Note: With apologies to our vegetarian friends, cows are among those few animals who provide us nourishment both when alive (milk) and when departed (a nice juicy steak). Some things in life are unfailingly good, no matter what the circumstances.
Note also: The pronunciation of the words “bó” and “beo” are different. The only phonetic difference between the two pronunciations is that “bó” is pronounced with a broad “b,” while “beo” is pronounced with a slender “b.” If you listen closely to the speaker, you should hear a short i-sound, like the “i” in the English word “hit,” after the “b” of “beo” that is not spoken after the “b” in “bó.” This short, slight, trailing i-sound is characteristic of slender consonants. Slender consonants are indicated when either the vowel “i” or “e” appears next to a consonant.
Note: This week’s proverb is testimony to the indisputable fact that the Irish are mad for tea. Citizens of the Irish Republic drink more tea than anyone else in the world. Every man, women, and child drinks about six cups of tea a day on average, consuming about 3.2 kilograms (7 pounds) per year. That is over 20% more tea consumed than the average British tea drinker. Moreover, Irish tea consumption is currently increasing while British tea consumption is declining. America, which revolted against England because of the British tax on tea, drinks eight times less per capita than the Irish.
Annual Per Capita Consumption of Tea In Kilograms
International Tea Committee, Ltd., Annual Bulletin of Statistics; Tea Brokers’ Publications, London (1995)
The Irish lust for tea comes from the British. Originally, all tea came to Ireland from the East India Company, a British trading company established under Queen Elizabeth I in 1600. In 1835, Charles Bewley broke that monopoly when he landed a ship in Dublin with over 2000 chests of tea from Canton. While the monopoly was broken, the Irish continued to buy tea exclusively from British concerns until World War II. In response to the British rationing of tea, the Irish government formed a private company, Tea Importers (Éire) to satisfy their thirst. The Irish Tea Act of 1958 granted this firm a monopoly franchise, not unlike the East India Company. This franchise had to be abolished in 1973 so that Ireland could enter the European Economic Community.
Note: While the English translation of this week’s proverb could be subject to interpetation, the Irish is unequivocal. Most would infer that the English version is alluding to a hangover. However, it could be interpretted differently. It could mean that bad news follows good times. Alcohol is not necessary in this latter inference.
This is not true for the Irish word ‘súgach’ (merry). It does, in fact, allude to alcohol. ‘Súgach’ is derivative of the Irish verb ‘súigh’ which means ‘suck,’ or ‘absorb.’ The verbal noun of ‘súigh’ is ‘sú’ which means ‘juice.’ Therefore, one who is súgach has gotten merry from absorbing the juice of the barley.
Note also: Both the adjectives in this proverb are lenited. In a Roman font, this is indicated by adding an ‘h’ after the first letter, e.g., bhrónach, shúgach. Lenition is called ‘séimhiú’ in Irish. It literally means softening. In this case, lenition is required because both of the nouns being modified are feminine. Feminine nouns require the adjectives that modify them to be softened.
Note: Half a loaf is better than none. Half an egg is better than an empty shell. Mar a deirtear i nGaeilge na hAlban, “Is fheàrr fuine thana na bhith uile falamh.” (As they say in Scots Gaelic, “Thin kneading is better than no bread.) As the Lowland Scots say, “Bannocks are better than nae bread.”
Note also: This weeks seanfhocal uses a negative form after the verbal noun, i.e., [verbal noun.] + gan. In contrast, there is another Irish grammar form that uses the opposite sequence, namely, gan + [verbal noun]. Consider these examples:
Abair leis gan teacht isteach. Tell him not to come in.
Dúirt sé léi gan dul ansin. He told her not to go in there.
Bhí an bád gan imeacht fós. The boat has not left yet.
This form is used to express a negative infintive in English, e.g., not to come, not to go, not to leave. The last example could literally be translated as, “The boat has not to leave yet.” However, that would be incorrect English syntax. In English the two verbs must agree on tense. So the infinitive “to leave” was changed in the example to the Enlgish past perfect, “left.”
Note: Jonathan Swift, the Dean of St. Patrick’s, wrote disparagingly of the drink. “We were to do more business after dinner; but after dinner is after dinner — an old saying and true, ‘much drinking, little thinking.” (Journal to Stella February 26, 1712.) On the other hand, Gore Vidal commented on one the most common past times of storytellers. “Some writers take to drink, others take to audiences.” (Interview in the Paris Review, 1981). This week’s proverb points out that the storyteller will usually find both at a pub, a fair, or a party. One could say that these are the best venues for story telling.
However, the word “túisce” has a sense of preference or priority. It means “sooner,” not as an antonym to “later” but as “rather,” as shown in the following sentences. Ba thúisce liom mo bhás. (I would sooner/rather die) . Ba thúisce liom suí ná seasamh. (I would sooner/rather sit than stand). In spite of this meaning, it would be a mistake to interpret this proverb as meaning “A drink sooner/rather than a story.”
This is because “túisce” also means “first.” For example, “an té is túisce a labhair” means “the person who spoke first.” Here the word ‘is’ before an adjective of comparative degree marks the adverb as being in the superlative degree. By itself, ” túisce” is the comparative form. It does not need the word “níos” before it as do other adjectives and adverbs of the comparative degree. “Túisce” has no positive form. “Soon” in Irish is another word, “go luath.” Therefore, “is túisce” essentially means “soonest,” i.e., first. Therefore, this week’s proverb means the drink comes first, then the story.
Note: Not that most people would ever need encouragement to go to the pub, but this week’s seanfhocal is just that. The drink tastes sweeter when someone else pays. Domhnall could be anybody who is tricked or cajoled into picking up the tab. Perhaps, the most famous Domhnall is Anthony Raftery (Antoine Ó Reachtabhra), the itinerent, blind poet who lived from 1739 to 1819. The legend is that he was tricked into picking up the tab in a pub in Loughrea (Baile Locha Riach), a town in the middle of County Galway. Never play a joke on a bard; Raftery immortalized the tale in a comic poem called “Baile Locha Riach”:
… Chas Dia aon scilling amháin chugam agus shíl mé go raibh mo dhíol ann, Nuair a shíl mé nár ghlaos ach dhá chárta bhí ag Conúr im aghaidh trí is bonn. …
Fear an Tábhairne “Is é an dlí a bhíos againn ins an áit seo an reicneáil nach n-íoctar in am, Má éiríonn na daoine ón gclá — An fear deiridh bheith síos leis an leann.” …
With a shilling that the good God provided I thought I’d enough and to spare, What a shock then when Conor confided for two quarts three-and-six I must pay. … Publican “The rule that in this house we favour any reckoning not paid as they sup, Whoever is last at the table — for all that they drank must pay up.” …
Blind Raftery; Poems Selected and Translated by Chriostoir O’Flynn, Cló Iar-Chonnachta, 1998, pp. 88-89.
Raftery goes on to curse the publican for taking his hat in payment. According to the legend, Raftery was later told of the joke. His hat and his shilling were returned. After a good laugh was had by all, he was given another drop or two on the house. However, Raftery had the last laugh, omitting this part of the story from his poem.