Bhí clog sa chill is níor bhinn clog é. Ach tháinig clog eile ‘on cill is rinne clog binn den…

Bhí clog sa chill is níor bhinn clog é. Ach tháinig clog eile ‘on cill is rinne clog binn den chlog sin.

There was a bell in the church and it wasn’t very sweet sounding.
But another bell came to the church and made a sweet bell of the first one.

Note: This week’s seanfhocal is a play on words and a parable. The word bell appears in two sentences as both the subject and the object of the sentence. In the first sentence, the clock in the church is not sweet. In the second it is. This word play seems designed to confuse. It begs the speaker to say it again.

The parable has a simple moral. No matter what the situation, it could always be worse. Or on this case, we have an example of Robert Burns’ adage, “The best laid schemes o’ mice and men gang aft a-gley.” After all their planning, the parishioners are now saddled with another clinker.

An Séimhiú

Bhí múinteoir Gaeilge agam ar an meán scoil darbh ainm Toby Ó Caomhánaigh. Fear mór grinn ab ea é agus bhíodh ana spórt againn leis. Is cuimhin liom lá, nuair a bhí aiste le scríobh...

Fóireann spallaí do bhallaí chomh maith le clocha móra.

Fóireann spallaí do bhallaí chomh maith le clocha móra.

Walls require spalls as well as large stones.

Note: Our thanks go to Brendan McSherry for this week’s proverb. In is simplest sense it is a lesson in masonry. A spall or gallet is a small flake or chip of stone produced by splitting a larger stone. Practiced masons can create any size and shape chip they want. A deft blow of the hammer will create a chip to fit any whole in a wall. In fact, the word spall comes from the Old German word spell which means to split. Therefore, walls, especially walls made without mortar, need many of these chips if they are to stand for any length of time.

On a deeper level, it is a metaphor about society and about life. There is the American expression “all chiefs and no Indians” used to deride a group with all leaders and no followers. Such a situation is comically doomed to failure. You obviously need more of the latter than the former to be successful.

Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men. It is the spirit of the men who follow and of the man who leads that gains victory.
      George S. Patton, In the Cavalry Journal, 1933.

Another interpretation of this metaphor concerns a healthy balance in life. It is easy to focus all of our attention on the big things in life and forget the little things. For example, many spend all their energy on advancing their careers. They lose sight of the little things in life, like watching your daughter’s first goal in a soccer match, taking your son to the museum, or simply enjoying a quiet sunset. Their lives, like walls without spalls, will soon collapse under their own weight.

Ar Strae

Suíomh(Lánúin – Nóra agus Liam -ina gcarr ag tiomáint siar. Lá ceoch, báistiúil, stamhlaí atá ann. Tá sé ag éirí dorcha. Tá an fear ag tiomáint, agus...

An té nach bhfuil láidir ní foláir dó a bheith glic.

An té nach bhfuil láidir ní foláir dó a bheith glic.

Whoever is not strong must be clever.

Note: The Scots have a similar proverb, “Wiles help weak folk.” Celtic folklore is rich with stories of the clever overcoming the strong. Consider two other proverbs. Ní bhíonn tréan buan. (Strength is not enduring.) Ní thagann ciall roimh aois. (Sense does not come before age.) Given these cultural beliefs, it is not surprising that most of these tales involve clever old seers. The tradition spans centuries from the ancient mythic personification of wisdom, the sear Find in the Fionn mac Cumhaill sagas, to the later tales of Merlin the Magician.

If you hear this proverb, you might want to respond with a popular play on words, “Agus an tae nach bhfuil ládir ní folair dó a bheith te.” (And the tea that is not strong must be hot.) In the original proverb, “an té” means “whoever,” while in the rejoinder, the homophone, “an tae” means “the tea.”

Note also: This proverb uses a common Irish idiom “ní foláir dó” which means “he must.” If you look up the word “foláir” in your foclóir, you are likely to find it coupled with the negative particle “ní.” It would probably translate “ní folair” as meaning “it is necessary.” So “ní folair dó é” means “it is necessary for him” or more tersely, “he needs it.” The phrase “a bheith glic” means “to be clever.” Put these two together, “ní folair dó a bheith glic,” and you literally get “it is necessary for him to be clever” or “he needs to be clever,” or “he must be clever.”

However, some may be troubled by this negative particle. To understand the negative particle, you need to know that ‘folair’ is a synonym for the noun “foráil” which means “superabundance, excess; too much.” Therefore, “ní foláir dó é” then literally means “it is not too much for him.” This is an indirect way of saying that he really needs it.