified the cut because of “the very great financial difficulty that this country is in”.

Literature in time of austerity

But despite his reputation for austerity, the minister funded a government unit established to translate important works of literature into Irish.

The total spent is not known but, in just one year – 1929 – the department of finance allocated £6,400 – a huge sum at the time – for the translation into Irish of novels including Dracula by Bram Stoker. Details of the translation project came to light during cataloguing for Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers' rare books auction in Dublin tomorrow where a first-edition copy will go under the hammer.

The book was originally priced at two shillings and 11 pence but the auctioneers expect their copy to sell for about €200.

Despite his commitment to restoring the Irish language, Mr Blythe lost his Dáil seat in the general election of 1932 when his Cumann na nGaedheal Party – the precursor to Fine Gael – was swept from power by the newly established Fianna Fáil.

Mr Blythe was subsequently elected a senator and, in 1935, addressed the Senate on “the question of songs in Irish” and said: “My feeling is that it would be worth consideration whether we should not get somebody to write Irish words to the tune of ‘Get Along, Little Doggie, Get Along’ or ‘The Isle of Capri’.”

Translations continued

The translation project continued to receive funding from his successor in the department of finance – Seán MacEntee.

Other, now collectable, titles published in the 1930s include An Mairnéalach Dubh (The Nigger of the Narcissus) by Joseph Conrad, translated by Seosamh Mac Grianna; Cú na mBaskerville (The Hound of the Baskervilles) by Arthur Conan Doyle, translated by Nioclás Tóibín; and, Scéal Fá Dhá Chathair (A Tale of Two Cities) by Charles Dickens, translated by Seán Mac Maoláin.

The books were published by An Gúm, which was under the remit of the department of education, and sold through Oifig Díolta Foillseacháin Rialtais (the Government Publications Office).

Michael Parsons

Michael Parsons

Michael Parsons is a contributor to The Irish Times writing about fine art and antiques