Maxims & Wise Counsel

Ní fhulaing seanshlat a sníomh.

Ní fhulaing seanshlat a sníomh.

(not * endures * old rod * its * twisting)

An old rod cannot be bent.

This is equivalent to the saying "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." It's from the Irish Grammatical Tracts, originally edited in "Ériu" and quoted in DIL s.v. "sním".

Is rechtaid cách for a déis fodeisin.

Is rechtaid cách for a déis fodeisin.

(is * law-giver * everyone * over * his * domain * own)

Every man is master in his own domain.

A maxim quoted in Laws i 230.7, 18, and in DIL s.v. "rechtaid".

Robudh aíbhnes gan eocha dam-sa sin...

Robudh aíbhnes gan eocha dam-sa sin,
7 robudh chuirm gan chorna,
7 robudh chonách gan cheól,
7 robudh thigernas gan taithighe ,
7 robudh iasacht gan indlacad dam-sa.

(would be * festivity * without * horses * for me * that /
& would be * feast * without * drinking horns /
& would be * wealth * without * music /
& would be * lordship * without * visiting /
& would be * loan * without * repayment * for me)

That would be like a festival without horses for me,
and a feast without drinking horns,
and having wealth without music,
and being a lord without receiving guests,
and a loan without its return.

In the tale "Cath Maighe Léna", Conn offers Eógan Mór the greater part of Ireland in order to avoid a costly battle. Conn withholds Temair, however. Eógan refuses the offer, which he considers incomplete, in these metaphorical terms.

Ní- curu díanu -dénae...

Ní- curu díanu -dénae
Arnachat-roírea íar-caíned.

(not - contracts * swift - you should make/
so that it may not bring you * after-weeping)

You should not make hasty contracts
Lest it should cause you later lamentation.

These lines of verse, warning you to look before you leap, are found in §28 of "Di Astud Chor". The translation is by Neil McLeod. See also "Ar in bith án astaither" in this collection for the centrality of contracts in early Irish society.

Ar in bith án astaither...

Ar in bith án astaither
A coraib bél bertaigter.

(for * the * world * splendid * is established /
from * contracts * of lips * that are proclaimed)

For the great world is secured
By contracts which are proclaimed.

These two lines of verse are from §36 of "Di Astud Chor". The translation is by Neil McLeod. In traditional Irish law, contracts -- formal agreements between individuals -- were the bedrock on which an ordered society was established. The "social contract" that allowed men to live together without destructive conflict in early Ireland was literally a network of deliberate civil contracts that individuals entered into in public rituals.

Is dénti áil d'éicin.

Is dénti áil d'éicin.

(is * to be made * wish * of necessity)

Make a virtue of necessity.

This maxim is almost certainly borrowed from St. Jerome's "Facis de necessitate virtutem." Our version is found in "In Cath Catharda" (lines 2702-05 of the text in "Irische Texte" 4, pt. 2), which is the Irish retelling of Lucan's "Pharsalia", where it is called a "senbriathar" or old saying:

"Dano is [s]enbriathar la cach 'is denta ail d'egin'. Is eigin daibsi bas d'fagbail amarach gen cob ail daib, air ni fil conair teichidh nó asrus eloda agaib."

The related expression "Rinne sé áil den éigean" is found in Modern Irish.

Is báeth nech conid- fri robaíth -ruici.

Is báeth nech conid- fri robaíth -ruici.

(is * irresponsible * anyone * who- with * greatly irresponsible one -meets)

Anyone is irresponsible who has dealings with the truly irresponsible.
Anyone is an idiot who consorts with a real idiot.

This maxim from the Laws, quoted in O'Davoren's Glossary, warns that having dealings or any sort, including the romantic sort, with someone who is "báeth" will end in tears. The semantic range of "báeth" includes "wild, reckless, thoughtless, wanton, licentious, irrational, foolish, incompetent".

Ferr teiched tairisem.

Ferr teiched tairisem.

(better * fleeing * (than) remaining)

It's better to flee than to stay.

This three word maxim from "Bríathra Flainn Fína maic Ossu" is fleshed out somewhat in the modern version "Is fearr rith maith ná drochsheasamh." (A good run is better than a bad stand. Discretion is the better part of valor.)

Immgaib ág ocus not·imgéba.

Immgaib ág ocus not·imgéba.

(avoid * battle * and * it will avoid you)

Avoid a fight and it will avoid you.

Given in "Passions and Homilies" as the Irish equivalent of "Devitabis periculum et devitabit te." An almost identical version of the maxim is used as the first line of a poem in FDG (p. 172): "Imgaib ágh 's rod imgéba." Compare both "Is cian ó ghuasacht cech faitech" and "Ná hinguib, ná hindsaig ág" in this collection.

Is cian ó ghuasacht cech faitech.

Is cian ó ghuasacht cech faitech.

(is * far * from * peril * every * cautious one)

A wary man is far from danger.

This saying is found in "Passions and Homilies" (4863). Ó Longáin's Collection in "A Miscellany" has another, more recent version of the same advice: "Bíodh eagla ort is ní baol duit."

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