Generosity

Gémad ór Sliab Monaid nos·fodailfed fri hoen uair.

Gémad ór Sliab Monaid nos·fodailfed fri hoen uair.

(although was * gold * Sliabh Monaidh / Hill of Dunadd * he would distribute it * during * one * hour)

If the Hill of Dunadd were made of gold he would distribute it all in an hour.

The wife of Domnall Brecc in "Fled Dúin na nGédh" (FDG p. 56) describes his generosity in those terms. Compare "Dámadh ór in duille donn" in which Fionn's generosity is lauded in similar terms.

Félithir dubén.

Félithir dubén.

(as generous * (as) blackbird)

As generous as a raven.

This simile is quoted in O’Mulconry’s Glossary (§310, Archiv i 248) in the entry for "díbech" (niggardly, stingy), where it is used to support a fanciful etymology of that word:

"Aliter dibech .i. ni in fiach, ar in fiach dia fagba sasad congair a cele cuige, unde dicitur: is felithir duben: non sic in dibech."

= Another explanation: díbech, that is "un-raven", because when he finds food, the raven calls his companion (to come) to him, from which is it said: "he is as generous as a black bird"; not thus the niggardly one.

The idea of the generous raven is also encountered in Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus" (ii.3):

"Some say that ravens foster forlorn children,
The whilst their own birds famish in their nests."

My thanks to Neil McLeod and David Stifter for their assistance.

Buaid lamaig ort, a meic, ocus buaid roinni ocus buaid coscair!

Buaid lamaig ort, a meic, ocus buaid roinni ocus buaid coscair!

(virtue * of dexterity * on you * o * son * and * virtue * of distribution * and * virtue * of triumph)

May you have the gift of dexterity, my lad, and the gift of generosity and the gift of winning.

Patrick's blessing on Áed, son the King of Leinster, in "Acallam na Senórach" (line 4809).

Boí coire féile la Laigniu, Buchat a ainm.

Boí coire féile la Laigniu, Buchat a ainm.

(was * cauldron * of generosity * with * Leinstermen * Buchat * his * name)

The men of Leinster had a cauldron of generosity, and his name was Buchat.

These are the opening words of the tale "Esnada Tige Buchet", edited by David Greene. The centerpiece of any guesthouse (tech n-oíged) or hostel (bruiden) was always one or more cauldrons, a reliable source of comfort and sustenance for all comers. The fires beneath the cauldrons of Buchat's house were never extinguished, according to the tale. Thus it is not surprising that a generous man would be metaphorically called a "coire féile" or a "coire don t-sochaide". The latter expression is found in FDG (p. 58). The text says "is e in senfhocal ó chein mair, .i. in coire don t-sochaide" (it is a proverb in longstanding, 'the cauldron for the multitude'). The application of the proverb here is slightly muddled, but the reference is to Suibne, a man celebrated for his hospitality.

ith ocus blicht

ith ocus blicht
(grain * and * milk)

grain and milk

This pairing is found repeatedly in Early Irish literature, usually in this Middle Irish form, but also in the Old Irish form "ith ocus mlicht". It is a metonym for "food and drink" in general, and a metaphor very similar to the biblical "milk and honey" ("a land flowing with milk and honey" Ex. 3:8). The core "ith ocus blicht" may be expanded with mention of "mess" (mast, wild tree fruit and nuts), "torud" (fruit), or "íasc" (fish). The "Carmun" poem in the Metrical Dindshenchas describes a happy, prosperous Ireland blessed with "ith, blicht, síth, sáma sona / lína lána, lerthola" (grain, milk, peace, happy ease / full nets, ocean-plenty). In the Early Irish worldview, it was primarily the honesty and generosity of the ruler that assured abundant "ith ocus blicht", and conversely his dishonesty or niggardliness that could cause the land to withhold its bounty. An early poem tells how the "aithechthúatha" or "vassal tribes" of Ireland extirpated the ruling tribes, only to find that the earth itself objected to their massacre of the nobility, holding back from them it produce (ZCP xi.57):

Do·rónsat comairli cain
athig Érenn in tan sin,
uair tallad forro as cach mud,
ith blicht mes ocus torud.

