Proverbial Sayings

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.

Tigedhus do bheith gan mnaoi...

Tigedhus do bheith gan mnaoi,
as iomramh luinge gan laoi.

(household * for * being * without * woman /
is * rowing * of boat * without * rudder)

A household to be without a wife
is the rowing of a rudderless boat.

A half stanza from "Buile Shuibhne" (lines 832-3).

Toll taobh ó bheith gan bhráthair.

Toll taobh ó bheith gan bhráthair.

(pierced / broken * side * from * being * without * brother)

A side is broken without a brother. = It is not good to stand alone.

This proverb is found in "Buile Shuibhne", where it stands as the fourth line of the following stanza (lines 822-5):

Baoth comairle gach mic mhir
ag nach mairid a shinnsir,
amail as crom craobh fo chnoibh,
toll taobh ó bheith gan bhráthair.

The well-known modern version is "Is maol gualainn gan bhráthair" (a shoulder is bare without a brother).

Dlighidh coire cnáimh.

Dlighidh coire cnáimh.

(deserves * cauldron * bone)

A cauldron is entitled to a bone.

The first poem in the MS Laud 615 begins with this line, which is clearly a proverbial saying. The wisdom text "Bríathra Flainn Fhína maic Ossu" contains more than forty maxims of the form "dligid X Y", of which "Dligid óc eladain" in this collection is one. The meaning of "a pot is entitled to a bone" is made clear by a Scottish folktale entitled "Sanntraigh", told by Alexander Macdonald of Barra and found in volume two of Campbell's "West Highland Tales". The tale tells about a woman owns a cauldron which a fairy woman borrows every day. When the fairy woman takes the cauldron away, the owner always recites this verse:

Is treasa gobha gual
Gu iarunn fuar a bhruith;
Dleasnas coire cnàimh
Is a thoirt slàn go tigh.

(A smith is stronger for coal
to heat cold iron;
the due of a cauldron is a bone
and bringing it safely home.)

The fairy woman always brought the cauldron back at the end of the day, "agus feoil is cnàmhan ann" (with meat and bones in it). The teaching of this proverb is that when one borrows a pot, one should always return it not just unharmed, but with a little food in it by way of thanks or "rent". In a more general sense, one should always repay any loan with a little extra gift. "Dligid íasacht a idlacud re atarba" (a loan should be returned with increase) says a maxim collected in ACL (iii.234 §1). See also "Dlighidh gabha gúal" in this collection.

Gal chon for otrach sin.

Gal chon for otrach sin.

(battle fury * of dogs * on * dunghill * that)

That's the sound and fury of dogs on a dung heap.

Congal uses this proverbial image of empty valour to belittle the might of the Leinstermen in "Cath Muigi Rath" (p. 124 in FDG). He goes on to describe the forces of Connacht as a boiled cow's udder, and the men of Ossory as a pig's belly hanging between its flanks.

Cuirm lemm, lemlacht la catt.

Cuirm lemm, lemlacht la catt.

(beer * with me * fresh milk * with * cat)

I like beer the way a cat likes milk!

A proverbial phrase found in the laws, and quoted by Fergus Kelly in EIF in the section on cats. Keating gives a stanza in section six of "Foras Feasa ar Éirinn" that is similar, but associates the craving for milk with children, and cats with a liking for meat:

Mil la mnaoi, leamhnacht la mac,
Biadh la fial, carna la cat,
Saor istigh agus faobhar,
Aon la haon is ró-bhaoghal.

The prose preceding this stanza says "An saoilir gurab fhéidir bean agus mil do bheith i gcómhghar d'á chéile, leamhnacht agus leanbh, biadh agus fial, feoil agus cat, arm nó oirnéis agus saor, nó fear agus bean i n-uaigneas, gan cumasg ar a chéile dhóibh?" (Do you think that it's possible for a woman and honey to be together, fresh milk and a child, food and a generous man, meat and a cat, tools and a craftsman, or a lonely man and woman, without them getting together?) Partholón's wife ask this question of her husband, after she has slept with his servant while he was away from home. Her argument is that she is blameless, because it is the husband's responsibility to protect his "property" from harm. In fact, she claims, she is the agrieved party for having been left unguarded!

Cuilén caitt...

Cuilén caitt
nod·n-aile hé comba haitt;
ó ro·gaib míadugad
téit úait fri fíadugad.

(cub * of cat /
that you raise it * him * that it might be * pleasant /
after * it has gotten * honoring /
it goes * from you * to * acting wild)

A kitten
that you raise to be companionable;
after getting the royal treatment,
it leaves you to go off prowling!

A scribe wrote this little rhyme in the bottom margin of page 164 of the Leabhar Breac (viewable on line at the Irish Script on Screen site). I have added long marks and raised dots and further normalized the spelling in a few places.

Is dorn imm ceó.

Is dorn imm ceó.

(is * fist * around * fog)

It is like a fistful of fog.

This proverbial image is found in the poem "Colum Cille and Guaire", in the appendix to "King and Hermit". The full line as edited by Meyer is "na seóid dochí as dorn im ceó" (the wealth you see is a fist around fog); that is, "your wealth is insubstantial, fleeting, unreliable". A similar formulation is found in the Laws and quoted by Kelly in EIF, p. 401: "Is dorn im gae ngréine" = It's a fist around a sunbeam. See also "Ba gat imm gainem" in this collection.

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