Note: Generosity is a saving virtue. The subject of this week’s proverb, “fial,” is more often translated as an adjective than a noun. As an adjective, it literally means seemly, proper, or noble, but its more usual meaning is generous or hospitable. As a substantive noun, it takes the meaning given here, a generous person.
Consider however, the equivocal nature of this adjective. It could mean generous or it could mean proper. Implicit in the equivocality this Irish word is an Irish cultural value; it is proper and noble to be generous and hospitable.
Dineen also translates “fial” as “liberal,” both as an adjective and as a noun. The word liberal used to be an English synonym for generous or one who is generous, one who understands what the French have called noblesse oblige. In spite of the fact that no liberal ever went to hell, however, a liberal has become a political bete noire. Is mora trua é sin.
The well-fed (person) does not understand the slender (person).
Note: This is a tragic seanfhocal. There are a couple of variants of it that suggest that its meaning is deeper than the literal one given above. It is about more than a misunderstanding by the corpulent of the cadaverous. One variant is, “Ní thuigeann an sách an seang, nuair a bhíonn a bholg féin teann.” This literally means, the well-fed one does not understand the slender one, when his stomach is usually taut. In other words, the well-fed do not understand hunger.
Another variant is, “Ní mhothaíonn an sách an seang.” The verb ‘mothaigh’ can be translated as either ‘feel’ or ‘hear.’ Use either English transitive verb and it suggests that the satiated simply do not care about the starved. This attitude is, perhaps, epitomized in the historical figure of Sir Charles Edward Trevelyan, K.C.B., who in 1846 dismantled Peele’s relief scheme for famine-stricken Ireland because he said, “It was the only way to prevent the people from becoming habitually dependent on the government.”