Proverbial Sayings

Ní legand bruith omh einní.

Ní legand bruith omh einní.

(not * melts * cooking * raw * anything)

Half-cooking softens nothing.

In other words, half measures are useless.

The saying is quoted in Ériu iv 226 § 55, where it appears in a long poem edited by Eleanor Knott entitled "Address to David O'Keefe".

Do·tét torcc mór do orcann…

Do·tét torcc mór do orcann is do áibill fhásas breo.

(comes * boar * big * from * piglet * and * from * spark * grows * flame)

A great boar comes from a piglet and and from a spark a flame grows.

This saying is found in the Leabhar Breac in "The Shorter Version of the Tripartite Life" (28a19). I've normalized the spelling "dotoet" to "do·tét".

Ní bheantar a hainm don bhairíghin.

Ní bheantar a hainm don bhairíghin.

(not * is taken * its * name * from the * loaf)

One must call a loaf of bread a loaf of bread.

The meaning here is that even a poor loaf of bread is still a loaf of bread. In other words, a spade is a spade and you cannot *not* call a spade a spade.

Aodh Mac Cathmhaoil, also known as Aodh Mac Aingil, used this proverb in "Scáthán Shacramuinte na hAithridhe" (1618) to argue that for the purposes of confession, a priest is a priest and the nearest one to hand is as good as any other:

"Ní bheantar a hainm don bhairíghin. As lór ceann 7 cosa do bheith ar an sagart 7 lámh do chur ós ceann na muinnteire si dochum a rádha go ndérnadar a bhfaoisidin 's go bhfuil eagla Dé 7 grádh a ccreidimh aca."

A modern version of the saying in the imperative makes it an exact equivalent to "Call a spade a spade":

Ná baintear an t-ainm den bhairín.

Cond bó búachaill i mbánsoilsi.

Cond bó búachaill i mbánsoilsi.

(sense * of cow * cowherd * in * white-light)

A herdsman is the good sense of a cow in daylight.

The saying appears in Corpus Iuris Hibernici 72.10-11 where it reinforces the requirement that cattle be under control at all times:

“Ar ata i ndlige (l. i ndligiud) na Feine buachaill oc cach cethrai fri de. Is de ata ‘cond bo buachaill i mbansoillsi’.”

Ní túalaing mór nad·fhulaing in mbec.

Ní túalaing mór nad·fhulaing in mbec.

(not * capable of * great(ness) * who does not endure * the * small)

He who cannot bear the small is not capable of the great.

This saying, in a slightly more wordy version, is found in "Beochobra Con Culaind" (LL fol. 120a), the story that tells how Cú Chulainn died. It was taboo for him to pass a cooking fire without tasting the food, and it was equally taboo for him to eat dog flesh. He sees three old women cooking a dog over a fire. He tries to get past them, but they call out to him. When he refuses to share their food, one of them says that if it were a big barbecue he'd join them, but it's not, so he won't. She then says "Ní túalaing mór nad·fhulaing nó nad·geib in mbec." = He who cannot put up with or accept the small is not up to greatness. Shamed by that taunt, Cú eats the dog meat and breaks the fatal taboo.

Ná séit oíbell cen atúd.

Ná séit oíbell cen atúd.

(not * blow * ember * without * (power of) kindling)

Do not blow on an ember that has no fire in it.

This is a more pleasant equivalent of "Don't flog a dead horse." The proverb is preserved in "Iomarbhágh na bhFileadh" (The Contention of the Bards) as "Ná séid aoibhil gan fhadúdh," and is quoted in DIL s.v. "atúd" and "séitid".

Íarus fis, túathus cath, airthius bláth, teissius séis.

Íarus fis, túathus cath, airthius bláth, teissius séis.

(in the west * knowledge * in the north * battle * in the east * blossom * in the south * melody)

Knowledge in the west, battle in the north, prosperity in the east, music in the south.

This proverb, found in "Suidigud Tellaich Temra" in Ériu 4, assigns characteristic traits to the four provinces of Ireland. The first two parts are also found in Sanas Cormaic (#789), which is dated to around 900 A.D. A fifth and final line is "fortius flaith", which R. I. Best took to mean "kingship in the centre". It may be worth noting that the enumeration begins with the west, the direction of the setting sun and thus of night. The Celts are reputed to have begun their reckoning of a day at sundown and of a year at the beginning of the dark days of winter. The naming of the provinces in the proverb then proceeds in a sunwise (clockwise) fashion, which is traditionally the auspicious direction.

Mairg téid a tacaib in chraind.

Mairg téid a tacaib in chraind.

(woe betide * (who) goes * from * rungs * of the * pole)

Woe to the one who slips from the rungs of the ladder.

The reference here is to the "ladder" leading to heaven. In English we sometimes use the image of falling off "the straight and narrow" to convey the same idea. The saying is collected in ACL and quoted in DIL s.v. "taca".

Ní mochen nech nos·fothraic nád·ib dig.

Ní mochen nech nos·fothraic nád·ib dig.

(not * lucky * person * that bathes himself * that not drinks * drink)

Not lucky the man who takes a bath without taking a drink.

This bit of marginalia is found at the bottom of page 94 in the Leabhar Breac. I have edited it slightly from the original spelling, which is "ni mochin nech nosfothraic na tib dig".

Compare this sentiment to the triad, also found in this collection: "Trí fuiric thige degduini: cuirm, fothrucud, teine mór." (Three hospitalities of a good man's house: ale, a bath, a big fire.)

Droch do drochaib, dag do dagaib.

Droch do drochaib, dag do dagaib.

(bad * to * bad ones * good * to * good ones)

Bad to the bad, and good to the good.

This saying is recorded in Sanas Cormaic (# 483), and seems to express a basic sense, or hope, of just outcomes in the world.

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