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.
1. The Proposal
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.”
“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.”
“It is a lonely washing that has no man’s shirt in it.”
2. The Dowry
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.”
“Any man who owns a cow
can always find a woman to milk her.”
“A ring on a good woman’s finger is no good
without a blouse on her back.”
3. An Ideal Wife
“Better good manners than good looks.”
“Ná gabh bean gan locht.”
“Do not take a wife without fault.”
“Don’t marry your ideal woman, because there is no such thing!”
“Marry a woman from the mountain,
and you marry the whole mountain.”
“Mairg nach ndéanann comhairle dea-mhná.“
“Woe to him who does not have the counsel of a good wife.”
4. The Joy Of Marriage
“Marriages are all happy; its having breakfast together
that causes all the trouble.”
“Níl leigheas ar an ngrá ach pósadh.”
“There is no cure for love other than marriage.”
“Is fearr an t-imreas ná an t-uaigneas.“
“The argument is better than the loneliness.”
“Love makes time pass;
beware time making love pass.”
5. My Favorite Saying
“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.”
Wishing you all a weekend full of Valentine love and romance, even if it be the more reserved Irish variety.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom