A chomhairle féin do mhac árann ‘s ní bhfuair sé ariamh níos measa.
It does not get worse than a dear son that pleases himself.
Note: There is nothing so exasperating to parents then to have their wishes ignored by a beloved child. Parents want the best for their children. They want their children to benefit from their experience in the harsh realities of life. They want them to go to the right schools. They want them to enter the right profession. Then they want to kill them when they demonstrate a mind of their own.
There is little play on words in the Irish of this proverb. Literally, this proverbs means, “His own council for a dear son and it never got worse.” “A chomhairle féin a dhéanamh” is an idiomatic way of saying “he does what he pleases.” He only takes his own advice. Of course, from a parent’s perspective, this is the worst advise he could get. He who takes his own council has a fool for a councilor.
Note: This week’s proverb is a little tongue in cheek. Of course, a black hen always lays a white egg. That is why you might hear a slight variant of this proverb, “Beireann cearc dhubh ubh bhán.” (A black hen lays a white egg.) There is a similar Spanish proverb, “Tierra negra buen pan lleva.” (Black land produces good bread.) Perhaps the closest English aphorism comes from Thomas Paine, “Whenever we are planning for posterity, we ought to remember that virtue is not hereditary.” Common Sense, 1776.
Proverbs need not be consistent. Compare this week’s proverb to “Briseann an dúchas trí shúile an chait. (Heredity breaks out in the eyes of the cat.) “Like father, like son.” “The acorn never falls far from the tree.” “The gods visit the sins of the fathers upon the children.” Euripedes. In contrast to all these, this week’s proverb makes the point that virtuous people can spring forth from un-virtuous ancestors.
This idea of good descended from evil is central to the 11th Century Irish epic, Caithe Maige Tuired (The Battle of Mag Tuired). It describes the primordial struggle in Ireland between good and evil, between a divine people, the Tuatha Dé Dannan, and the demonic band, the Fomhóire. Balor of the Evil Eye was the king of the Fomhóire. He gave his daughter, Eithne, to Cian, a young warrior of the Tuatha Dé Dannan. They had a son they named Lugh.
Under Balor, the Fomhóire were massing a formidable army to seize control of Ireland from the Tuatha Dé Dannan. Nuadhu, the King of the Tuatha Dé Dannan, was mustering an Army to resist them at Tara. Young Lugh went to Tara to join the warriors. He so impressed the king with his diverse skills as a warrior, poet, and artisan that Nuadhu gave Lugh command of his army.
Noble Lugh confronted his evil grandfather at Moytirra (in County Sligo). Balor only opened his evil eye in battle. Anyone who looked into it was destroyed. Before Balor could train his evil eye on him, Lugh hit the eye with a stone from his sling. It turned Balor’s eye inward, immediately killing him, winning the battle and the war.
Note: This is not to be confused with the English aphorism, “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle”. The word “man” does not appear in this week’s seanfhocal. It is more a recognition that in Ireland women, traditionally, run the house. “Bean an tí” (the lady of the house, the mistress) made a house a home. The expression, “Bean an tí” is so laden with power and responsibility that it can also mean landlady. It would be an anomaly for a house to be without one. Without one, the turf fire might go out. Without one, the furniture might not exist. Without one, the groceries might not be gotten. Without one, the house would, indeed, be a cold and empty place.
Note also: This week’s seanfhocal has two successive adjectives without a comma and without a conjunction like ‘and’, ‘but’ or ‘or’ between them. “Is folamh fuar é …” This would be grammatically incorrect if it were to occur in an English sentence. However, in Irish, it is actually good form. This is especially true if you want to emphasize something by repeating adjectives that are synonyms, e.g., “Bhí sé beag mion”. (It was small little.) The redundancy would be considered poor style in English. Perhaps this proscription is an expression of British reserve. On the other hand, in Irish, some traits are worth repeating.
Is fearr beagán den ghaol ná mórán den charthanas.
A little kinship is better than a lot of charity.
Note: Charles Dickens wrote, “But charity begins at home, and justice begins next door”(Martin Chuzzelwit 1850). John Ray wrote down the English proverb equivalent to this seanfhocal in his opus English Proverbs (1670), “Blood is thicker than water.” John Wycliffe in his 1380 work Of Prelates ascribes to Theocritus the proverb “Charity begins at home.”
Perhaps this seanfhocal came from Saint Patricks’ bringing the Bible to the Irish. In Paul’s First Epistle to Timothy he says,
“Ach má tá clann nó clann chlainne ag baintreach, tuigidís sin gurb é céad dualgas atá orthu cuidiú lena dteaghlach féin agus cúiteamh a dhéanamh lena dtuismitheoirí, mar gurb áil le Dia é sin.” (If a widow has any children or grandchildren, let these learn that piety begins at home and that they should fittingly support their parents and grandparents; this is the way God wants it to be.) Tiomóid, 5:4.
Paul goes to warn
“an duine nach ndéanann aon chúram dá mhuintir agus do lucht a theaghlaigh féin go háirithe, tá an creideamh séanta aige agus is measa é ná an díchreidmheach. (If anyone does not provide for his own relatives and especially for members of his immediate family; he has denied the faith; he is worse than an unbeliever.) Tiomóid, 5:8.
Maybe Timothy brought this idea directly to the ancient Irish. Timothy ministered to the Ephesians. Ephesus was a city on the Aegean coast of modern Turkey. It was at the edge of an ancient Celtic community centered around what is now the city of Ankara.
Note: So, the mother gets all of the credit when the child turns out well. Presumably fathers are entitled to all of the fault when children go bad.
Note also: The two verbs in this seanfhocal are in the  imperative/order form (mol) and  the present habitual (molann). Although in Béarla these forms are identical (praise), Irish maintains very distinctive forms.
An mháthair leis an mac agus an iníon leis an athair.
The mother (sides) with the son, and the daughter with the father.
Note: This is a reference to the alleged tendency of Irish mothers to dote over their sons. It is even felt in some quarters that this tendency still prevails in Irish American families! Likewise, the seanfhocal notes a daughter’s likelihood to side with her father. It is interesting to note that the seanfhocal speaks in terms of females, the mother and daughter. No mention is made of how the males behave in such situations, or even if the males are aware that such interpersonal dynamics exist.