Proverbial Sayings

Is cuinchid smera cen smúais.

Is cuinchid smera cen smúais.

(it is * asking for * marrow * without * (red) marrow)

It's like asking for marrow fat without marrow.
(It's like asking for chicken soup without chicken.)

Quoted by Stokes in his edition of "Amra Choluimb Chille" in RC.xx.436.x.

Is dobrán re miníascach...

Is dobrán re miníascach
seobacc re hénaib sléibe,
catt re lochaid, cú re muicc,
ben micc is máthair chéile.

(it is * otter * against * little fish /
hawk * against * birds * of mountain /
cat * against * mouse * dog * against * pig /
wife * of son * and * mother * in-law)

Like an otter with little fishes,
a hawk with mountain birds,
a cat with a mouse, a dog with a pig,
a son's wife and her mother-in-law!

A verse edited by Kuno Meyer in ZCP 6.268.

Máthair etha aig...

Máthair etha aig, athair saille snechta.

(mother * of grain * ice * father * of bacon * snow)

Ice is the mother of grain, snow is the father of bacon.

These lines come from a short passage of weather wisdom in "Tecosca Cormaic", §17. The word translated "bacon" can also mean salted meat in general.

Is gnáth lassar hi tiarmoracht diad.

Is gnáth lassar hi tiarmoracht diad.

(is * usual * flame * in * accompaniment * of smoke)

Where there's smoke there's fire.

This is found in the Milan Glosses (40c1), where it paraphrases "proprium fumi est ut ignem nuntiat secuturum". A modern version of the old saying, which Robert MacAdam collected in East Ulster in the 19th century, runs:

"Cha dual toit gan teine 's cha dual teine gan daoine."
It's unusual to have smoke without fire and it's unusual to have fire without people.

Is fo-chen aged fecheman.

Is fo-chen aged fecheman.

(is * welcome * face * of debtor)

The face of a debtor is welcome.

Said by Conall Cernach in "Brislech Mór Maige Murthemni" to the fleeing Lugaid, whom he has just caught up with. The debt that is owed is blood, for Lugaid has slain Cú Chulainn, and Conall Cernach expects to collect on it at once.

La firu ferdacht...

La firu ferdacht. La mná mifre.

(with * men * manliness / with * women * despondency)

Men are meant to be manly. Women are meant to be sad.

So says Cú Chulainn in "Brislech Mór Maige Murthemni". This sentiment was echoed in the refrain of a nineteenth century poem, "The Three Fishers", by Charles Kingsley:

"For men must work and women must weep,
And the sooner it's over, the sooner to sleep."

Is dorn imm diaid tor mbríathar.

Is dorn imm diaid tor mbríathar.

(is * fist * around * smoke * a multitude * of words)

A multitude of words is a fistful of smoke.

This image of being left empty handed is a venerable proverb.

Ba moch canait a séire.

Ba moch canait a séire.

(was * early * (that) they chant * their * meal)

They have praised their meal before it was served. (They have counted their chickens before they were hatched.)

A proverbial saying found in the Book of Leinster.

Ní eter licc ocus losait rom-alt-sa!

Ní eter licc ocus losait rom-alt-sa!

(not * between * slab * and * kneading trough * has me been reared - emphatic)

I was not raised between the kneading slab and the kneading trough!

Cú Chulainn uses this and other proverbial expressions in "Tochmarc Emere" to assert that he was not brought up as a kitchen serf, but rather in the company of poets and warriors.

Cuit in tslóig...

Cuit in tslóig, is é a shamail,
ní berbthar é ar óengabail.

(ration * of the * army * is * it * its *
simile / not * is cooked * it * on * one fork)

Food for an army, as the saying goes, is not cooked on a single skewer.

This rhyming half-quatrain is part of Cú Chulainn's poetic lament, found in the LL version of the "Táin", on bearing all alone the burden of defending all of Ulster. See also Ní lassamain... and Noco modmar...

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