Proverbial Sayings

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.

co ná rabar dá adaig i n-áeninad

co ná rabar dá adaig i n-áeninad
(so that * not * I might be * two * nights * in * one place)

lest I be two nights in the same place = so that I never stop traveling

In a short anecdote edited by Kuno Meyer as "Mochuta und der Teufel" in ZCP 3.32-3, St. Mochuta says "Ragad isin luing fil oc himtecht a Herinn, co na rabar da hadaig a n-aeninad ac oilithre ar fud in domain moir." (I will get on the ship that is leaving Ireland, so that I'll never be two nights in the same place pilgrimaging throughout the wide world.) It turns out that his shoes have been infested by a demon of travel, whom St. Comgall exorcises. Once evicted from the shoes, the demon admits "ni leicfinn-si do beth da oidche a n-aeninad." (I would not have allowed him to be two nights in one place.) So Mochuta stays put after all. The image of never staying two nights in one place is a common one in Irish literature. A more recent stanza, edited by J. G. O'Keefe in "A Miscellany Presented to Kuno Meyer" (p. 248), begins

Ná hiarr anos 's anuraidh
dá oidhche é ar aontulaigh

Don't seek him now or last year
two nights on the same hilltop

Do·rignis Cú ocus Cethen dím.

Do·rignis Cú ocus Cethen dím.

(you have made * Cú * and * Cethen * of me)

You have destroyed me completely.

This proverbial saying is found in a marginal note (an example of scribal graffitti) in the Book of Leinster (LL 161). The meaning can only be deduced from the scrap of narrative that accompanies it:

Doringnis Cú 7 Cethen dím .i. Cú thanic i tech Cormaic hú Chuind coro marb Cethen in rannairi for lár in taige 7 coro marbad in Cú fo chetóir.

"You have made Cú and Cethen of me. That is, it was Cú who came into the house of Cormac Ua Chuinn and killed Cethen the butler [the meat distributor] in the middle of the house, and the Cú was killed immediately."

Cú and Cethen are identified in Lebor Gabála Érenn as sons of Dian Cecht, the healer of the Túatha Dé. A verse there says that they both died "of terror in Aircheltra":

Atbath Cethen ocus Cú
do úathbás i n-Aircheltrú

Is fada le fer bfurnaide.

Is fada le fer bfurnaide.

(is * long * with * man * of waiting)

Times passes slowly when you're waiting for something.

This proverb, quoted in DIL s.v. "furnaide", is found in the Irish Grammatical Tracts edited by Bergin in Ériu in the form "fada le fer bfurnoidhe". Modern versions vary, the fullest being "Is fada le fear fionraí feitheamh." The word "fionraí" is the modern reflex of the Middle Irish "furnaide", with metathesis of 'rn' to 'nr'.

Is uisce do loch insin.

Is uisce do loch insin.

(is * water * to * lake * that)

That is (like carrying) water to a lake.

Carrying water to a lake, or "coals to Newcastle" as the English saying goes, is a pointless undertaking. The phrase is found at LU 274, in a fragment of "Lebor Bretnach". The entire sentence is "Ferta tra Pátraic do innisin dúibsi, a fhiru Hérend, is usce do loch insin." (To tell you, men of Ireland, the miracles of Patrick, that is water to a lake.)

Ní gnáth orgain cen scéola.

Ní gnáth orgain cen scéola.

(not * usual * massacre * without * survivor)

However harsh the battle, someone usually survives to tell the tale.

In "Scél Tuain meic Cairill" in LU, Tuan says "ar ní gnáth orgain cen scéola do ernam esi do innisin scél dara n-esi; is mesi dano in fer sin" (for it is not usual for there to be battle-slaughter without a survivor to escape to tell the tale afterwards, and I am indeed that man). The word "scéola", which can be translated as "news-bearer" or "survivor", is derived from "scél" (tale, news). The ninth entry for the year 1582 in the Annals of the Four Masters says "gé nách gnáth ár gan élóidhtheach" (although a battle without a fugitive is not usual). Modern formulations given in "A Miscellany" are "Níl cath dá mhéid nach dtigeann duine as," and "Is cruaidh an cath ó nach dtig fear innsidh an sgéil."

Na sluaig na saiget segair.

Na sluaig na saiget segair.

(the * armies * that not * attack * is/are attacked)

Armies that don't attack are attacked.

In other words, "offense is the best defense". This proverbial advice appears as a line of verse in "Bóroma", in "Silva Gadelica" (381.17). For other versions, see DIL S 21.69-72.

Is súail ní is budi ri bocht.

Is súail ní is budi ri bocht.

(is * trifling * thing * that is * grateful * to * poor man)

A poor man is thankful for even small things.

This saying is found in the versified collection "Diambad messe bad rí réil", an LL text. It survives in the modern language as "Is buí le bochd an beagán." A similar modern proverb from Ó Longáin's Collection (published in "A Miscellany") is "Is ait leis na daoine dealbha an bhláthach." (The destitute are happy with buttermilk.)

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