Make Hay while the Sun Shines - Old Celtic phrases and their meanings
Old Irish Idioms
My grandmother died when I was quite young but her legacy definitely lives on. She was a wealth of information on many wonderful Irish sayings which she thankfully ingrained into my mom.
I grew up hearing many of them regularly which was an interesting education for someone with Aspergers Syndrome as it is often written that we do not understand what are usually referred to as ‘idioms,’ but I am the proof that we can learn their meaning just as well as the next person. Now I can't 100% say all these sayings actually originated in Ireland but they are certainly part of our culture now.
Here are some of my favorites that I can remember.
Irish Saying Number 1:
Make Hay while the Sun Shines
Hay for those of you who are not familiar with our Irish farming methods is usually described as being grass that is cut, turned and dried before then being stored to feed your cattle during the winter months. As usually the cattle are housed indoors for the winter as no grass grows. However rain is the enemy of hay and if you get a heavy day of rain before the ‘hay is saved,’ it can rot and be ruined. So any nice day that comes along you have got to harvest the hay straight away as time is limited. So this is now a saying that is frequently used to emphasize to you that you must always make money when the opportunity presents itself and make the best of the opportunity while you can because tomorrow may be too late.
Irish Saying Number 2:
Between two stools you come to a fall
If you are going to be a Scarlett woman and be walking out with two men at the same time then it can only end in heartache. Basically if you try to sit on two stools at the same time you are not sitting on either one properly are you? So eventually your backside will end up losing balance and crashing down onto the floor in between two stools! So as my granny used to say only one relationship at a time.
Irish Saying Number 3:
She could live under one Hen
This goes back to the time when a farmer’s son would be looking for a wife and the matchmaker would have been called. When he would be discussing potential brides with their fathers who had eligible daughters they would ask a number of questions about the character of the potential bride. A farmer who would be trying to arrange a suitable marriage for his daughter would often say, ‘she could live under one Hen.’ This meant that she was so economical that if she was on a farm where all they had was just one hen that she would be able to keep her household going with a couple of eggs a week.
Irish Saying Number 4:
Where would he be got?
This saying is still used a lot inIreland. Pretty much its meaning is that if a son is similar to his father they say, ‘where would he be got?’ Meaning isn’t he just like his father or the rest of his family and how could he possibly be any other way taking into account the fact that he is related to them.
Irish Saying Number 5:
How would you like to be buried with my people?
Contrary to how this question might sound it is not actually a threat from a rather dubious individual who might be wielding an axe or some other dangerous weapon over your head. Instead in Irish days gone by it was considered to be the height of romance. Yes indeed these Irish men were very romantic and of course this was their way of proposing marriage. The meaning of this question being if you marry me you will of course be buried in our family graveyard. Another common declaration of unending love was also, ‘how about we tie the old knot?’ Whoever said Irish men are not true romantics at heart?
Irish Saying Number 6:
Would you look at the cut of her?
I am sure this was said about me many times when I was a rebellious Aspergers teenager who was desperately trying to find an identity for myself. Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s I went through a Madonna phase much to the horror of my mother. Blue eye shadow, dodgy perms, lycra galore and of course the heavy metal influence were all my wardrobe staples. Basically this saying means she looks like, ‘a right dog’s dinner,’ i.e. she looks like she got dressed with her eyes closed while digging out the most dodgy items she could find and then proceeding to put them on backwards.
Irish Saying Number 7:
What goes around comes around.
Today this would be described as Bad Karma revisited. While my family, have used this saying for a long time I have only recently discovered that there is an American song with this name so it is not totally a traditional Irish saying after all. Perhaps this saying landed in Ireland from the USA or vice versa Anyway basically it means that if you are going to do a nasty deed then it will come back on you in some way and you will end up on the receiving end of some bad luck yourself. So basically ‘do onto others as they would do onto you.’ Or putting it in another Irish way, ‘the wheel is always turning.’
Irish Saying Number 8:
You made your bed, now lie in it.
This would have been a mother’s sympathetic advice to a daughter who may have married a man who was considered unsuitable in some way. There were stories of girls being beaten black and blue by their husbands only to be told by their family that this was the man that they had chosen and in good old Catholic Ireland divorce wasn’t an option so just go home and live with it.
Irish Saying Number 9:
Marry in haste, repent at leisure
This is pretty similar to the saying above. I have muttered it to myself many times! You may run off and get married in a haze of young love but then there is a long life stretching out in front of you to ponder upon this decision that you made in your wild youth. Again many of these sayings are from a time when the Catholic Church ruled Ireland and leaving your abusive partner was an option that most could consider. Another common saying for this scenario was, ‘Love is blind but marriage is an eye opener.’
Irish Saying Number 10:
It’s better to be an old man’s darling than a young man’s slave
This was often the saying that the Match Makers of the time may have used to convince some young Irish girl that she was better off marrying some old well off guy and be financially comfortable than some penniless young man. Unfortunately it also meant many young girls were married off to substantially older men who didn’t necessarily treat them like a queen. Then again plenty eloped and ran off with their young love only to end up living in a squalid flat in New-York orLondonwith a hoard of kids and a husband who drank everything they had. So there were no guarantees either way.
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