Maxims & Wise Counsel

Na frithail in n-airchisecht nachit·chobradar.

Na frithail in n-airchisecht nachit·chobradar.

(do not * attend to * the * compassion * that does not help you)

Do not entertain the pity that does you no good.

This is what Cú Chulainn tells Lóeg, his charioteer and old friend, in "Brislech Mór Maige Murthemni" in LL, when Lóeg tries to talk him out of going into an ill-omened battle.

Secht asa midithar duine...

Secht asa midithar duine: cruth ocus cenél, tír ocus trebad, dán ocus indmas ocus indracus.

(seven * from which * is estimated * person * form * and * kindred * land * and * homestead * craft * and * personal wealth * and integrity)

Seven things by which a man is judged: appearance and lineage, land and home, profession and possessions and integrity.

This laundry list of status and reputation was quoted by Eugene O'Curry in his "On the Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish" (1873).

Samaltir in molad doínde...

Samaltir in molad doínde fri laithe ar a gairti mbís.

(is likened * the * praise * human * to * day * according to * its * shortness * that it always is)

Human praise is likened to a day because of the short time it endures.

This clerical opinion of the shortness of fame from the Würzburg Glosses (Wb. 8d22) is rather at odds with Cú Chulainn's heroic estimation of fame that begins "Acht ropa airdirc-se...".

Rochúala la nech légas libru...

Rochúala la nech légas libru:
intí ances in mbidbaid
is é fessin as bidbu.

(I have heard * by * one * who reads * books /
the one * who protects * the * criminal /
is * he * (him)self * that is * criminal)

I've heard from one who reads books:
he who protects a criminal
is himself a criminal.

This rhymed saying is attributed to St. Mo Ling in LL. A terser legal maxim states "Bidbu cach leices bidbudu" ("A criminal anyone who releases criminals").

Ní chomain-se th'fhírinne ar thoil daíne.

Ní chomain-se th'fhírinne ar thoil daíne.

(not * should you trample * your * truth * according to * desire * of people)

You should not trample your truth to please others.

This advice to act justly despite pressure from others is found in the "Bríatharthecosc Con Culaind" section of "Serglige Con Culaind".

Masa brec gach dan suad...

Masa brec gach dan suad,
is brec brat 's as brec biad;
's as brec an domhan uli,
's as brec fos an duine criad.

(if is * lie * every * poem * of sages /
is * lie * cloak * and * is * lie * food /
and * is * lie * the * world * all /
and * is * lie * yet * the * man * of clay)

If the poems of the wise are lies,
clothing and food are lies;
and the whole world is a lie,
and even man of clay is a lie.

This judgment in favor of poetry and poets is put in the mouth of Colum Cille by Maghnus Ó Domhnaill in his 16th century biography "Betha Colaim Chille".

La cach mboin a boinín.

La cach mboin a boinín.

(with * each * cow * her * calf)

To every cow her calf. The calf belongs to the cow.

This was King Diarmait Mac Cerbaill's judgment in the famous (and probably fictitious) copyright case that ensued when Colum Cille made an unauthorized copy of a book belonging to St. Finnén. In other words, the copy of the book belonged to Finnén, not to Colum Cille. Irish saints were notoriously strong-willed, and Colum Cille simply refused to accept the verdict. Versions of this decision are found in the Annals of the Four Masters, in "Foras Feasa ar Éirinn", and elsewhere in Irish literature, including the story of Noidhiu Nae-mbreathach in the Yellow Book of Lethan (ZCP 19.48-52), where it has nothing to do with copied books. "Betha Colaim Chille", a 16th century biography of the saint, adds the line "le cach lebar a lebrán" (to every book its little book) by way of further clarification, and Keating ("Foras Feasa", Book I-II, Section 10) adds "leis gach leabhar a mhaicleabhar".

Is fíach ní dlomthar.

Is fíach ní dlomthar.

(is * debt * thing * that is proclaimed)

A thing that is proclaimed is a debt. Whatever is publicly declared is owed.

So says Midir when he pays his gaming debt to Eochaid in "Tochmarc Étaíne". The same idea is found in "Diambad messe bad rí réil" in somewhat different words: "Is fíach o gelltar do nech" (It is a debt from the time it is promised to someone). The early 20th century Canadian poet Robert Service said this in rhyme in his poem "The Cremation of Sam McGee" with the line "Now a promise made is a debt unpaid."

Nocho bí tuile cen tart.

Nocho bí tuile cen tart.

(not * exists * flood * without * drought)

There is never a flood that does not dry up.

A maxim from "Diambad messe bad rí réil". A modern version, from Ó Longáin's Collection in "A Miscellany" is "Níl tuile ná tránn." Also, a poem by Gofraidh Fionn Ó Dálaigh has the line "Ní bhí tuile nach téid as."

Trí fuiric thige degduini...

Trí fuiric thige degduini: cuirm, fothrucud, teine mór.

(three * hospitalities * of house * of a good man * ale * a bath * a fire * big)

Three hospitalities of a good man's house: ale, a bath, a big fire.

A triad from "Trecheng Breth Féne".

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