12 great Irish proverbs (seanfhocail) to use this year

The Irish language is something that’s so rich in metaphor and meaning, wit and wisdom that it’s hard to compare its lyricism to anything else.

There’s nothing quite like it, especially when it comes to our great Irish proverbs (seanfhocail).

Here are 12 great Irish proverbs you can use throughout the year.

If you’re stuck for the pronunciation check out Abair.ie here and their excellent breakdown of Irish spelling and letters here.

1. An donas amach is an sonas isteach.

This is particularly apt following what was a tough year and basically means out with the badness and in with the goodness.

2. Faigheann cos ar siúl rud nach bhfaigheann cos ina cónaí.

This means that ‘a walking foot comes upon something that a resting foot wouldn’t.’ In a nutshell, the most important aspect in doing so successfully is to just lift one’s foot and start a journey.

3. Leagfaidh tua bheag crann mór.

This literally means that a ‘small axe can fell a big tree’ and with that in mind, it is possible to do great things through small deeds.

4. Ná bris do loirgín ar stól nach bhfuil i do shlí.

This translates literally as don’t break your shin on a stool that’s not in your way but essentially means don’t go out of your way to get in trouble.

5. Is leor ó Mhór a dícheall.

This means that ‘all one can do is one’s best’. Another way you could phrase it is, ‘Is é do dhícheall é’ which means that it is as much as you can do.

12 great Irish proverbs
6. Níor bhris focal maith fiacail riamh.

A good point to remember when you find yourself getting the itch to throw down some words, this proverb means that a ‘good word never broke a tooth’. Another similar one is “Ní mhillean dea-ghlór fiacail” which literally means a sweet voice does not injure the teeth or that it wouldn’t kill you to be nice.

7. Is fearr clú ná conach.

This straightforward proverb means that one’s character and good reputation is better than wealth.

8. Chíonn beirt rud nach bhfeiceann duine amháin.

Two people see a thing that an individual does not see. In other words, two heads are better than one.

9. Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine.

One of the great Irish language proverbs whose literal meaning is ‘it is in each others’ shadow that people live’ but on reflection invokes a sense of community.

10. Aithnítear cara i gcruatán.

A wise phrase that means that a good friend is known in hardship.

11. Maireann croí éadrom a bhfad.

This lovely proverb means that a light heart lives long.

*Note about ‘a bhfad’ instead of ‘i bhfad’. This is just an older/alternative spelling, you’ll find things like a nÉirinn for ‘in Ireland, in Éirinn’ in older texts too; since i is just pronounced as unstressed /ə, ɪ/ anyway, it doesn’t make much difference whether you write it i or a and you’ll see both.

12. Ní bhíonn an rath, ach mar a mbíonn an smacht.

There is no prosperity unless there is discipline. In other words, to fully excel at something regardless of what it may be, you must be fully committed to it.

BONUS: Níl aon tóin tinn mar do thóin tinn féin
There’s no sore arse like your own sore arse.

This is a play on the classic Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin (there’s no place like home).

Did you enjoy these great Irish proverbs? Want to indulge in more Irish language content? Check out 13 Irish audiobooks you can listen to for free here.

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I'm a freelance content creator and a journalist who has a strong desire to do as much as possible in the time I've got left on this planet. I got a taste for storytelling when I interned in Storyful many moons ago and since then have worked for places like WorldIrish (now Irish Central), Her.ie and Lonely Planet. I am constantly curious.

Comments

  1. Bill Keating says:

    Stumbled across this on my twitter feed. Go raibh maith agat!
    I’ll be checking out this site often.

    1. Una-Minh Kavanagh says:

      Fáilte romhat!

  2. Bernard says:

    Thanks, some good ones here. I’ve been learning Irish (again) this year on Duolingo and sharing some of your stuff with my family who are mostly in Ireland. It’s a great language and I’m happy to know more of it once again.

    1. Una-Minh Kavanagh says:

      Best of luck on your journey Bernard!

    2. Louisa Susanna MOSTERT says:

      Hi Bernard! I’m also using Duolingo, but I needed more help with the pronunciation and also with the sentence construction.
      I got access (through PEIG ) to FutureLearn 101 which is a free Irish course, and I’m really enjoying it. I am an Afikaans speaking South African with Dutch, Flemish, German and Irish ancestors.
      Have been doing some genealogical research, but have found out so much more about Ireland since I started. Facinating!
      Slán agus coinnigh go maith!
      Louie

  3. Pádraig says:

    Hi Una,
    Love the collection of seanfhocail. Not sure I’d agree with your translation of “ar scáth” to mean “in shadow”. I think in the context it means more “in shelter” like a “scáth fearthainne”.

    1. Una-Minh Kavanagh says:

      Thanks for your message Pádraig! Great point, I think both work here – the version of using it as “shadow” has been used quite a lot as the literal meaning, “People live in each other’s shadows” or that we rely on others.

      Just so you know yourself, my name is actually Úna-Minh not Úna, but no worries!

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