Seanfhocail: Irish Proverbs to Live By

If you’ve been attending Irish classes, there’s a very good chance you’ve heard some Irish seanfhocail. The word seanfhocail (singular: seanfhocal) translates to “old words” or “old sayings”, and these sayings can best be described as traditional Irish proverbs or aphorisms. Derived from the ancient wisdom and cultural experiences of the Irish people, these proverbs provide lessons about life, and often encapsulate advice, observations, and cultural values in a concise and memorable way.

Seanfhocail are used in a variety of contexts, from formal speeches and literary works to language classes and daily conversation. They often serve as a connection to the past, preserving the wisdom of our ancestors while providing guidance for present and future generations. In education, we used them to teach not only the Irish language but also to impart cultural knowledge and values. In modern times, seanfhocail continue to be celebrated and studied, reflecting the ongoing interest in Ireland’s linguistic heritage and the revival of the Irish language.

See below for a list of our favourite seanfhocail. You’ll see the proverb listed, as well as its meaning underneath. Learn them and take note…and please send us your favourite seanfhocail for inclusion!

Ní féidir le cuileog dul isteach i mbéal atá dúnta.

Maireann croí éadrom i bhfad.

Is minic a bhris béal duine a shrón.

Ciall: Más dúnta atá béal an duine, ní féidir le cuileog dul isteach ann.

Meaning: A closed mouth catches no flies.

Ciall: An duine nach bhfuil fadhbanna móra aige agus nach bhfuil buartha faoi imeachtaí an tsaoil, beidh saol fada aige.

Meaning: A light heart lives a long time.

Ciall: Is minic a thosaigh troid mar gheall ar rud a dúirt duine.

Meaning: That which was said often resulted in a broken nose.

Ní ualach do dhuine an fhoghlaim.

An rud is annamh is iontach.

Giorraíonn beirt bóthar.

Ciall: Cuidíonn foghlaim le forbairt an duine.

Meaning: Learning is not a burden for anyone.

Ciall: An rud nach dtarlaíonn go minic, cuireann sé níos mó iontais orainn.

Meaning: What’s rare is wonderful.

Ciall: Go minic, tá tasc níos fusa le déanamh nuair atá duine eile leat.

Meaning: Two shorten the road.

Is olc an ghaoth nach séideann maitheas do dhuine éigin.

Éist le fuaim na habhann agus gheobhaidh tú breac.

Mura bhfuil agat ach pocán gabhair, bí i lár an aonaigh leis.

Ciall: Is cuma cén rud a tharlaíonn, déanann sé tairbhe do dhuine éigin.

Meaning: ‘Tis an ill wind that doesn’t blow good for somebody.

Ciall: Tabhair aire do na cuinsí timpeall ort agus éireoidh go geal leat.

Meaning: Listen to the sound of a river and you will catch a trout.

Ciall: Bain an méid agus is féidir leat as cibé rud atá agat.

Meaning: If you’ve only got a buck goat, be in the middle of the fair with it, i.e. do the best with what you’ve got.

Ní hí an áilleacht a chuireann an corcán ag fiuchadh.

Ní mar a shíltear a bhítear.

Ná bac le mac an bhacaigh is ní bhacfaidh mac an bhacaigh leat.

Ciall: Ní dhéanann áilleacht choirp an chócaireacht duit.

Meaning: Beauty doesn’t boil the pot.

Ciall: Ní bhíonn rudaí go minic mar a cheapaimid.

Meaning: All is not what it seems.

Ciall: Ná bac le trioblóid agus beidh tú i gceart.

Meaning: Don’t trouble trouble and it won’t trouble you.

Ní thagann ciall roimh aois.

Ní hé lá na gaoithe lá na scolb.

An té nach bhfuil láidir ní foláir dó a bheith glic.

Ciall: Ní bhíonn daoine óga ciallmhar go dtí siad fásta suas.

Meaning: Sense comes with age.

Ciall: Níl maitheas ar bith a bheith ag iarraidh ceann tuí a chur ar theach nuair atá gála gaoithe ann.

Meaning: A windy day isn’t the day for thatching.

Ciall: Mura bhfuil tú láidir caithfidh tú a bheith glic.

Meaning: He who is not strong much be clever.

Is fada an bóthar nach bhfuil casadh air.

Is é an ceannaí moch a dhéanann an margadh.

Is fearr go déanach ná go brách.

Ciall: Níl bóthar dá fhad nach bhfuil coirnéal air.

Meaning: It’s a long road that hasn’t a turn in it.

Ciall: Bíonn an rogha is fearr ag an gceannaí a bhíonn amuigh go luath.

Meaning: The early bird catches the worm.

Ciall: Is fearr teacht go déanach ná gan teacht ar chor ar bith.

Meaning: Better late than never.

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