Note: Literally, this proverbs means, “May God leave your health at you.” This implies that if you lose your health it is because God has taken it away from you. God is an active agent in one’s life. Please God and your health is spared. Anger God and your health could be withdrawn. According to an earlier proverb, live long enough and God will take it away from you in the Fiche bliain ag meath.
This idea of supernatural cause and natural effect goes back to the ancient Druids. Druids never composed anything comparable to the Book of Job. They never wondered why there is misery in life. Every thing in nature happens for a supernatural reason. Gods of the underworld controlled the seasons. Planting began only after asking these gods for permission. Harvesting had to be completed before the end of the season when the gods would take back the land. That is why is is still considered bad luck in some part of Ireland to eat wild berries after Lughnasa.
Go ndeine an diabhal dréimire de cnámh do dhroma ag piocadh úll i ngairdín Ifrinn.
May the devil make a ladder of your backbone [and] pluck apples in the garden of hell.
Note: A great curse seeks to conjure the worst fate that can be conceived for the cursed. This week’s proverb goes beyond the common curse, “Go to hell.” May you go to hell and may you become a living ladder for the devil to climb in his garden. May his evil hooves crush your spine as he picks apples to lure your friends and relations to join you.
If Adam and Eve could not resist the devil’s apples, what chance does your loved ones have? In addition to the pain, you would bear the guilt of being an instrument of the devil. Compared to this curse, simply going to hell would be a walk in the park.
Note also: The verb ‘go ndeine’ is the subjunctive form of the irregular verb ‘dein.’ ‘Dein’ is a variant of ‘déan,’ the standard form of the Irish verb meaning ‘make’ or ‘do.’ Its standard subjunctive form is ‘go ndéana.’ The subjunctive mood is used to the indicate situatuations that are contrary to fact. Consequently, the subjunctive mood is most often used to curse, to bless, and to pray.
Note: This is a popular toast that is often given in two parts. Typically the men will toast themselves first, “Sláinte chuig na fir.” (Health to the men.) Irish protocol requires the women to give themselves a greater toast. So they wish themselves eternal health, “Go maire na mná go deo.” (May the women live forever.) Some bodach (lout), who never has suffered the pain and never will, will often offer this play on words, this very proximate homophone, as a retort, “Go mbeire na mná go deo.” (May the women give birth forever.)
In the south, one is more likely to hear a Munster version of this seanfhocal, “Sláinte na bhfear is go maire na mná go deo.” In this version, the genitive plural is used, ‘na bhfear’ (of the men). The version above used the older dative plural, ‘chuig na fir’ (to the men), which used to be required by the preposition ‘chuig’ or ‘chun’. However, to the delight of beginners and the despondency of purists, the dative form of the noun has practically disappeared from the Irish language. It survives in some old sayings.
Note also: The bodach’s retort sounds almost like the woman’s toast because of the Irish inflection called urú (eclipsis). Eclipsis occurs in certain grammatical contexts when an initial consonant is phonetically replaced by another consonant. For example, to form the subjunctive form of the verb ‘beir’ (give birth to), it is eclipsed, the vowel ‘e’ is appended, and the particle ‘go’ is put in front. The consonant ‘b’ is always eclipsed by the consonant ‘m’. Eclipsis means that the ‘m’ is now pronounced instead of the ‘b’ in ‘go mbeire’ making the eclipsed ‘b’ silent. Therefore, ‘go mbeire’ is almost pronounced like ‘go maire’. The verb ‘go maire’ is also in the subjunctive form. However, the letter ‘m’ is never eclipsed.