Maxims & Wise Counsel

Cách a bfuil acat i tig...

Cách a bfuil acat i tig
etir ith is blicht is mil,
nocha berair lat ar sét
in tan racha d'éc, a fhir.

(all * that * is * at you * in * house /
between * grain * and * milk * and * honey /
not * is carried * with you * on * road /
the * time * you will go * to death * o * man)

Everything you have at home,
all your honey, milk and grain,
you can't take with you on the road
when, my friend, you go to death.

This is the third and final stanza of a poem on generosity edited by Kuno Meyer from MS Laud 615, p. 101, in ACL III.3.

Mór in bét!...

Mór in bét!
Immad sliged ocus sét
tar lebaid na sruthi soer,
tar nar chóir acht óen de chét.

(great * the * calamity /
abundance * of ways * and * paths /
across * bed * of the * streams * noble /
across * would not be * right * but * one * of * hundred)

What a pity!
Many are the roads and ways
across the bed of noble rivers,
yet only one in a hundred is right.

A quatrain left in the margin of a page in the Lebor Brecc, edited and translated by Kuno Meyer in ZCP.II.225. See also "Is mór in bét" in this collection.

Ní dlig ferann fer cen treoir...

Ní dlig ferann fer cen treoir,
ní dlig degairm fer cen gliaid,
ní dlig cerchaill cenn co mbeoil,
ní dlig feoil fer cen scíain.

(not * deserves * land * man * without * energy /
not * deserves * good armament * man * without * fight /
not * deserves * pillow * head * with * grease /
not * deserves * meat * man * without * knife)

A man without energy doesn't deserve land,
a man without fight doesn't deserve good weapons,
a greasy head does not deserve a pillow,
a man without a knife doesn't deserve meat.

A quatrain found in the margin of the manuscript Harleian 5280, edited and translated by Meyer in ZCP II.225. I have followed Meyer's suggestion to supply "fer" in the first line, which preserves the syllable count, and have normalized the spelling somewhat. See also maxims beginning "dligid" and "dlighidh" in this collection.

Nochan fhitir mac duine...

Nochan fhitir mac duine
cuich dá ndénann sé cruinne;
in cruinne do fodéin é,
nó in cruinne do neach aile?

(not * knows * son * of man /
whom * to which * makes * he * universe /
is it * universe * for him * self * it /
or * is it * universe * for * someone * other)

Man doesn't know
for whom he fashions a world;
is it a world for himself,
or a world for someone else?

This quatrain, conventionally attributed to Colum Cille, is found on page 318b of the Yellow Book of Lecan. (My thanks to Clodagh Downey for locating and reporting the text!) The irregular spelling of the MS has been normalized above. T. F. O'Rahilly gave a slightly different version of it as item # 44 in "Dánfhocail":

Nochan fhidir mac duine
cia dá ndéanann a chruinne;
an cruinne dhó féin do-ní,
nó cruinne do neach eile.

Giolla Brighde Ó hEoghusa wrote this quatrain expressing the same idea, asking the man who plants an apple tree who will be there later to harvest the fruit:

A dhuine chuirios an crann
cía bhus beó ag búain a ubhall?
Ar bfás don chraoibh ghégaigh ghil,
ré a fhégoin dáoibh an deimhin?

See also "In bith-sa is bith cáich ar uair" in this collection.

Sladbrad ocus guin duine...

Sladbrad ocus guin duine,
gáir cloc, gáir ceall, gáir ngloine,
saint, feall, fingal co féighe,
báthuidh féli sin uile.

(pillage-robbery * and * killing * of man /
cry * of bells * cry * of churches * cry * of purities /
greed * treachery * kin-slaying * with * eagarness /
drowns * generosity * that * all)

Pillage, robbery, and murder,
the church's curse and excommunication,
greed, treachery, eagar kin-slaying,
generosity wipes all that clean!

This is the third stanza from a poem from the MS Laud 615, known by its first line as "Eineach úaisle ná gach dán". The poem extols "enech" (face, reputation, honor) and "féile" (generosity) as the greatest virtues, and tends to see them as equivalent. A modern proverb from Galway, quoted in "A Miscellany", says "Go dtéidh grian go grinneall, ní rachaidh fial go hifreann." (Until the sun goes to the bottom of the sea, a generous man will not go to hell.)

Dlighidh gabha gúal.

Dlighidh gabha gúal.

(deserves * smith * coal)

A smith is entitled to coal.

In Old Irish spelling, this would be "Dligid gobae gúal". Compare "Dligid óc eladain" in this collection. This maxim is found in the first poem in the Bodleain MS Laud 615, which is available on line, and which was the subject of discussion on Old-Irish-L (March/April 2005). Its companion maxim in the same poem is "Dlighidh coire cnáimh " (A cauldron deserves a bone), also in this collection. The specific meaning of this saying is that a blacksmith is (legally?) entitled to not just a fee for his work, but to the raw materials that go into it: iron and coal. The more general import seems to be that anyone who provides a valuable service is entitled to full and generous recompense for his work.

Fer nád fintar co cluinter.

Fer nád fintar co cluinter.

(man * that not * is known * until * is heard)

A man that you don't know until you hear him speak.

This line from a stanza found in the "Auraicept" (ll.535) almost certainly incorporates a maxim something like "Ní·fintar fer co·cluinter." (A man is not known until he is heard.) For the complete stanza, see "Díambad messe in banmaccán" in this collection.

Béodae cach bráthair fri araile.

Béodae cach bráthair fri araile.

(vigorous * every * brother * against * another)

Brothers (or, kinsmen) are energized when they compete against one another.

This maxim was quoted in the "Annals of the Four Masters" for the year 1581, when Cineál Eoghain and Cineál Chonaill came to blows. There were close kinsmen on both sides and the battle was fierce, which led the annalist to remark "ro dearbhadh an dearbh-aruscc airdearc don chur sa, .i. beodha gach brathair fri aroile". (The famous maxim was proved in this instance, that is, 'vigorous is every brother against another'.) A Scottish Gaelic saying encapsulates a similar observation: "Is e farmad a nì treabhadh." (Competitiveness is what gets the plowing done.)

Ní flaith téchtae...

Ní flaith téchtae nád ingella laith ar cach ndomnach.

(not * ruler * legitimate * that not * promises * ale * on * every * Sunday)

A rightful ruler provides beer on Sundays.

This maxim is found in paragraph 41 of the 8th century legal text "Críth Gablach". A good ruler was expected to be a generous host to his people. A failure of hospitality on his part could call his rule into question. In "Cath Maige Tuired", the Túatha Dé turn against Bres, their king, because he did not "grease their knives" (níptar béoluide a scénai) and because however often they visited him, when they left "their breath did not smell of beer" (níptar cormaide a n-análai).

Bid co h-eistechtach cailli...

Bid co h-eistechtach cailli,
bid co féchsanach muigi,
oir ní fedrais, mór in mod,
nach biad t' escara it fharrad.

(be * hearingful * of forest /
be * watchful * of plain /
for * not * you know - great * the * deed /
that not * would be * your * enemy * in your * presence)

Keep your ears open in the forest
and your eyes open on the plain,
for you don't know -- this is important --
whether your enemy is near.

This is the eleventh 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" in this collection.

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