My mother was awarded the Fainne, a badge given to people who could speak the Irish language fluently. It was something that Irish people of her generation wore with a good deal of pride. Sadly, I don’t speak the language at all since there wasn’t a lot of call for it in East London where I grew up.
Recently I was looking through one of my mother’s school books, A First Course In Irish Composition, originally written in 1925, though my mother’s edition was published in 1941. Even a cursory glance shows clearly how the shape and structure of the Irish language affected the way that Irish people came to speak English.
Below are English translations of a number of Irish proverbs that appear in the book. Some of them are hilarious, some are mystifying and some are like zen koans.
If I had nothing but a kitten I would be in the middle of the fair with it.
He who walks a long road grinds both fine and coarse.
The biggest war that ever there was someone came safe out of it.
The beginning of a shower is mist, the end of a battle is strife.
Putting off a thing is a putting that the thing is not the better of.
And here are three for writers to consider:
His own story is everybody’s story.
It is a bad thing not to have a story on the tip of your tongue.
Don’t judge the first story till the second story reaches you.