Proverbial Sayings

Is garit mo lorg latt.

Is garit mo lorg latt.

(is * short * my * club * with you)

My club is short in your opinion.

Fergus is furious at Cú Chulainn for having just killed Etarcomal, a persistent challenger who goaded Cú past his limit, even though Fergus had asked Cú not to harm the arrogant young man. Thomas Kinsella translated this line as "You must think my cudgel is very short." The sense of this proverbial expression is "You must think that you're beyond my authority and can do as you please. We'll just see about that!"

Gablánach in rét in scéluighecht.

Gablánach in rét in scéluighecht.

(branching * the * thing * the * storytelling)

Storytelling is an intricate business.

This proverb is found in "Acallam na Senórach" (3669), where it is attributed to St. Patrick, who remarks "As gablánach in scélaigecht-sin" after hearing a tale in which Manannán's wife falls in love with Aillén, and Aillén's sister falls in love with Manannán. The partnerships get re-arranged accordingly and everyone is happy in the end.

Daimid ána for lindib.

Daimid ána for lindib.

(he endures/allows * cups * on * pools)

He risks silver cups at wells.

The implication is "he puts his authority to the test". "Sanas Cormaic" (No. 48) explains that kings used to test their power to maintain law and order by placing valuable cups, usually made of silver, at wells so that thirsty people could refresh themselves. Needless to say, no theft of cups was clear evidence that the king's law was strong.

In "Acallam na Senórach", a much later text, Caílte tells Coscrach na Cét about a stone with a hollow in it that contained, during the reigns of Conn and Art and Cormac and Cairbre Lifechair, an arm-band made of 160 ounces of red gold. "Do bói d' fhebus rígi na ríg na lamad nech a breith leis," explained Caílte. ("So excellent was the reign of the kings that no one dared steal it.")

Ba gleith ech nDedad.

Ba gleith ech nDedad.

(was * grazing * of horses * of Ded)

It was the grazing of Ded's horses.

That is, the place was picked clean, with nothing left behind. In the tale "Airec Menman Uraird Maic Coise" the leading character, a poet, uses three metaphorical images to express how completely the enemies of Máel Milscothach pillaged and despoiled his house and lands. He explains this one by telling us that when the horses of Ded grazed at Temair Luachra they ate not just the grass but the earth and gravel beneath it. I haven't been able to locate the tale in which that particular grazing took place, but that sort of voracious grazing is attributed also to Cú Chulainn's horses in the LU Táin, and to three destructive red deer in "Acallam na Senórach".

The second image that the poet Urard mac Coise deploys is similar in style: "Ba tenga bó Goibnenn" (It was the tongue of Gobniu's cow). This cow was apparently the same sort of voracious eater as the animals mentined above.

The third vivid image does not require a mythological explanation to be understood: "Ba diglaim dergtheined" (It was a gleaning of red fire).

Is deibedach in raet in Gaeidel.

Is deibedach in raet in Gaeidel.

(is * hasty * the * thing * the * Irishman)

The Irish are impetuous.

The proverb is quoted in "Acallam na Senórach" (line 4480), where it is put into the mouth of Caílte. A crowd is urging him to turn over a boulder so that the can see a marvel on the underside of it, and he says "Léicid-si cairde dam-sa" (Give me a little time), and then comments on their impatience with this proverb.

Saethar ecnada 'na gin...

Saethar ecnada 'na gin, saethar buirb 'na láim.

(labor * of scholar * in his * mouth * labor * of * ignorant one * in his * hand)

The educated man works with his mouth, the unschooled works with his hand.

This proverb is quoted in the "Archiv für celtische Lexicographie" and in DIL s.v. "ecnaid".

Muiredach cecha mennata.

Muiredach cecha mennata.

(master * of every * locality)

A lord over every locality.

It is a sign of lawless times when every little locality has its own independent ruler (as is currently the case in Somalia, for example). This expression is found in a poem by Beg mac Dé (edited by Meyer in ZCP 9, 169) which catalogues the sorry state of law and order in Ireland. A manuscript gloss clarifies the meaning as follows: ".i. tigerna for cech feronn .i. ni tibri nech tigernus diaraili" (i.e. a lord over each territory, i.e. no one will give (over)lordship to another).

The expression gets a positive spin in "Erchoitmed Ingine Gulidi", where it appears in the form "Is muiredaig caich a menduta" (All are masters of their (own) locality). The implication here is "Every man's home is his castle."

Fírinde inár croidhedhaibh...

Fírinde inár croidhedhaibh & nertt inár lámhaibh, & comall inár tengthaibh.

(truth * in our * hearts * & * strength * in our * hands / arms * & * fulfilment-of-promise * in our * tongues)

The truth in our hearts, the strength in our arms, and the truth in our tongues.

In the beginning pages of "Acallam na Senórach" Saint Patrick asks Caílte what kept Fionn Mac Cumhaill's warrior band going all those years. ("Cia ro choimét sibh-si mar sin in bar m-beathaidh?") The above is Caílte's reply. A well-know adaptation of this into Modern Irish is "Glaine ár gcroí, agus neart ár ngéag, agus beart de réir ár mbriathair".

I cenn cach baíth a báegul.

I cenn cach baíth a báegul.

(confronting * every * rash man * his * hazard)

Every reckless man faces his own danger.

Said reprovingly to Congal by Cúanna, who calls it an old proverb, in "Cath Muighe Rath" (FDG, p. 286). I have normalized the spelling.

Ba cáera for gaimen.

Ba cáera for gaimen.

(would be * berries * on * hide)

That would be like (a few) berries on the table.

The image here is of a meager offering, and by extension, of a pointless effort. A "gaimen" or "seiche" (skin or hide) was formerly used to serve food on, and berries didn't count as lavish hospitality! This proverb is found in "Aislinge Meic Con Glinne", in a long run of similar images of actions that are fruitless, bootless, or pointless. The even more meager "cáer ar geimiun" (a berry on a hide) is Congal's opinion of his enemies in "Cath Muighe Rath" (FCG, p. 124). A similar image, but more of a wasted rather than a meager effort, is "ba h-ass for sechid" (that would be like serving milk on a skin) is also found in the run in AMCG. Compare "Ba gat imm gainem" in this collection.

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