The sandpiper can not attend to the two beaches (ebb-tides).

Note: One cannot be at two places at once. This is the usual English translation for this week’s proverb. It has become an idiomatic expression in the Irish language. For example, suppose one wanted to say in Irish, “He is trying to do two things at once.” Then one could say, “Tá sé ag iarraidh an dá thrá a fhreastal.” (Literally: He is trying to attend to the two beaches.) Another form of the proverb uses an older present tense form of the verb ‘tar,’ namely ‘tig.’ “Ní thig leis an ngobadán an dá thrá a fhreastal.”

In addition to spatial limitations, there is also a sense of temporal limitations in this week’s proverb. This other interpretation hinges on another meaning of the word ‘trá.’ ‘Trá’ is also the verbal noun form for the verb ‘tráigh,’ which means ebb or abate. Consequently, the verbal noun ‘an trá’ means ‘the ebb’ or ‘the ebb-tide.’ Therefore, you can also translate this week’s proverb as, “The sandpiper can not attend to the two ebb-tides.” In other words, one can not work day and night.

Birds, especially marine birds like the sandpiper, had a mystical, almost divine place, in most ancient European cultures. They lived in the four Greek elements of nature; earth, air, fire, and water. They could walk on the earth. They could fly through the air. They could swim in the water. Some believed they flew into the sun at dusk and out of it at dawn. Ancient Celts shared this Greek world view. Druids believed nature’s elements could be reduced to fire and water. Birds, like the Phoenix, could live in either. In any case, one could thus ‘divine’ truth from the observation of these ornithological ‘divinities.’

Daltaí na Gaeilge