Note: The two ryhming words in this seanfhocal are both of interest. The word “sláinte” (the “t” is prefixed in the above phrase for grammatical reasons) is also the traditional toast, meaning “To your health”. It is claimed that this is the original toast from which all others on the planet descended. The word “táinte”, meaning wealth, originally referred to (a herd of) cattle which was the basis of wealth in ancient Ireland.
Note: This seanfhocal notes one of the “simple joys” of the poor. One of the disadvantages of wealth is that it can be taken from you. The poor are blissfully free of such anxieties, although there are perhaps other worries which can trouble them.
Niorbh a fhiú a dhath ariamh a bhfuarthas in aisgidh.
Nothing free is ever appreciated.
Note: Thanks and a Daltaí tip of the cap to Ciarán Ó Duibhín for this week’s proverb. It is a good example of Irish idiom. The first idiom is the common expression “a dhath,” which literally means “its color.” However, it translates into English as “any,” “anything,” or, with the negative — “nothing.” So “Niorbh fhiú a dhath” could be translated as “Nothing would be [of] worth.”
The word ‘ariamh’ is an older form of the word ‘riamh’ which means ‘ever’ in this context. “Niorbh fhiú a dhath ariamh” = “Nothing would ever be [of] worth.”.
Next follows an indirect relative clause, “a bhfuarthas in aisgidh.” It is indirect because it is in a genitive relation to the subject of this proverb, ‘nothing.’ “Fuarthas” is the past impersonal (or autonomous) form of the verb ‘faigh.’ The relative article, ‘a,’ causes the eclipsis, “a bhfuarthas.” It means “which one got.”
Finally, the last idiom is given here in a petrified form, “in aisgidh.” The modern form is ‘in aisce.’ ‘Asice’ usually means a ‘favor,’ a ‘request,’ or a ‘gift.’ However, ‘in aisce’ means ‘for nothing’ or ‘gratis.’ So we have the following more literal translation, “Nothing which one got for nothing would ever be [of] worth .”
Ná comhair do chuid sicíní sula dtagann siad amach.
Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.
Note: Obviously, the English borrowed this proverb from the Irish. This reminds us of the story about the travelling salesman who was driving through the Irish countryside. Suddenly he heard a thump. Immediately, he stopped the car and got out to see what had happened. To his utter chagrin, he realized he had killed someone’s prize rooster. Looking down the road, he saw a woman hanging wash in front of her house. He approached the woman with the rooster’s corpse in his hand. He said, “I’m sorry, a Bhean Uasal. I killed you rooster and I’d like to replace him.” “Suit yourself,” said the woman, “the hen house is in the back.”
Note: This proverb is to be expected of a culture that has the oldest continuous literary tradition in Western Europe. The ancient Celtic culture held the Seanchaí (story-teller) in highest esteem. The word ‘seanchaí’ literally means ‘custodian of tradition.’ In the dark ages of Europe, Irish monks’ love of the word preserved the great works of the ancient world, including writings of the Greeks, Romans, Hebrews, and Arabs.
The Irish tradition of valuing words above wealth is well known in the English speaking world. For example, James Joyce has two books in the top ten of the Modern Libary’s 100 Best Twentieth Century English Novels; #1. Ulysses, and #3. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Joyce had a third book make the top 100, #77. Finnegans Wake. Joyce was born in Rathgar in 1882 and died virtually penniless in Zurich in 1941. Joyce is but one of a galaxy of Irish stars in the English literary universe.
But there is another universe of Irish writers for whom this seanfhocal is most apt, those who choose to write for the smaller body of contemporary Irish language readers. Some wrote in both the English and Irish languages, like Brendan Behan, Mícheál Mac Liamóir, Brian Nualláin (nee Myles na gCopaleen) and Liam Ó Flaherty. Others chose to write exclusively in the language of their heritage, like Seosamh Mac Grianna, Máirtin Ó Cadhain, Pádraic Ó Conaire, Séamus Ó Grianna, and Muiris Ó Súilleabháin. And these are just some of the novelists. Tá ár mbuíochas is mo tuillte acu!
Note: An English language saying which expresses a similar thought would be “possession is nine-tenths of the law”. When ownership is disputed, he or she who has possession will enjoy the benefits of the property.The other claimants can only comfort themselves with dreams of dispossessing their rivals and claiming the prize for themselves. Everyone wants to be “king of the hill”, even if for just a fleeting moment.