Is fearr greim de choinín ná dhá ghreim de chat.

Is fearr greim de choinín ná dhá ghreim de chat.

On bite of a rabbit is better than two bites of a cat.

Note: This week’s proverb may seem at first glance to be obscure as well as macabre. You might ask yourself what sort of barbarian would eat a cat? With our tongue only slightly in our cheek, we can suggest that the answer is a hungry barbarian. Is maith an t-anlann an t-ocras. Of course, that is hard for us to understand in this Industrial Age. Ní thuigeann an sách an seang. Hunger will make a barbarian of us all. In any case, a rabbit is surely more tasty that a cat.

Perhaps, a less barbaric way to make this point is to use the English proverb, “Quality is better than quantity.” This proverb probably came from the Latin. Non multa sed multum. (Not quantity, but quality. Literally Not many, but much.) Lucius Annaeus Seneca wrote a letter in the first century of the last millennium that said, “It is quality rather than quantity that matters.” This is true in our case since a bite of a tasty rabbit is clearly preferable to two bites of a less tasty cat.

Trí saghas incheann: inchinn reatha, inchinn cloiche, inchinn chéarach.

Trí saghas incheann: inchinn reatha, inchinn cloiche, inchinn chéarach.

Three kinds of brains:
a running brain,
a rock brain,
a wax brain.

Note: Here is another Irish triplet. One could paraphrase this proverb. There are three kinds of brains; a working brain, a stubborn brain, and a receptive brain. A working brain is one that objectively, critically, and rationally analyses inputs to logically draw new conclusions. It can also intuitively create new concepts, new constructs, and new constructions.

On the other hand, a stubborn brain is like a rock. It does not change for anything. It does not change as circumstances change. It is fixed and immovable.

A receptive brain is like one made of wax. It can retain an impression of anything it comes into contact. A wax brain today might be called a photgraphic memory. It can dredge up any impression from the past. Unforetunately, it can not create any new ones. It can reproduce but it can not create.

What kind of brain do you have? Make it a working brain. Study Irish. Exercise your cerebrum regularly at an Irish class near you. You will be glad you did. Labhair Gaeilge linn.

Is iomaí fear fada a bhíonns lag ina lár.

Is iomaí fear fada a bhíonns lag ina lár.

Many a tall man has a weak middle.

Note: In English one might say, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.” Ironically, this English aphorism was made popular in the 1900s by a Celtic fighter named Robert Fitzsimmons, born May 26, 1863 in the town of Helston in Cornwall. Fitzsimmons was a middleweight with a height of 5 feet, 11 3/4 inches. He weighed between 150 and 175 in his fighting days. Fitzsimmons took the heavyweight crown from a larger Gentlemen Jim Corbett, with a height of 6 feet and 1 1/2 inches. Corbett boxed at a weight between 173 and 190 pounds.

However, Fitzsimmons later discovered , “The bigger they are, the harder they hit.” Fitzsimmons lost the crown to an even larger James J. Jeffries. He knocked Fitzsimmons out in the eighth round. Jeffries was a tall man, 6 foot, 2 1/2 inches. His weight varied from between 206 to 280 pounds during his career. Jeffries won 18 fights to only one loss, to Jack Johnson, the first African American Heavyweight Champion. Jeffries won fifteen of his eighteen fights by knockouts.

This week’s Irish proverb is a little more practical then Fitzsimmons aphorism. It points out that the powerful can be defeated, not that they will. But, there is a chance. An té nach bhfuil láidir ní folair dó a bheith glic. For a Celtic warrior facing a taller opponent, it even suggests where to attack. Fitzsimmons defeated Corbett by creating the solar plexus punch. In other words, Fitzsimmons knocked out the taller Corbett by hitting him in his weak middle. However, in the case of an opponent like Jeffries, perhaps Fitzsimmons should have heeded another Irish proverb. Is fearr rith maith ná droch-sheasamh.

Dá fhada an lá tagann an tráthnóna.

Dá fhada an lá tagann an tráthnóna.

However long the day, the evening will come.

Variants: “Más fada an á tig an oíche faoi dheireadh.” (If the day is long, the night will come at last.) “Dá fhaid é an lá, tagann an oíche.” (However long the day, night will come.) “Dá fhada samhradh, tagann an geimhreadh.” (However long summer, winter will come.) Everything must come to an end. All good things must come to an end. The longest day must have an end. Non vien dì, che non venga sera. – Italian (There is no day without an evening.)

