Maxims & Wise Counsel

Is doescair cach can etach n-imbe.

Is doescair cach can etach n-imbe.

(is * common * everyone * without * clothing * around-him)

No one is noble in the nude.

In other words, "clothes make the man." This proverb is quoted in item #462 in O'Mulconry's Glossary. See also "Eochair úaisle étach" in this collection.

Ad·fenar fó fíu...

Ad·fenar fó fíu.
Ad·fenar olcc anmoínib.
Ad·fenar maith moínib.

(is repayed * good * (by) worthiness
is repayed * evil * (by) un-treasures
is repayed * goodness * (by) treasures)

Value repays virtue.
Waste repays wickedness.
Gain repays goodness.

This triad of maxims is found in the Laws (Cethairshlicht Athgabálae) at CIH ii 408.13f.

Is bé carnae cluas cáich.

Is bé carnae cluas cáich.

(is * woman * of flesh * hearing/ear * of everyone)

Everyone's hearing is a whore.

This colorful legal maxim warns that hearsay evidence is unreliable. It is found in Berrad Airechta §59 (CIH ii 596.14). Robin Stacey ("Lawyers and Laymen", Cardiff, 1986; p. 220) has translated the immediate text as follows:

"Why is a report that is heard [about an event which occurred] in the absence [of the ... witness] a dead opinion? For everyone's hearing is a whore, so that a report that is heard is invalid, whether the matter concerning which a rumour is heard be true or untrue."

Is bun baisi ai cin toga...

Is bun baisi ai cin toga.
Is gnim for gaineam toga gin asta.
Is uball a nairear fasta gin cuindrech.

(is * base * of foolishness * lawsuit * without * agreement
is * deed * on * sand * agreement * without * binding
is * apple * in * borderland * binding * without * power)

This triad of alliterating lines is found in CIH 1921.41f (= Trinity College MS H 3.17, p 433). Neil McLeod rid the five-line grouping in the MS of two interloping lines, and provided the following translation, which tracks much of the structure of the original:

The pit of stupidity is a claim without an agreement.
A structure on sand is an agreement without a guarantee.
An apple out-of-reach is a guarantee without any power.

This is a more standardized spelling of the same lines:

Is bun baíse áe cen toga.
Is gním for gainem toga cen astud.
Is uball i n-airer astud cen cuindrech.

Nirbat dergnat chuirmthigi...

Nirbat dergnat chuirmthigi
nir·fhácba do chlothaige;
nirbat muichnech i n-úathad
nirbat búaibnech sochaide.

(you should not be * flea * of ale house
you should not leave * your * fame
you should not be * melancholy * in * solitude
you should not be * boastful (one) * of crowd)

You should not be an ale-house flea.
You should not give up your reputation.
You should not mope in solitude.
You should not boast in a crowd.

This quatrain was jotted down by a scribe in the upper margin of folio 124a in the Book of Leinster. The expression "ale-house flea" is found elsewhere and seems to refer to someone who is annoying in a social gathering. In "Bríatharthecosc Con Culainn", which is inserted into "Serglige Con Culainn" in LU, we find "Nibat dergnat colla coirme hi tig rurech" (You should not be a 'drunken flesh flea' in the house of a king). The translation "drunken flesh flea" is suggested in DIL, but the phrase is probably intended simply as a variation on the "dergnat cuirmthigi" found above.

I have normalized the spelling slightly. The original is:

Nirbat dergnat chormthigi
nir fhacba do chlothuide;
nirbat muichnech i n-uathiud
nirbat búafnech sochaide.

Mairg abélaiges do dháinib.

Mairg abélaiges do dháinib.

(woe betide * (he) that flatters * to * people)

Woe to the one who flatters people.

This line was jotted by a scribe in the lower margin of page 12 of An Leabhar Breac, and is quoted in DIL s.v. "aipélaigid". The sentiment may be admirable, but it is completely at odds with the workings of the venerable poetic professional in medieval Ireland.

Is mairg ailter cen ríagail.

Is mairg ailter cen ríagail.

(is * woeful * is reared * without * rule)

Woe to him who is raised without rules.

This maxim is found in ACL and is quoted in DIL s.v. "ailid".

Dia dá mhaoin is mairg do·ní.

Dia dá mhaoin is mairg do·ní.

(god * of his * wealth * is * woeful * makes)

Woe to him who makes a god of his wealth.

This is the first line of the second stanza of the poem "Do·ní duine dia dá mhaoin" by Donnchadh Mór Ó Dálaigh (1175 - 1244).

Is ó mhnáib do·gabar rath nó amhrath.

Is ó mhnáib do·gabar rath nó amhrath.

(is * of * women * is taken * good fortune * or * bad fortune)

It is from women that fortune comes, good or bad.

Spoken in the council of the Túatha Dé Danann by Midir Mongbuide, son of the Dagda, in "Acallam na Senórach" (408-09).

Ní·ria clotha ar bíad.

Ní·ria clotha ar bíad.

(not should sell * reputations * for * food)

He should not barter his fame for food.

This maxim, one of a series that begins with "Abbair fris" (Tell him...), is found in Rudolf Thurneysen's edition of "Audacht Morainn" in ZCP 11 (p. 83). A gloss on the maxim says "ar is ferr dín cloth oldás dín bíd" (for the shelter of reputation is better than the shelter of food). See also "Is búaine blad iná seóid" in this collection.

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