Proverbial Sayings

Is mucc remi·tuit mess.

Is mucc remi·tuit mess.

(is * a pig * that falls before * acorn crop)

He is a pig that dies before the acorns fall.

In other words, "he has died a premature death." In early Ireland pigs were expected to feast and grow fat on mast (fallen nuts of forest trees, mostly hazel nuts and acorns) in early autumn. A pig that does not survive until the mast fall dies before its time. This line comes from the tale "Togail Bruidne Da Derga", where Fer Rogain speaks it of the doomed king, Conaire.

The expression is also found in the Annals of the Four Masters (M1155.6) in regard to the death of Maol Seachlainn, and is reinforced by another similar expression:

As muc rémhi-téth mes, as craobh riana bláth écc ind fhir h-isin. (... and a branch before its blossoming the death of that man).

Ceilid serc ainmi ocus olc.

Ceilid serc ainmi ocus olc.

(hides * love * blemishes * and * ill)

Love conceals blemishes and bad character. Love is blind.

A proverb from the poem "Diambad messe bad rí réil". The Modern Irish version is "Folaíonn grá gráin." A 16th century poem, quoted in "A Miscellany" (p. 22) gives as a proverb "Ní breitheamh comhthrom an grádh" (Love is not an impartial judge).

I n-óenchorp at·tá side.

I n-óenchorp at·tá side.

(in * in body * is * that one)

He's only mortal. (literally, "He's in one body.")

Queen Medb says this of her adversary Cú Chulainn in the Book of the Dun Cow version of the "Táin" (LU 4849). She goes on to say "He can be wounded or even captured."

Milsem cormae cétdeoch.

Milsem cormae cétdeoch.

(sweetest * of ale * first-drink)

The first drink of ale is the sweetest.

One of the many maxims in "Tecosca Cormaic". A slightly less terse version is found in the Book of Leinster (345d58): "Milsem cacha corma a cét-deog." = The sweetest of every ale is its first drink.

Is banna ría frais ón.

Is banna ría frais ón.

(is * a drop * before * a shower * that)

That is a drop before a shower.

"That is a sign of things to come," says Medb in "Fled Bricrenn".

Is ithi lochad coa lloss.

Is ithi lochad coa lloss.

(it is * eating * of a mouse * with its * tail-end)

Eating a mouse includes the tail!

In a memorable scene in "Cath Maige Mucrama", the king of Alba serves Lugaid Mac Con (who is incognito) and his men whole raw mice for dinner, and threatens them with death if they do not eat them! One poor man vomits every time he starts to put his mouse in his mouth, which prompts Lugaid, who has already complied, to order his man to get it down, tail and all. By this strategem the king is able to discover which one of the men is Luagaid, since he is necessarily the one who would have the authority to enforce such a revolting mouthful.

Fó cach tan teine.

Fó cach tan teine.

(good * every * time * a fire)

A fire is fine anytime.

A maxim from "Tecosca Cormaic", one of the "speculum principum" texts, full of good advice for rulers. This sentiment is actually put in a woman's mouth and seems to be intended to illustrate what the author perceives to be women's excessive love of comfort. This tangentially calls to mind a modern saying:

Áit a mbíonn toit bíonn teine.
Áit a mbíonn teine bíonn teas.
Áit a mbíonn teas bíonn mná.
Áit a mbíonn mná bíonn geab.

(Where there's smoke there's fire.
Where there's fire there's heat.
Where there's heat there are women.
Where there are women there's gab.)

Ba deól mela a mecnaib ibair.

Ba deól mela a mecnaib ibair.

(was * sucking * of honey * out of * roots * of yew)

It would be like sucking honey from yew roots.

A proverbial expression for the impossible, found in "Aislinge Meic Con Glinne". A slightly different version found in the Book of Ballymote runs "Is do dechraib in domain buain mela ar mecnaib ibair" ("harvesting honey from yew roots is one of the difficult things of the world").

Noco modmar cach n-óenbró.

Noco modmar cach n-óenbró.

(is not * effective * each * one millstone)

A single millstone is useless.

This is one of the proverbial images that Cú Chulainn uses in the LL "Táin" to convey the difficulty of defending Ulster against the invaders entirely on his own, during the period that the other warriors were suffering a magical debility. See also: "Ní lassamain..." and "Cuit in tslóig..." in this collection.

Ailbe uses the same proverb ("Ní nodmar [sic] dina nach aenbro") in "Tochmarc Ailbe" in explaining to Finn, her new husband, why she always has a retort for his words of sage advice. She tells him that she is not answering back just to annoy him or to be contrary, "acht nama as aerlabru duit -si labra t'oenur gin nech do triaaccaillim frit" (but just that it's empty eloquence for you to speak all alone without anyone to answer you back). The image of marriage as a pairing of two millstones is found in "Dia·fagbainn-se bróin úachtair" in this collection.

Ba gat imm gainem.

Ba gat imm gainem.

(was * a withe * around * sand)

It would be like tying sand with a willow shoot.

This is one of a surprisingly large repertory of images of the impossible, pointless or fruitless found in Early Irish literature. A fairly exhaustive list of them can be found in the satirical Middle Irish text "Aislinge Meic Con Glinne". Others in this collection include "Ba deól mela...", "Is cuinchid smera...", and "Ba robad do throich." A modern quatrain that O'Rahilly gives as #207 in "Dánfhocail" begins with this image:

Lán gaid do ghaineamh thrágha,
nó beart gaoithe ar ghualainn,
greann dá chur i gcoidreamh
idir bhoidrisg do dhaoine duairce.

Syndicate content