Note: In a sense, this Irish proverb can not be directly translated into English. This is because the Celt has a different world view than the Saxon. Each of these world views is embedded in each language. For the Saxon, night is the end of day. From the given English translation of this proverb, an English speaker might infer that no matter how good the day is, it will end. Or at least, the English speaker must infer that all things must end. However, for the Celt, night is the beginning of the day. Therefore, this proverb actually implies that no matter how bad the day is, a new one is coming, or, at least, tomorrow will be a new day.

Note also: There are four fundamental meanings of the initial word of this proverb, dá.

dá + eclipsed verb in the conditional mood
if, e.g., dá mbeadh an lá fada (if the day were long)
dá + eclipsed verb in the active mood
combination of preposition ‘do’ or ‘de’ + relative article ‘a’ — to or for or on whom or which, e.g., lá dá bhfaca mé é (day on which I saw it/him)
dá + noun
1. combination of preposition ‘do’ + possesive adjective ‘a,’ to or for his, hers, its, or theirs, e.g., dá lá (for his/her/its/their day), dá mhac (for his son)
2. combination of preposition ‘de’ + possesive adjective ‘a,’ of or from or off his, hers, its, or theirs, e.g., dá ceann (from her head)
dá + lenited abstract noun denoting degree
however, .e.g., dá mhéad (however much).

Of course, this last form appears in our proverb. ‘Fada’ is an abstract noun meaning length, distance, or duration, so ‘dá fhada’ means ‘however long.’

Na ceithre rud is measa amú; ceann tinn, béal seirbh, intinn bhuartha, agus poca folamh.

Na ceithre rud is measa amú; ceann tinn, béal seirbh, intinn bhuartha, agus poca folamh.

The four least useful things;
a headache, a bitter mouth,
a worried mind, and an empty pocket.

Note: What good is a headache? It doesn’t get you the riches of muscles aching from work.

When you’re lying awake with a dismal headache,
and repose is taboo’d by anxiety,
I conceive you may use, any language you choose
to indulge in, without impropriety.
     Gilbert & Sullivan, Iolanthe [1882], Act II.

What good is a bitter mouth? People will only dismiss what you say as sour grapes.

The Land of Faery,
Where nobody gets old and bitter of tongue.
     W.B. Yeats, The Land of Heart’s Desire [1894].

What good is a worried mind? It won’t change things.

You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry. Don’t worry. And be sure to smell the roses along the way.
     W.C. Hagen, The Walter Hagen Story [1956].

What good is an empty pocket? Yours isn’t the only one.

Mise Raifteirí an file
Lán dóchais agus grá
Le súile gan solas,
Le ciúnas gan chrá.

Ag dul siar ar m’aistear
Le solas mo chroí
Fann agus tuirseach
Go deireadh mo shlí.

Féach anois mé
Agus m’aghaidh ar bhalla
Ag seinm ceoil
Do phócaí folamh’.
     Antaine Raifeirí, [1784-1835] Raifeirí an File.

Note also: In the expression “na ceithre rud” the article, “na”, is plural while the noun, “rud”, is singular. When counting things, the rule is that the noun is usually in the singular, e.g., rud amháin, dhá rud, trí rud, ceithre rud, … However, the plural article is used to modify things counted from three to nineteen, e.g., na trí rud, na ceithre rud, … na naoi rud déag. Every other counted thing uses the singular particle, e.g., an rud amháin, an dhá rud, … an fiche rud, an ceithre chéad rud.

Trí ní is deacair a thuiscint; intleacht na mban, obair na mbeach, teacht agus imeacht na taoide.

Trí ní is deacair a thuiscint; intleacht na mban, obair na mbeach, teacht agus imeacht na taoide.

Three things hardest to understand;
the intellect of women, the work of the bees,
the coming and going of the tide.

Note: This is our first triad, a usually rhythmical form of seanfhocal that revolves around the mystical number three. Ancient Celts revered the number three. There were three cornerstones of the Druid universe; the earth, the water, and the sky. Three spiral designs appear in Celtic iconography as triskels (An example is shown here on the left). St. Patrick reinforced the sacred character of the number three when he introduced the theological concept of the Holy Trinity to the Irish.