Bíonn gach duine go lách go dtéann bó ina gharraí.
b’iːn gax di’n-ə gə deːn boː in- ə É£ar-iː
Everybody is good natured until a cow goes into his garden.
Note: Dorothy Parker, the American journalist, once described ‘guts’ as grace under pressure. Goethe said a talent is formed in stillness, a character in the world’s torrent. In a similar vein, this week’s proverb points out that the real test of one’s character comes in times of adversity. Anyone can be good natured when times are good. Only those with ‘guts,’ will remain good natured when their garden has been destroyed by errant bovine behavior.
Note: You can not make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. This English proverb was more about class distinction than our Irish proverb. It goes back to the sixteenth century where purses were actually made for the masses out of pigs’ ears. Only the nobility could afford a purse made out of silk. Hence, a silk purse became an earmark of nobility.
Our Irish proverb is more about accepting who you are, than about discriminating between classes. An ape’s an ape, a varlet’s a varlet, though they be clad in silk or scarlet. The higher the monkey climbs the more he shows his tail. Pretending to be who you are not, exposes your weaknesses, as the poet Alexander Pope wrote,
The higher you climb, the more you shew your A__. Verified in no instance more than Dulness aspiring. Emblematized also by an Ape climbing and exposing his posteriors. Dunciad 1743.
Pretending to be who you are not, exposes you to ridicule, as the director Woody Allen makes clear in his film, Small Time Crooks.
Note: An American variant of this week’s proverb is, “The grass is always greener in the other fellow’s yard”. We saw a similar seanfhocal earlier, “Bíonn adharca fada ar na ba i gcéin”. (Long horns are [always] on the cows abroad.) Both of these express a cynicism that was justified, at least with respect to America. For most Irish immigrants, America, especially in the nineteenth century, was just a different horror from the one they left behind. Many would escape early death in Ireland to find it in America; excavating the Erie canal, mining coal in Pennsylvania, laying track for the railroads, fighting for the Army, or succumbing to disease in the squalid Irish tenements of New York and Boston.
Note also: The pronunciation of the word ‘cnoic’ (hills) strays a bit from ‘an Lárchanúint’ (the core dialect). ‘An Lárchanúint’ was created for teaching purposes in the early 1980s from the three major dialects of Irish: Munster, Connacht, and Ulster. It is an amalgam of these dialects, containing pronunciations common to them all. Under the spelling conventions of ‘an Lárchanúint’, the letters ‘oi’ are usually pronounced as the short vowel sound o, e.g., coill, soir, goic. So the ‘Lárchanúint’ pronunciation of ‘cnoic’ should be knok´ or knoik. The second k sound is slender, and, therefore, is usually preceded with a barely perceptible short vowel sound i, called a y-glide. However, speakers from all the major dialects have promoted the y-glide to the medial vowel to form knik´. This is to emphasize the plural number of ‘cnoic’. ‘Cnoc’ (knok) is the singular form.
And still, if you listen carefully, you will hear the speaker deviate further from ‘an Lárchanúint’, saying krik instead of knik. This is a regional variation. Speakers of the Munster dialect will tend to say knik while speakers from Ulster and Connacht will tend to say krik. This is true of these dialects for all words with the letter ‘n’ following any another consonant except the letter s, e.g.:
cnámh (cra:v) bone
gnaoi (gri:) liking
gníomh (g´r´i:v) deed
mná (mra:) women
tnúth (tru:h) envy.
Some samples of how this regional rule does not change the sound of ‘sn’ are: snámh (sna:v) swim, snáth (sna:h) thread, sníomh (s´n´i:v) spin, snoíodóir (sni:-do:r´) sculptor. Linguists call this phenomenon denasalization, replacing the alveolar nasal phoneme with the corresponding nonlateral alveolar liquid phoneme. There is a reverse phenomenon in Old Irish called nasalization, ach sin scéal eile.
There is often the look of an angel on the Devil himself.
Note: A familiar English expression with a similar meaning would be the reference to someone as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The Irish word cuma has the meaning of shape, form or appearance. Although the camera may not lie, the usage here amounts to an outright affirmation of the fact that appearances are deceiving.
Note: A familiar English language equivalent would be “The clothes make the man”. Of course, since this seanfhocal originated at a time when the clothing was all made by women, this is also a subtle way of saying that a man is only as good as the women in his life.