The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 7/Some Irish Proverbs

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[From a paper by Mr. J. D. White, in the Kilkenny Moderator.]

The Priest christens his own child first.

A POOR man's wife had seven children at a birth, and as he had no means to rear them he was carrying them to the river to drown them, when he was met by an angel, who had assumed the shape of a little man, who asked what he had in his coat. "Puppies," replied the man, "which I am going to drown." "Oh," says the old man, "I want a dog, give me one.' The man, after a time, had to tell the truth; when the little man said he must get them christened first. He brought him to a priest, and told him to choose one and send the six others to different priests, when the priest said, "Oh, I must christen my own child first." Of course the seven children became seven bishops, and were buried together in Freanstown, co. Kilkenny.

Fight like Kilkenny cats, that ate one another except their tails.—The story goes that in the troubled times when the Hessians were quartered in Kilkenny, they used to amuse themselves by tying two cats' tails together, and throwing them over a line to fight. Their officer heard of this, and ordered that there should be no more cat-fights. Still, on a certain day there were two cats on the line when the officer was heard coming, and one of the troopers cut them down, leaving only the tails on the line. The officer asked "where are the cats?" when one of the troopers explained that they fought so furious that they had eaten one another up except their tails.

"Kill a Hessian for yourself."—The Hessians wore large riding-boots, greatly prized by the Irish insurgents, whose prizes they were if they killed a Hessian. An insurgent brought in a pair, and a comrade wanted to get them; his reply was, "If you want boots kill a Hessian for yourself."

As musical as the cow that ate the piper.—Binny Bryan was a famous piper. On his round one day he found a dead Hessian, and tried to pull off his boots, but pulled off his legs along with them. Boots and legs he carried to a byre, where he slept that night. In the morning he managed to get the legs out of the boots; and when the people who owned the byre came to milk their cow, they found no piper but only a pair of legs, and naturally supposed the cow had eaten the piper and his pipes. Another common saying derived from this cow is: She has a cruel taste for music, like the cow that ate the piper.

Tallagh talk, or Tallaghhill talk.—A term to indicate a braggart or braggadocio talk. Formerly beggars were whipped out of Dublin as far as Tallagh Hill; when there, and out of the jurisdiction, they used to abuse the mayor, aldermen, and magistrates of Dublin, and say what they would not do to them.

Gorey.—Shouted after a person who leaves a door open. There was an attack made on Gorey by the insurgents, who carried off all the doors. A person who leaves a door open is supposed to have, been born in Gorey, or in a place without a door.

Munster for learning,
Connaught for breeding,
Leinster for feeding,
And Ulster for thieving.

In old times all the civilised world flocked to the great schools in Munster for learning. All the best families in Ireland were sent to "Hell or Connaught." Leinster having so much English blood has the English love for eating; while the Scotch settler and native Irish in Ulster were always robbing one another—one lifting their neighbours' goods by the laws they enacted themselves, and the other lifting by stealth. The word "lift" is so engrafted on their minds, that even at the present day they never buy or otherwise get anything, they always "lift it."

Bad cess to you.—In old times the soldiers were cessed, or billeted, on the inhabitants; there were good cesses, or soldiers that pulled well with the people, and bad cesses those whose presence in a house was a curse and not a blessing.

Pay the reckoning on the nail.—From an old custom in Limerick. Exchange of bargains were made at a pillar, and the earnest-money was laid on a copper coin nailed in the top of it.

Fire away! Flanagan.—A captain of a place besieged by Cromwell, or one of his generals, sent to say if they did not go at once he would fire on them. The general wrote on the back of his letter when sending it back, Fire away! Flanagan.

Nearly obsolete terms are the following:—

Codesfue.—The shank of a leg of mutton, but got to mean "what is the price? " as a buyer would take the leg by the shank and say "Codesfue."

Boxty Rasp, or Buck Cake.—A cake made from the rasping of potatoes; considered a great treat for children. This was very common before the potatoe failure in 1848, but now is rarely, if ever, heard of.

Shelling, or Shell bread.—Formerly a bag of the first corn reaped was sent to the mill to be ground, and the bread made from it was eaten with cider, a drink common in Ireland before the apple failure in 1848.

Sthoka.—An uninvited guest—one who is always in the way. A sthoka voriga is a market-stack, that is, a stack of turf, or the like, in a market-place, that is always being replenished as fast as part of it is sold. So a ne'er-do-well, who was always inviting himself, and always in the way, got to be called a "Sthoka."

Law laithen.—A very common law, formerly; "those took who had power, and those kept who could."

Spur Saileen.—A nail driven into the heel of a shoe with the point outward, when a person was going to take a horse journey.

Cosheelagh, or Cosherigh.—Waste or fallow land; the latter word literally means owing tribute to the king—probably derived from land when in fallow not having to pay taxes.