The vassals of Ireland
took good counsel then,
since grain, milk, mast and fruit
had been taken from them in every way.

Cách a bfuil acat i tig...

Cách a bfuil acat i tig
etir ith is blicht is mil,
nocha berair lat ar sét
in tan racha d'éc, a fhir.

(all * that * is * at you * in * house /
between * grain * and * milk * and * honey /
not * is carried * with you * on * road /
the * time * you will go * to death * o * man)

Everything you have at home,
all your honey, milk and grain,
you can't take with you on the road
when, my friend, you go to death.

This is the third and final stanza of a poem on generosity edited by Kuno Meyer from MS Laud 615, p. 101, in ACL III.3.

Sladbrad ocus guin duine...

Sladbrad ocus guin duine,
gáir cloc, gáir ceall, gáir ngloine,
saint, feall, fingal co féighe,
báthuidh féli sin uile.

(pillage-robbery * and * killing * of man /
cry * of bells * cry * of churches * cry * of purities /
greed * treachery * kin-slaying * with * eagarness /
drowns * generosity * that * all)

Pillage, robbery, and murder,
the church's curse and excommunication,
greed, treachery, eagar kin-slaying,
generosity wipes all that clean!

This is the third stanza from a poem from the MS Laud 615, known by its first line as "Eineach úaisle ná gach dán". The poem extols "enech" (face, reputation, honor) and "féile" (generosity) as the greatest virtues, and tends to see them as equivalent. A modern proverb from Galway, quoted in "A Miscellany", says "Go dtéidh grian go grinneall, ní rachaidh fial go hifreann." (Until the sun goes to the bottom of the sea, a generous man will not go to hell.)

Dámadh ór in duille donn...

Dámadh ór in duille donn
chuiris di in chaill,
dámad airget in gheal-tonn
ro thidhluicfed Find.

(if were * gold * the * leaf * brown /
that puts * f rom it * the * wood /
if were * silver * the * bright-wave /
would bestow * Finn)

If the brown leaves
that the trees shed were gold,
if the bright waves were silver,
Finn would give it all away.

In "Acallam na Senórach" Saint Patrick asks Caílte, one of the last surviving members of the Fianna, if Finn was a good lord. He replies with this short encomium ("ocus ro ráid Cáilti in formolad bec-so"), which praises above all his dead leader's generosity, and does so in terms of the natural beauty that the poets return to again and again in the Fiannaíocht. Generosity was arguably the greatest virtue a man could have among the Gael. See "Eochair ferta féile", "Cendaig in mes mór", and especially "Sladbrad ocus guin duine" in this collection.

Dlighidh gabha gúal.

Dlighidh gabha gúal.

(deserves * smith * coal)

A smith is entitled to coal.

In Old Irish spelling, this would be "Dligid gobae gúal". Compare "Dligid óc eladain" in this collection. This maxim is found in the first poem in the Bodleain MS Laud 615, which is available on line, and which was the subject of discussion on Old-Irish-L (March/April 2005). Its companion maxim in the same poem is "Dlighidh coire cnáimh " (A cauldron deserves a bone), also in this collection. The specific meaning of this saying is that a blacksmith is (legally?) entitled to not just a fee for his work, but to the raw materials that go into it: iron and coal. The more general import seems to be that anyone who provides a valuable service is entitled to full and generous recompense for his work.

Ní flaith téchtae...

Ní flaith téchtae nád ingella laith ar cach ndomnach.

(not * ruler * legitimate * that not * promises * ale * on * every * Sunday)

A rightful ruler provides beer on Sundays.

This maxim is found in paragraph 41 of the 8th century legal text "Críth Gablach". A good ruler was expected to be a generous host to his people. A failure of hospitality on his part could call his rule into question. In "Cath Maige Tuired", the Túatha Dé turn against Bres, their king, because he did not "grease their knives" (níptar béoluide a scénai) and because however often they visited him, when they left "their breath did not smell of beer" (níptar cormaide a n-análai).

Syndicate content