Speak Irish: Such Milis and Old Wisdom

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Speak Irish
: Subh Milis and Old Wisdom 
By Bob Carney                                

Old sayings have always been special to me, my grandfather had many favorites that I still remeber and repeat to this day. I hope you find one or two that you can use to inspire or find comfort in.                         
“Táimid  caillte sa cheo chéanna” (taw-midge kahl-cha sa kyo kyen-ah)
We’re lost in the same mist.

“Tá sé mar atá sé” (taw shay mar ah-taw shay) It is what it is.

“Muna mbeadh ach pocán gabhair agat bí i lár an aonaigh leis.” (muh-na maid ach puh-can guh-wer ah-gut bee ih lar an on-ay lesh) Even if you only have a billy goat, be in the middle of the fair with him. (Be proud or thankful of what you have)

“An té a luíonn le madraí, eiroidh sé le dearnaid.” (on tay a lee-on le maw-dree aye-rogue shay le dar-nid) He who lies down with dogs, gets up with fleas. (Be careful of the company you keep)

“Níl saoi gan locht.” (neel see gon lockt) There’s not a wise man without fault.

“Ní neart go cur le chéile.” (nee nyart guh cur leh kay-lee) There is strength in unity.

“Is minic a bhris béal duine a shrón.” (iss min-ick ah vrish bay-al dinn-eh ah hrone)

Many a time a man’s mouth broke his nose.

“Ar scáth a chéile a mhairimíd.” (ar scawh a kay-lee ah wir-ih-midge) We live in the shadow of one another.

“Is ait an mac an saol.” (iss att ahn moc ahn say-ol) Life is strange.

“An rud is annamh is iontach.” (on rud iss ann-iv iss ee-on-tach) The thing that is seldom is wonderful.

“Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin.” (neel ane tin-tawn mar duh hin-tawn fayne) There’s no fireplace like your own fireplace. (There’s no place like home.)

“An té a bhiónn siúlach, bionn scéalach.” (on tay ah vee-on shoo-loch, bee-on shcale-loch)

He who travels has stories to tell.

“Dá fhada an lá tagann an tráthnóna.” ( daw aw-da ahn law tog-ann an traw-no-na) No matter how long the day, the evening comes. (no matter how bad things are,they will end.)

“An té nach bhfuil láidir, ní foláir dó bheith glic.” (on tay noch will law-jir, nee foh-lawr doh veh glick)  He who is not strong must be clever.

“Bíonn adharca fada ar na ba thar lear.” (bee-on ire-cah faw-dah ar na bah hawr lahr) Far away cows have long horns. (The grass is always greener…)

“Tús maith leath na hoibre.” (toose mah lah na hib-reh) A good start is half the work.

“Is fearr an tsláinte ná na táinte.” (iss fahr ahn tlawn- che naw na tawn-che) Health is better than wealth.

“Ní thagann ciall roimh aois.” (nee hog-ann kee-al riv eesh) Sense does not come before age.

“Má tá tú ag lorg cara gan locht, béidh tú gan cara go deo.” (maw taw too egg lor-ig cahr-ah gon luch, beg too gon cahr-ah guh jo) If you’re looking for a friend without a fault, you will be without afriend forever.

“Níl lia duine ná barúil.” (nee lee-ah din-eh naw bah-rool) There are as many people as opinions.

“Is maith an scéalaí an aimsir.” (iss mah ahn schay-lee ahn am-sheer) Time is a good storyteller. (time will tell)

“Más maith leat do mholadh faigh bás, más maith leat do cháineadh pós.” (mahs mah laht duh wo-lag fah boss,mahs mah laht duh kah nayg poss) If you want praise die, if you want blame marry.

“Bíonn misneach ag gach madra i ndoras a thí féin.” (bee-on mish-noch ag gach mah-dra ih nor-as ah hee fayne) Every dog is plucky at his own door.

“Ní cheannódh ór suaimhneas.” (nee kah-nog ore su-ah-ness.” Gold cannot buy peace.”

“Inis do Mháire i gcógar é, is inseoidh Máire dó phóbal é.” (innish duh worra ih go-gar ay iss in-shoh moora doe fo-bal ay) “Tell it to Mary in a whisper and Mary will tell the parish.”

“Níl fhois ag éinne an meáchan ach an té a iompraíonn an t-ualach.” (nee liss ag ayn-ya ahn may-han ach ahn che ah ompree-on too-loch) “No one knows the weight of… but he who carries it.”  “ chomh ríméadach le cat a mbeadh póca air!” (cove ree-may-dach leh caht ah made po-ka ayre) As happy as a cat who had a pocket.                                                                                                                                            With a little practice it’s easy to commit a couple of these to memory. It can be a fun way to share the Irish language and culture and a great way to use our Irish.

“Ní troimide an loch an lacha.” (nee trim-ih-da ahn loch ahn lach-ah) “The lake is no heavier for having the duck on it.”( Don’t worry about the little stuff)

Séamus Óneill was an Irish poet and writer from Co. Down. His poem, “Subh Milis,” is widely known and is probably the most translated poem from its original Irish to English. It was written and dedicated to his mother, and was included in his book, “Dánta do Pháistí” (Poems for Children) published in 1949. It is part of the curriculum in many Irish Schools. Poetry and seanfhocail are a great way to practice translating from Irish to English. There are many available on-line and through your local library.

SUBH MILIS                                                                       (suv mel-ish)

Bhí subh milis                                                                    (vee suv mel-ish)

Ar bhaschrann an dorais                                                 (ar wash-rahn ahn dar-esh)

Ach mhúch mé an corraí                                                 (ach wook may ahn koh-ree)

Ionam d’éirgh,                                                                   (ah-num day-ruh)                                               

Mar smaoinigh mé ar an lá                                              (mar smwee-nig may ar ahn law)

A bheas an bhaschrann glan,                                           (ah wes ahn wash-rahn glon)

Agus an láimh bheag                                                          (ah-gus ahn lahv vyog)

Ar iarraidh.                                                                           (ar ear-ah)

        le Séamus Óneill  


There was sweet jam

On the door handle

But I quench the rage

Rising in me

Because I think of the day

That the handle will be clean

And the little hand gone.



*Bob Carney is a student of Irish history and language and teaches the Speak Irish Cleveland class held every Tuesday at PJ McIntyre’s. He is also active in the Irish Wolfhound and Irish dogs organizations in and around Cleveland. Wife Mary, hounds Rían and Ashling and terrier Doolin keep the house jumping. He can be reached at [email protected]

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