Irish Proverbs

Studying proverbs from different cultures can help us understand the similarities and differences of other cultures compared to our own. The proverbs of some different cultures can be used to illustrate the differences between cultures. Whether called maxims, cliches, idioms, expressions or sayings, proverbs are small statements of general truths about people’s values and beliefs, which may be applied to common situations. Values like ambition, virtue, generosity, patience, etc, are addressed in sayings in almost every culture.Still each culture have proverbs that are unique to it. The saying, “If you want to know a people, know their proverbs”, illustrates this.
From this we can decipher that when it comes to understanding a culture even better, knowing their proverbs are likely to be quite helpful, because most of these proverbs are generated from different aspects of that particular culture. For this paper, I have chosen to take a good look at some Irish proverbs and investigate a bit on each of them with the purpose of trying to find out as to what part of their culture have inspired each of the proverbs.Irish sayings and proverbs were based on the reality of the peoples lives, no more so than in any culture. Before going any further though, it is crucial to have a some idea on the Irish language itself. Irish (Gaeilge) is a Goidelic language, originating in Ireland and historically spoken by the Irish people. Irish is now spoken as a first language but only by a small minority of the Irish population but is also used as a second language by a larger and expanding minority. The first proverb, that will be discussed now, relate to Ireland’s weather which is usually damp, cold and very windy.
Thus, it can be understood as to why so many proverbs were inspired in relation to their chilly weather. One such proverb is, “Gaoth na scratai Bothair”, which can be translated to, “The wind of a thousand chills”. This basically means that Ireland’s weather is not only very windy but the wind itself is very cold. Very often the Irish way of saying things seem to be about animals and birds, but in reality they are actually an observation on human characteristics or nature. For example there are many Irish expressions that describe character traits.One such proverb is as follows, “Breeding will break out in the eyes of a cat”, which means, “The true nature of somebody’s character is revealed through their eyes”. Some of other examples include, “One beetle recognizes another” which means that ‘it takes one to know one’ , or, “As the old cock crows the young cock learns” which means ‘the son always learns from the father’.

The Irish people love to drink and enjoy themselves a lot. It has been a part of their culture for a very long time. Thus a lot of proverbs were developed over the years, that features the nature of their drinking.For example, the proverb “When the drink is in, the sense is out. “, gives us an understanding of how much Irish people love to drink, because as the proverb suggests, once they start drinking they keep on drinking till they are senseless. Other examples related to drinking include, “When the drink was gone the fun was gone” shows how to the Irish having fun is directly proportional to their drinking habit, or “It is sweet to drink but bitter to pay for”, again indicates their love for drinking but they are usually not happy with the consequences of to much drinking, etc.When comes to work or job related issues, the Irish have derived many proverbs involving that too, since work is very important to them.
For example, the proverb “A good start is half the work”, which means, when a person starts a job with great enthusiasm and actually starts it well, that person has a good chance of doing the full job well too. Some more examples include, “A bit of hard work never killed anyone,” which suggests how much the Irish believe in hard work, or, “A lazy man’s best day is tomorrow”, which is directed towards people who are least interested in work and who just love to be a procrastinator when it comes to any job.The Irish hate this kind of people. The last example that I will highlight in relation to Irish proverbs are proverbs that relate to death. One such example include, “Death is in front of an old person and at the young person’s back”, which means that when it comes to death it is more evident for an old person than for a young person. Some other related examples include, “When death comes it will not go away empty”, meaning that nobody can escape death, or “Many a day we shall rest in clay”, meaning that some day we all have to face death and also accept the fact that then, after our death, we will be surrounded by clay in our graves.Thus, from all the above examples, we can now understand how proverbs can help us to have a general idea about any culture in terms of people’s values and beliefs, about certain topics, which include, virtue, work, people’s character traits, etc.
Sharing these proverbs can be one way of learning about other cultures – their similarities and differences compared to our own. Through this sharing we can reinforce these similarities and differences of people everywhere.

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