Ireland is renowned as the birthplace of lyrically, romantic poets such as Yeats and Moore, yet ordinary Irish people are not known as the most outwardly demonstrative when it comes to showing their affection.
Romantic reserve is evident in many old Irish sayings dealing with love and marriage. Yet I am slow to dismiss these sayings as staid and lacking emotion.
They speak of steadfastness that goes beyond the frivolous, strength in unity. and the foolishness of seeking perfection. These wise old words can still teach us today, what can make a marriage last forever.
Valentine’s Day is a favorite day to “pop the question”, for men to descend on one knee and implore their beloved to accept their hand in marriage.
I wonder how American girls or today’s Irish girls would react to these romantic proposals from days gone by. Here is my favorite:
“Would you like to be buried with my people?”
Such loving words leave little doubt marriage lasts until “death do us part”. This view of being joined for life is backed up by another old saying:
“Maireann lá go ruaig
ach maireann an grá go huaigh.”
It translates as follows…
“A day lasts until it’s chased away,
but love lasts until the grave.”
Loving sentiments grow even stronger in this proposal:
“Live in my heart and pay no rent”
Or perhaps a loving bachelor may ensure his beloved’s devotion to laundry with these tender words of affection:
“Would you like to hang your washing next to mine?”
to which the lovely bride-to-be might respond:
“Is uaigneach an níochán nach mbíonn léine ann.”
(Phonetic pronunciation: Iss oo-ug-nock on nee-uck-cawn nock mee-un lay-un-ah ow-nn.)
“It is a lonely washing that has no man’s shirt in it.”
In the years before the Irish Famine of 1845-1850 poorer Irish people did not demand dowries for women to marry into the family. Only those with land expected a woman to bring a little something when she joined her husband’s family.
After the Famine, the dowry system was embraced by all. Land and a good marriage promised security, insurance of survival should a calamity such as the Great Hunger once again befall Ireland.
The following sayings arose from an Irish affinity for a good dowry and the promise of land.
“If a cat had a dowry, she would often be kissed.”
In other words, good looks don’t always matter, it’s usually the money in a dowry that is most attractive to a potential beau.
Here the roles are reversed. A man with a cow would be deemed to be well off, and would therefore have no problem finding a wife in rural Ireland in years gone by.
“Any man who owns a cow
can always find a woman to milk her.”
The next saying advises against frivolous spending. It’s more important to clothe your family and take care of their needs than spending money you don’t have on jewelry.
“A ring on a good woman’s finger is no good
without a blouse on her back.”
An Ideal Wife:
The Irish had many sayings about the ideal wife. Some are eyebrow raising when read from today’s point of view with equal rights for woman.
However, I thought it’s important to share this old Irish sayings, to view life in centuries past through a true historical lens.
“Better good manners than good looks.”
Here’s some advice about good looks, that most men pay no heed to…
“Ná gabh bean gan locht.”
“Do not take a wife without fault.”
And here’s one to keep any suitor thinking realistically about life, the ideal woman, and any future marriage.
“Don’t marry your ideal woman, because there is no such thing!”
Here are some words of caution about future in laws. When you marry, you marry into your wife’s family, and there’s no turning back. Be prepared for the whole kit and kaboodle, parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles and even neighbors.
“Marry a woman from the mountain,
and you marry the whole mountain.”
I like the next old saying, since it advises men to listen to their wives. A good marriage is dependent on conversation, sharing ideas, and good advice for each other.
“Mairg nach ndéanann comhairle dea-mhná.“
Phonetic pronuciation: (Marg nock nay-unn co-ir-lah ja vin-naw).
“Woe to him who does not have the counsel of a good wife.”
We’ve covered the topic of engagements, choosing a partner, and the potential for interference from in-laws. Now let’s move on to a little advice for a successful marriage.
The Joy Of Marriage:
This collection of sayings about love and marriage are sometimes wise, sometimes sarcastic and ironic, and sometimes just downright comical.
I love this one about breakfast.
“Marriages are all happy; its having breakfast together
that causes all the trouble.”
And here’s one telling us all about how to cure the pains of love…
“Níl leigheas ar an ngrá ach pósadh.”
Phonetic pronunciation: (Neel ly-ss er on ng-raw ock poe-sah.)
“There is no cure for love other than marriage.”
Here’s a wise old saying advising couples not to avoid arguments, or to resign themselves to the inevitability of a few arguments. The alternative is not so wonderful after all.
“Is fearr an t-imreas ná an t-uaigneas.“
Phonetic pronunciation: (Iss far on tim-ras naw on two-ig-nass.)
“The argument is better than the loneliness.”
And here we’re advised to never take anything for granted in a marriage. Beware the passage of time…
“Love makes time pass;
beware time making love pass.”
My Favorite Saying:
Now my favorite saying about love and marriage is not actually Irish. It is a lovely quotation from Albert Camus. Here it is….
“Don’t walk behind me, I might not lead.
Don’t walk in front of me, I might not follow.
Just walk beside me and be my friend.”
~ Albert Camus
Wishing you all a weekend full of Valentine love and romance, even if it be the more reserved Irish variety.
Thanks for following my recipes and ramblings.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom
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