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A History of the Translation Section

Cliceáil anseo don leagan Gaeilge

The First Day

When the members of the First Dáil met in the Mansion House in Dublin on the 21st of January, 1919, all of the day's business was carried out through the medium of the Irish language. It was Deputy George Plunkett, from Roscommon, who proposed the motion on that historical day, in the following words: "Molaimse don Dáil Cathal Brugha, an Teachta ó Dhéisibh Phortláirge do bheith mar Cheann Comhairle againn indiu." (I propose to the Dáil that Cathal Brugha, the deputy from County Waterford, be our Ceann Comhairle (Speaker) today). Deputy Brugha took the chair and commented briefly on the work that awaited the Dáil: "...an obair is tábhachtaighe do rinneadh in Éirinn ón lá tháinic na Gaedhil go hÉirinn..." (... the most important task to be carried out in Ireland since the Gaeil arrived in Ireland ...). Afterwards, the Ceann Comhairle moved that four clerks be appointed for the day - Risteárd Ó Foghlú, Diarmaid Ó hÉigeartaigh, Seán Ó Núnáin and Pádraig Ó Síocháin. The translation service grew out of this small group.

On the 22nd of January, 1919, the day following the declaration of the Irish Republic,1 the Dáil met in private session and appointed Cathal Brugha as Prime Minister pro tem and Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh as Ceann Comhairle. Also, the staff who were to be charged with processing parliamentary documents and keeping the official record of the proceedings of the Dáil, in Irish and in English, was established on a permanent basis.

Another public session was held in the Mansion House in Dublin on the 10th of April, 1919. Acting as secretaries that day were Diarmaid Ó hÉigeartaigh, Pádraig Ó Síocháin, Seán Ó Núnáin and Seán Ó Muirthile (taking over from Risteárd Ó Foghlú). In private session on the 22nd of August, 1921, the Minister for the Irish Language said that it was becoming very difficult to find people with the necessary skills. Diarmaid Ó hÉigeartaigh, the Clerk of the Dáil, and Mícheál Ó Loingsigh, the Official Translator, were receiving a salary of £250 per annum.

The Translation Service

The translation service in the Dáil began with the appointment of Mícheál Ó Loingsigh in the year 1919. When Saorstát Éireann (the Irish Free State), was set up three years later, the official translation service of the Oireachtas was established under the standing orders of Dáil Éireann. It was stated that the Clerk of the Dáil would be charged with providing an official English translation of all laws enacted in Irish and an official Irish translation of all laws enacted in English.

During his time with the Oireachtas, Mícheál Ó Loingsigh was employed as 'translator on the secretarial staff of the Dáil'. In practice, the service came under the direction of Colm Ó Murchadha, the Clerk of the Dáil. On Mícheál's death in 1942, Liam Ó Rinn took over. However, Liam Ó Rinn died in 1943 and Tomás Page was then appointed Chief Translator. Page was the first person to be officially recognised with the title of 'Chief Translator'. The following individuals have held the position of Chief Translator since Tomás Page's retirement in 1955: Séamas Daltún (1955-1973); Seán Ó Cathasaigh (1973-1974); Dr. Seán Ó Lúing (1974-1982); Eighneachán Ó Laighin (1982-1984); Breandán Mac Cnáimhsí (1984-1986); Micheál Ó Cuinneagáin (1986-1996); Seán Ó Curraoin (1996-1999); Treasa Ní Bhrua (1999-2000); Gearóid Ó Casaide (2000-2008) and Vivian Uíbh Eachach (2008- the present day).

Printface and Spelling

There was always an awareness among those involved in the Oireachtas translation service of the need to develop a system of orthography and a typeface that would promote and facilitate the use of Irish as a modern European language. For instance, the Irish version of the new state's Acts were printed in roman type from the beginning, despite the fact that the gaelic type was in common use. Moreover, the staff of the translation service simplified the spelling used in Dineen's Dictionary (1904 and 1927). Great advances were made in this respect and, in the year 1931, a memorandum entitled Spelling of Irish in Official Documents was issued, setting out the approach employed by the Translation Section and advising that Translation Section usage be generalised throughout the civil service. Liam Mac Cionnaith, who was compiling an English-Irish dictionary, was also directed to use a roman typeface for the work. However, things took an unexpected turn when a newly-elected government immediately reversed that direction. As a result, Mac Cionnaith's dictionary was published using a gaelic typeface in 1935, as was the Constitution of Ireland in 1937.

The Constitution

The first Act passed by Dáil Éireann was the Constitution of the Irish Free State (Saorstát Éireann) Act, 1922. A committee was established to translate the Constitution from English. Sitting on the committee were Eoin Mac Néill (Minister for Education), Pádraig Ó Máille (Leas-Cheann Comhairle), Piaras Béaslaí, Professor Osborne Ó hAimhirgin, Professor T. Ó Raithille, Liam Ó Rinn (Translation Section) agus Colm Ó Murchadha (Clerk of the Dáil). Although there were a number of dictionaries available at the time, the committee had to devise a large number of new technical terms that were not available in any dictionary. Quite a number of terms that are still in use in Acts of the Oireachtas were first seen in the Constitution of the Irish Free State.

