Maxims & Wise Counsel

Ná h-abair-se bréithir móir...

Ná h-abair-se bréithir móir
ná h-abair nach tibre chóir,
ór is nár a rádh co tenn
muna fedtar a comall.

(not * say [emphatic] * words * great
not * say * which-not * you might give * rightly
for * is * shame * its * saying * with * force
if not * is possible* its * fulfillment)

Don't make grand statements
and don't promise what you can't rightly give,
for it is shameful to boast of things
that you cannot deliver.

This is the sixth stanza in the poem "Fionn's Advice to Mac Lugach" at the beginning of "Acallam na Senórach". See also "Dá trian do mhíne re mnáibh" and "Bid co h-eistechtach cailli" in this collection.

Ferr cach maín mainbthig mifhocal már marta.

Ferr cach maín mainbthig mifhocal már marta.

(Better * (than) * every * treasure * rich * evil word * of death)

A great killing curse is better than any opulent treasure.

At one point in the law tract "Bretha Nemed Dédenach", which was edited by Stephen Gwynn in Ériu xiii under the title "An Old-Irish Tract on the Privileges and Responsibilities of Poets", Athairne, the great mythical satirist par excellence, asks:

"Cía háithemh éo?"
"What is the sharpest of points?"

His immediate answer is "acais dhlighidh", which is glossed as "aor no mallacht" (satire or curse). A bit further along we are treated to the Vodemortian maxim above, which was spelled "Ferr gach maoin mainbthigh miofhocal már marta" in the late medieval manuscript in which it survives. Despite the modernized spelling, the maxim is in classical Old Irish, with the prepositionless dative used to express comparison.

Narop dál co n-attáil.

Narop dál co n-attáil.

(let it not be * agreement * with * re-agreement)

Don't deal and then redeal.

In other words, "deal decisively". The expression is found in the final stanza of the poem "A maccáin na cí".

Ní bhiann gort gan diasach fiadh...

Ní bhiann gort gan diasach fiadh...

(not * is habitually * field * without * ears of grain * wild)

There's never a field of grain without some wild oats.

This is the first line of a quatrain, in the hand of Manus O'Davoren in a 16th century manuscript, reproduced in volume one of O'Grady's catalogue of MSS in the British Museum (now British Library):

Ní bhiann gort gan diasach fiadh.
Ag sin acaibh ciall ma rainn.
Is terc duine dhá mbiann maith
ná biann meth ar chuit dá chlainn.

There is never a field without wild oats.
There you have the sense of my verse.
Rare is the man who has gained wealth
without one child that goes to the worse.

Ferr sobarthan iná imbed.

Ferr sobarthan iná imbed.

(better * prosperity * than * excess)

Better plenty than too much.

One of a number of proverbial sayings published by Kuno Meyer in ZCP vi.260. A proverb used in the 17th century satire "Pairlement Chloinne Tomáis" substitutes "bail" (Old Irish "bal") for "sobarthan":

Is fearr bail ná iomud.

Ardibdaba dochell blátha.

Ardibdaba dochell blátha.

(will cut off * inhospitality * flowers)

Inhospitality will destroy flowers.

This maxim is part of Fercertne's long litany of pessimistic pronouncements about the days to come, found in his final speech in "Immacallam in Dá Thúarad". It concisely encapsulates the old belief that human behavior, a king's actions in particular, could influence the fruitfulness of the earth. A gloss in one MS identifies the "flowers" as "mess 7 torud" (wild produce and cultivated fruit).

Is beó nech tar éis a anma...

Is beó nech tar éis a anma, ocus ní beó d'éis a einigh.

(is * living * one * after * his * soul * and * is not * alive * after * his * honor)

A man lives after losing his life, but he does not live after losing his honor.

Goll mac Morna says this when Fionn asks him whether the Fiann should stand their ground or retreat, in the "Cath na bPunann" episode of "Duanaire Finn". Goll's response is the equivalent of "Death before dishonor!"

In the heroic world of the old tale, a warrior who fell bravely would live on in song and memory, while a warrior who dishonored himself in battle would be shunned and reviled in life. As the young Cú Chulainn said (in this collection) "Acht ropa airdirc-se, maith limm cen co beinn acht óenlá for domun."

Is uilliu a somailse isind aimsir imbi fáilid nech.

Is uilliu a somailse isind aimsir imbi fáilid nech.

(is * greater * their * sweetness * in the * time * in which is * cheerful * one)

Food and drink taste sweeter whenever one is happy.

This psychological observation was made in the Milan Glosses (Ml. 86d11 in the "Thesaurus").

Ná cuindig do chís ...

Ná cuindig do chís
for duine nad·fóel
is ferr úad a lleth
andá a meth mar óen.

(not * seek * your * rent
on * person * that will not bear
is * better * from him * the * half
than * their * failure * as * one)

Seek not to collect tribute
from one who cannot pay;
better to accept half from him
than to lose both man and money.

The word "cís" can mean "tribute, tax, rent" in Early Irish. This bit of advice to a prince, stanza 13 of "Cert cech ríg co réil", seems to fall somewhere between "you can't squeeze blood from a turnip" and "don't kill the goose that lays the golden eggs".

Con·éitet nád fúacair...

Con·éitet nád fúacair,
for·congair nád ergair.

goes along * that not * discloses /
authorizes * who that not * forbids)

He condones who does not denounce,
he commands who does not forbid.

The couplet, found in the religious text "Apgitir Crábaid" (ZCP 3.454), is an early statement of the legal doctrine now known as "agency by estoppel". Neil McLeod explained it to me this way: "Basically, it works like this. Suppose you are in charge of someone, and they purport to make a contract that requires your consent. If you know about the contract but don't raise any objection, then you are stopped (estopped) from denying that you authorized the person to make the contract on your behalf."

In "Apgitir Crábaid" the couplet is given a broader moral application. Here it is pretty much the Irish equivalent of the Latin "Qui tacet consentit" (He who is silent consents), which is a short form of the formula "Qui tacet consentire videtur, ubi loqui debuit ac potuit" (He who is silent, when he should have spoken and was able to, is understood to agree.)

The original, non-normalzed spelling is "Conetet nāt fūacair".

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