Note: It has been said that Irish toasts are like prayers. This week’s seanfhocal is a toast that follows in that tradition. Like most prayers it asks God for something. Like most prayers it uses the subjunctive mood to do this, i.e., ‘go raibh’ is the subjunctive mood for the verb ‘be,’ ‘tá.’ The subjunctive is used to express contra-factual ideas, like wishes.
For many Irish who emigrated to America, the wish to never be poor came true.
In the National Opinion Research Center’s (NORC) 1977 and 1978 General Social Survey, 26% of families in America reported an annual income in excess of $20,000; of those who describe themselves as British Protestants, 30% reported more than $20,000 income; and 47% of the Irish-Catholic families reported more than $20,000 in income, a little higher than the 46% of Jewish families and 43% of Italian families.
Andrew M. Greely, The Irish Americans: The Rise to Money and Power, Warner Books, 1993, p.137.
The wish for a drink has come true too. Ach sin scéal eile.
Note: In Béarla the saying is that “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link”. Since at least the time of Strongbow (and probably longer) disunity has left Ireland open to her enemies. This seanfhocal expresses the still unfulfilled dream of Irish unity, be it political or cultural.
There is no prosperity unless there is discipline.
Note: Irish makes frequent use of the definite article “the” before nouns which do not refer to physical/tangible objects. Here, for instance, the seanfhocal refers to “an rath” (literally “the prosperity”) and “an smacht” (literally “the discipline/control”). Likewise, even when speaking English, it is often said that someone has “the Irish” (meaning the Irish language), which mirrors the Irish reference to “an Ghaeilge”.
Note: You will never get anything accomplished (like mastering ‘an Ghaeilge’) by just sitting around thinking about it. Active people reap the benefits of their exertions.
Note also: The Irish language has terms for parts and areas of the body which go nameless in other languages. That being said, it is curious that the word “cos” can refer to either the leg or the foot; and it is often used without really differentiating which portion of the appendage is in question.
Note: This seanfhocal serves to encourage hard work. The Irish as a people much prefer working with family and friends as opposed to solitary labor. A group of people which comes together to help a neighbor or to accomplish some community project is known as a “meitheal”. It would put one in mind of the “barn raisings” which were common in American pioneer days.
Note: An English language saying with a similar theme might be “Anything worth doing is worth doing well”. Especially in rural areas, the people are very conscious of who accomplished particular pieces of work. It is common in Connemara, for instance, for people to refer to whose father, great-grandfather, etc., constructed this or that stone wall.