Seanfhocail na tSeachtaine | Irish Proverbs of the Week

2015-08-23 13.14.13

“Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam”
A country without a language is a country without a soul

A couple of weeks ago, I followed a hiking trail close to where I live. Sometimes I forget how beautiful and GREEN Ireland is. As the majority of my readers are not from Ireland, I thought I’d share a couple of photographs of my hike with you, and give you an insight into our language & culture.

During my mini hike, I came across a seanfhocal in the middle of the woods. Seanfhocail [pronounced shan-uh-kill] are old Irish sayings, or proverbs. Sean means old and focail means words as Gaeilge (in Irish). Everyone in Ireland learns Irish in school from the age of 4 to 18, and seanfhocail were one of my favourite things to use while writing essays & debates, partly because they sounded great, and partly because it made my teacher give me extra marks! Everyone loves a good seanfhocal!

We Irish are fiercely proud of being Irish. Although not everyone is fluent in the language, everyone has their cúpla focail (few words) and will often use Irish in lieu of English words in sentences. My friends & I would often say we are going to leaba instead of bed. Or ask someone to pass the bainne (milk). Go raibh maith agat is a phrase that is said all the time. Even though it looks long and complicated, it just means thank you!

Irish is a very poetic language. A lot of our English phrases stem from the Irish translation, like ‘thanks a million’ (go raibh míle maith agat – I give a million thanks to you!).  We are a nation of storytellers. We like to be descriptive, and often say one thing when we mean another. Most of the Irish language cannot be directly translated into English without sounding ridiculous. Imagine going around greeting people with ‘May God & Mary be with you’ instead of a simple hello!

 Ever wonder why an Irish person will never give a straight answer to a simple question? Perhaps it’s because there is no word for yes or no in Irish! Keep this in mind if you ever meet someone from Ireland and you’re not quite too sure what they are trying to say. It’s a part of our culture and our native language to confuse with beautiful turn of phrase!

Táim an-bhródúil as ár dteanga dhúchais agus mar sin seo iad cúpla de mo sheanfhocail is fearr leat.
I’m very proud of our native language and so here are a couple of my favourite seanfhocail (Irish proverbs).

2015-08-23 13.15.16

Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin

There’s no fire like your own fire
(There’s no place like home)

Is glas iad na cnoic i bhfad uainn

Faraway hills are green
(The grass is always greener on the other side)

Aithníonn ciaróg ciaróg eile

A beetle knows another beetle
(It takes one to know one)

2015-08-03 13.42.56

Is binn béal ina thost

A silent mouth sounds sweet
(Silence is golden)

Ná beannaigh don diabhal go mbeannaí sé duit

Don’t greet the devil until he greets you
(Don’t go looking for trouble)

Ní thagann ciall roimh aois

Sense does not come before age

2015-08-23 13.14.44

Oíche aerach is maidin bhrónach

A lively night is a sad morning
(If you drink alcohol at night, prepare for a hangover the next day!)

Mura bhfuil tine agat féin déan do ghoradh leis an ngréin

If you haven’t got a fire of your own, heat yourself with the sun.
(Make the most of what you have)

Inis do Mháire i gcógar é, is inseoidh Máire dó phóbal é

Tell it to Mary in a whisper, and Mary will tell it to the Parish!
(A secret is only a secret if nobody knows)

2015-08-23 13.15.54

Nuair a bhíonn an cat amuigh bíonn an luch ag rince

When the cat is out the mouse dances
(When the cat’s away, the mice will play)

Is minic a bhí fear maith i seanbhríste

There’s often a good man in old trousers
(Don’t judge a book by it’s cover)

Cuir síoda ar ghabhar ach is gabhar i gcónaí é!

Dress a goat in silk, and it still remains a goat!
(Looks can be deceiving)

2015-08-03 14.29.11

Tús maith, leath na hoibre

A good start is half the work!

Is fearr an tsláinte ná an táinte

Health is better than wealth

Is fearr Gaeilge bhriste, ná Béarla cliste

Broken Irish is better than clever English

If you’re Irish, have I mentioned your favourite seanfhocal?

If you’re not Irish, what do you think of our native language? I’d love to hear your thoughts!!





10 thoughts on “Seanfhocail na tSeachtaine | Irish Proverbs of the Week

    • Thanks Rachel! You should definitely add a few phrases and words to your repertoire. It’s a strange language but rewarding if you appreciate the culture too… Like any language I suppose. Do you speak any other languages?

    • Thanks Eimear! I have this debate with people over and over again – most of us would love to speak more Irish now that we are older, which proves to me that it really is the way Irish is taught & promoted in the average school that causes us to be less than líofa after 14 years of studying it!
      I am obsessed with seanfhocails though – it was so lovely to come across one in the woods!

      • I completely agree! Less than líofa is definitely an understatement! I hated irish in school until I went to the gaeltacht- and had a ball! I actually realised the language could be fun (and in 3 weeks I was actually fluent(ish) )

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