With regard to the current Constitution that was approved by the people in the year 1937, Mícheál Ó Gríofa, a writer and native Irish speaker from County Clare, was charged with providing the Irish language version. Liam Ó Rinn and Tomás Page were asked to review the text before it went to the printers, however. At the same time, a document entitled Tuarascbháil choiste litrighthe na Gaedhilge sa Dréacht-Bhunreacht (Saorstát Éireann, 1937) [Report of the committee on Irish spelling in the Draft Constitution] was submitted to the Government. Not all of the changes were accepted, resulting in a mixture of old and new spelling in the Constitution. It appears that an Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera, regretted that decision. In 1941, he said that the wiser course would have been "to follow the spelling of the translation department". The Translation Section has, of course, provided the Irish version of every Bill drafted since then to amend the Constitution.

In 1945, it was decided to further progress the standardisation process, and Taoiseach de Valera asked the Translation Section to review the spelling system of the Irish language and draw up proposals for a simplified system for use as a standard. That standard was devised as a guide for the civil service when writing Irish, but it was decided to make it available to the public. This led to the publication of a booklet in July 1945: Litriú na Gaeilge: lámhleabhar an chaighdeáin oifigiúil (The spelling of Irish: the official standard handbook). This manual was of great assistance to people writing schoolbooks and to those involved in Irish language journalism. That same year, a version of the Constitution using the simplified spelling system was published. This first 'popular edition' of the Constitution was based on the work done by the Translation Section in simplifying the spelling.

Legal terminology

The Irish Legal Terms Act was passed in 1945. Under that Act, 'the Irish Legal Terms Advisory Committee' was established to approve legal terminology in Irish. Under the Act, the representative of the Translation Section is joint secretary to the committee. Arising out of the committee's work, ten Legal Terms Orders were made between 1947 and 1956. They were published together as a dictionary, entitled 'Téarmaí Dlí' (Legal Terms) in the year 1959.


In 1957, the Translation Section was recognised as the authority on grammatical and orthographical matters when the Taoiseach asked the Chief Translator to prepare a manual for publication 'as a standard for all official purposes and as a guideline for teachers and for the general public'. That project led to the publication of the Official Standard, (An Caighdeán Oifigiúil) 'Gramadach na Gaeilge agus Litriú na Gaeilge'. Material from Litriú na Gaeilge: lámhleabhar an chaighdeáin oifigiúil, which had gone out of print, was incorporated into this manual.

1 seamus dalton

An Caighdeán Oifigiúil - the Official Standard

Séamas Daltún, Chief Translator, on the day the
Official Standard was published in the year 1958.

There was great demand for the new grammar - 1,200 copies were sold on the first day, the 12th of September, 1958, and it is still in demand. An Caighdeán oifigiúil has been reprinted in the years 1960, 1962, 1968, 1975, 1979, 1994, 1995, 1998 and 2004.

European Union Treaties

When the treaties of accession to the European Community were being translated in 1972, a team of translators from the Translation Section went to Brussels to carry out the translation. Since then, the Translation Section has been the State's translation authority on Ireland's treaties with the European Union. With the granting of recognition to the Irish language as an official working language of the European Union, the Translation Section's expertise and resources have been made available to those involved in translation in the institutions of the Union.

1 2

Rannóg an Aistriúcháin staff in Brussels with the Taoiseach, Jack Lynch TD, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Patrick Hillery TD, January 1972.

Rannóg an Aistriúcháin staff working on the Treaties Establishing the European Communities, January 1972: Micheál Ó Cuinneagáin, Eighneachán Ó Laighin, Séamas Daltún (Chief Translator), Breandán Mac Cnáimhsí and Seán Ó Sé.


In the year 1972, a simultaneous translation (or interpretation) service was made available during sittings of the Dáil. At first, this service was provided inside the Dáil chamber, but since 1991 it has been provided from an external studio using a visual and audio link to the Chamber. Since that same year, 1991, the service has also been provided for sittings of the Seanad.

Electronic resources

At the beginning of this century, an electronic translation support was developed for the Translation Section. In the year 2002, Official Translations of Acts of the Oireachtas began to be made available in electronic format, and in 2003 they were brought together in a single database with the enacted versions. That database is now available to the general public at www.achtanna.ie and also on the website of the Houses of the Oireachtas at www.oireachtas.ie. At the same time, the new database was used to develop a Translation Aid (Precedent Locator) for the Translation Section. This translation aid allows speedy access to precedents in the Official Translations.

In mid-2006, Section 7 of the Official Languages Act 2003 came into operation. That section prescribes the State's obligations regarding the translation of legislation:

7. As soon as may be after the enactment of any Act of the Oireachtas, the text thereof shall be printed and published in each of the official languages simultaneously.

All legislation that has been translated since that section came into operation is available on the website of the Houses of the Oireachtas.

In the year 2006, www.achtanna.ie and the Translation Section's Translation Aid won two awards in eircom's 'Innovation through Technology' competition. First place was won in the 'Best Project within an Organisation' section, as was the merit award in the 'Best Project - Government to Government'.

1 The 'Faisnéis Neamhspleáchais'was promulgated trilingually. 'Saorstát Éireann' in the Irish language version was translated as 'La République irlandaise' in the 'Déclaration d'indépendance' and 'the Irish Republic' in the 'Declaration of Independence'.