Friel kept notes during the process of writing Translations. These are excerpts:
15 May 1979
. . . One thing that keeps eluding me: the wholeness, the integrity of that Gaelic past. Maybe because I don't believe in it.
16 May 1979
I can envisage a few scenes: the hedge-school classroom; the love-scene between lovers who have no common language; the actual task of places being named. Nothing more.
22 May 1979
The thought occurred to me that what I was circling around was a political play and the thought panicked me. But it is a political play--how can that be avoided? If it is not political, what is it? Inaccurate history? Social drama?
23 May 1979
I believe that I am reluctant to even name the characters, maybe because the naming-taming process is what the play is about.
29 May 1979
. . . I am now at the point at which the play must be begun and yet all I know about it is this:
I don't want to write a play about Irish peasants being suppressed by English sappers.
I don't want to write a threnody on the death of the Irish language.
I don't want to write a play about land-surveying.
Indeed I don't want to write a play about naming places.
And yet portions of all of these are relevant. Each is part of the atmosphere in which the real play lurks.
5 November 1979
The play, named Translations, completed. . . .All art is a diary of evolution; markings that seemed true of and for their time; adjustments in stance and disposition; opening to what seemed the persistence of the moment. Map-makings.
source: Murray, Christopher, ed. Brian Friel: Essays, Diaries, Interviews: 1964-1999.