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.
Note: The ancient Greeks first said “Truth in wine,” and the Romans later adopted it as the more-widely known, “In vino veritas.” Romans also added, “Drunkenness reveals what soberness conceals.” Chaucer took up this strand of thought when he wrote “For dronkenesse is verray sepulture of mannes wit and his discrecion.” Cantebury Tales. The Pardoner’s Tale, l. 558.
The seanfhocal itself uses the singular number in the object, rún (secret). It is meant to convey the sense that no individual secret is safe when one is drunk. However, some translate this seanfhocal into the plural form, secrets, to convey the vulnerability of all secrets in the possession of the drunk. It was for this reason that when Michael Collins recruited the “Cairo Gang,” the strong arm of his secret service, he looked for men who did not drink.
Note also: This seanfhocal is an example of another interesting difference between Irish and English syntax. English syntax can negate nouns and verbs. In the English translation given above, the noun is negated. “Drunkenness hides no secret[s].” However, Irish syntax can only negate verbs. The negative particle at the beginning of this seanfhocal, “Ní,” negates the verb, “cheileann,” as indicated by the séimhiú. So a more literal but less fluid English translation would negate the verb, i.e., “Drunkness does not hide a secret.”
Note: Dies Alliensis — 18 July, 390 B.C. — was a day of infamy for the Roman state. It was the day the Roman Army was routed by a band of pagan Celts at the banks of the river Allia. This defeat led to the subsequent sack of Rome by these “barbarians”. Almost four centuries later, Julius Caesar would take Rome’s revenge on the clans of the continental Celts. Ceasar’s victory over Vercingetorex marked the beginning of the end of “the First Golden Age of the Celts” (p. 21, Alexei Kondratiev, The Apple Branch: A Path to Celtic Ritual,Collins Press, 1998). Meanwhile, Marcus Tullius Cicero may have borrowed this week’s seanfhocal when he wrote, “Optimum condimentum fames.” (Hunger is the best sauce.)
Note also: The definite article ‘an’ prefixes a ‘t’ in the nominative and accusative case before all singular masculine nouns that begin with a vowel. So the words ‘anlann’ and ‘ocras’ which are masculine gender, singular number, require a ‘t’ before them when they are modified by the definite article ‘an.’
How does one know that these words are masculine gender? Endings can give a clue. Nouns ending in ‘…as’ are almost always masculine. In general, nouns ending with broad consonants are usually masculine. However, there are exceptions. For example, unlike the word anlann, most words ending in ‘…lann’ are feminine like amharclann (theatre), bialann (restaurant), dánlann (art gallery), leabharlann (library), and pictiúirlann (cinema). To be certain, therefore, it is a good idea to memorize the noun’s gender when you learn the noun.
Note: Thirst leads one to drink which often increases one’s desire for yet another drink. This pattern is often continued on the morning after when “cotton mouth” stimulates one’s desire for a ‘drink’ of the softer variety. This vicious cycle is one of nature’s little jokes.
Note: This is a more direct reference to what in Béarla is known as “the hair of the dog that bit you”. To some it may seem incongruous that drink would both cause and cure the condition; but the logic is often more apparent to one who is suffering the effects of “one too many”.