[Hand of J. O'Donovan:]
We are now settled here and prepared to attack the Queen's County, which will not delay as long as Galway.
It vexes me a good deal to find that Sir William Betham has attacked the translation of the poem on Aileach, because it is too outragious a humbug. Is (it) not too bad that a man who does not understand a single sentence of a certain rude language (should) set himself up to criticise the translation which has passed the examination of four persons from the four different provinces of Ireland, in whose native language (it is written) and who have studied its (ancient and modern idioms) since they were children. I mean myself, O'Conor, Curry and Connellan.
I wish that a knowledge of this kind could be directly put to the crucible, that is, that we had some person who could examine
us in Irish as a fellow of Trinity College examines one in Greek. The Irish language is not like Egyptian Hieroglyphics; it is perfectly intelligible, when properly studied, but as it is but little studied there are very few who understand its old idioms. But how in the name of common sense can Sir William Betham be able to translate an old Irish poem? He cannot speak the language; he cannot read it; he does not know its idioms or syntax! What of it does he know? Some words in O'Reilly's Dictionary, (which he occasionally forgets till he turns to the book again), just such a knowledge as I have of the Sanscrit. I abominate barefaced dishonesty, and I think this is carrying it to its ne plus ultra.
I defy Sir William to translate any one poem in the Irish language that has not been translated before, or any one story, legend or anecdote in the Books of Lecan, Ballymote, Lismore, or the Leabhar Breac
[The next page is numbered 253 instead of 243. This mispagination continues to the end of the MS.]
and not only any one story but any one sentence containing a noun, a verb, a preposition and oblique case! If those things could be put to the test like Latin and Greek, pretenders like Sir William Betham would soon disappear from the world of letters, and the history and antiquities of Ireland would be examined like (as) those of any other nations have been already examined. He can say that the two translations differ, but he will find that the text also differs, and all he can infer from that is that we preferred the reading in O'Mulconry's copy in the College to that in the book of Lecan, such as in the passage about the house of the hostages
Ro iadh aen chloch closed one stone Ro iadh ael chloch closed lime stone
But when one prefers one reading to another and alters the translation accordingly, he is not to be set down as a blunderer. It may
be said perhaps that he wants judgment in preferring one reading to another, but it will require (has been done with) some skill to do so on this occasion, for we actually find the primitive houses of the Irish still actually closed at top with one stone, as the Torhees on Inis Gluaire, &c, &c.
I wish we could get fair play.