Proverbial Sayings

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.)

Oscar cách i ceird araili.

Oscar cách i ceird araili.

(ignorant * everyone * in * craft * of another)

Everyone is ignorant in another's craft.

In other words, knowing how to write a legal contract doesn't qualify you to repair brakes or set a broken bone. If you want it done right, leave it to a qualified professional. This proverb is quoted repeatedly in the Laws, in "Bretha Nemed Toísech" (CIH 2215.13, 2221.21) and at CIH 1147.1, and is quoted in O'Davoren's Glossary, where "oscar" is glossed as "aineolach". "Ainb" (ignorant) is used in place of "oscar" at CIH 2221.20. A line in "Immacallam in Dá Thúarad" dovetails quite neatly with this advice. When the poet Néide expounds his vision of the perfect society of the future, he says it will be fruitful, peaceful, and well-ordered. One of the characteristics of this perfect world is that everyone sticks to his own trade: "cách dia cheird", literally "everyone to his craft".

Cía báidit cenna ní báidit mbruighe.

Cía báidit cenna ní báidit mbruighe.

(although * expire * heads * not * expire * lands)

Although leaders vanish, lands do not.

This proverb, although preserved in the Laws (and quoted in DIL at B 14.24-5), suggests a general application outside a legal context, similar perhaps to Ecclesiastes 1:4: "One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever." See also "In bith-sa is bith cáich ar uair" in this collection.

Ní·fognai lám láim.

Ní·fognai lám láim.

(not serves * hand * hand)

A hand does not serve a hand.
There is no subservience between equals.

This proverb is preserved in the Laws and quoted in DIL at F 237.31-2.

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