Irish Proverbs and what they Mean

Irish Proverbs and what they Mean

Ireland is a country with a very strong tradition of storytelling and language. There are a number of factors that made this happen; firstly, our own unique language, which existed long before English was spoken, has showed the importance of keeping traditions and culture alive. Secondly, storytelling was the main form of entertainment in Ireland before pen and paper, literacy and television came along. And thirdly, the Irish people are a naturally sociable, friendly bunch who love nothing more than a good chat!

All of these things have combined over the years to give us a natural way with words. Many of the world's most famous writers were Irish – James Joyce and Oscar Wilde are just two especially fine examples. There is also a whole lexicon of phrases, sayings, and proverbs credited to the Irish. If there's one thing we're good at, it's coming up with the perfect proverb for any situation.

Many of them still ring true today despite being centuries old. Others seem a little bit more quaint and old fashioned when compared with modern society, and of course some just don't make much sense regardless of time or context!

Here are 70 of the very best old Irish proverbs. A proverb for every occasion!


'Seanfhocal' is the Irish word for proverb, literally meaning 'old word'. The following proverbs have been around for centuries. They were originally told in Gaelic but have since migrated into the English language too.

1 Hindsight is the best insight to foresight – Learn from your past mistakes to avoid making new ones.

2. Every man is sociable until a cow invades his garden – Everybody has their off days!

3. Hunger is good sauce – hunger makes any food taste good.

4. Experience is the comb that life gives a bald man – A man who has lived long enough to lose his hair will no doubt know a thing or two about life.

5. Do not resent growing old, many are denied the privilege – this one of the few self explanatory proverbs!

6. Complain that you have no shoes until you meet a man who has no feet – be thankful for what you have because there will always be someone in a worse situation than you.

7. Beware of the anger of a patient man – if you make a patient man angry, you know things are serious!

8. It's a long road that has no turning – Always doing the same thing is neither beneficial nor entertaining.

It's a long road that has no turning

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9. Many a ship is lost within sight of the harbour – don't let your guard down no matter how safe you think things may be

10. Life is like a cup of tea; it's all in how you make it – how you live your life is a result of what you do in it.

11. It is the quiet pigs that eat the meal – this can be compared to 'the early bird catches the worm'.

12. It's a lonely washing that has no man's shirt in it – everybody needs someone to love (and wash clothes for).

13. It's not a delay to stop and sharpen the scythe – take every opportunity to learn.

14. No matter how many rooms you have in your house, you're only able to sleep in one bed – it doesn't matter how many possessions you have, we all have the same basic needs in life.

15. When the drop is inside the sense is outside – alcohol leads to senseless activities!

16. If you are looking for a friend without a fault you will be without a friend forever – nobody's perfect!

17. A lamb's bleat is often more telling than a dog's bark – sometimes being subtle works better than being loud and forthright.

18. You've got to do your own growing, no matter how tall your father was – success is never guaranteed.

19. It's better to pay the butcher than the doctor – paying good money for good food is better than eating bad food and having poor health as a result.

20. Broken Irish is better than clever English – this one is quite straightforward!

21. It's as easy to catch a cold in a King's castle as in a shepherd's hut – everyone is human, wealth is no measure of health.

22. Even black hens lay white eggs – seemingly bad people can still do good deeds.

23. A good word never broke a tooth – kindness is always returned.

24. An empty sack does not stand – lying and dishonesty gets you nowhere.

25. When the apple is ripe, it will fall – what will be will be.

26. He didn't lick it off a stone – people's personalities or actions are always influenced by someone.

27. You never miss the water until the well has run dry – you don't appreciate what you have until it's gone.

28. God's mill may grind slowly, but it grinds finely – slow and steady wins the race.

29. However long the day, the evening will come – bad times don't last forever.

However long the day, the evening will come

30. You'll never plough a field by turning it over in your mind – stop thinking and start doing!

31. You'll arrive back with one arm as long as the other – Whatever you intend to do is pointless and won't change anything.

32. The longest road out is the shortest road home – time and effort always pays off in the end.

33. If you dig a grave for others, you might fall into it yourself – spite is a dangerous thing.

34. Don't fear an ill wind if your haystacks are tied down – There is no need to worry about things if you're properly prepared.

35. The skin of the old sheep is on the rafter no sooner than the skin of the young sheep – nobody is immune to death or bad health no matter what their age.

36. It takes time to build castles – hard work and planning will reap rewards eventually.

37. A man's mouth often breaks his nose – if you talk too much you can get in trouble.

38. The older the fiddle the sweeter the tune – things improve with age.

39. There's no use boiling your cabbage twice – once something is done, there's no need to revisit it; leave the past behind.

40. A friend's eye is a good mirror – trust your friends' opinions.

41. A good beginning is half the work – getting things started is the hardest part.

42. Sunshine always follows rain – good things come after bad things; there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

43. Whatever is got on the devil's back falls under his belly – Any good thing ill-acquired never stays good.

44. Good luck beats early rising – some people are more fortunate than others for no real reason.

45. A wren in the hand is better than a crane out of it – a small success is better than a big failure.

46. A blind man is no judge of colours – knowledge is not equal to experience.

47. God's help is nearer than the door – don't run away from your problems.

48. A windy day is not a day for thatching – don't plan for the future in times of uncertainty.

Grá Go Deo Irish Pendant

Grá Go Deo meaning Love Forever in our native language (Irish Gaelic) Handcrafted in Ireland this Irish pendant with rare Connemara Marble

49. Every patient is a doctor after his cure – people who solve their own problems think they are experts in everyone else's.

50. You must crack the nuts before you can eat the kernel – success takes hard work.

51. Show the fatted calf but not the thing that fattened him – be wary of giving away the secrets to success.

52. There was never a scabby sheep in a flock that didn't like to have a comrade – even the most horrible people need friends.

53. If you lie down with dogs you'll rise with fleas – don't expect to mingle with bad people and not pick up some bad habits yourself.

54. An awkward colt often becomes a beautiful horse – everything can be improved.

55. A wild goose never reared a tame gosling – children learn by example.

56. The best way to keep loyalty in a man's heart is to keep money in his purse – another self explanatory one.

57. A trout in the pot is better than a salmon in the sea – be thankful for what you have rather than chasing after what you can never get.

58. An old broom knows the dirty corners best – wisdom comes with experience.

59. Any man can lose his hat in a fairy wind – some things are out of anyone's control.

60. Don't make little of your dish for it may be an ignorant man who judges it – never undersell yourself.

61. The cat is always dignified until the dog comes by – everyone has something or someone that makes them angry.

62. Wide is the door of the little cottage – it is often poor people who are most generous.

63. Everyone lays a burden on the willing horse – people are quick to take helpful people for granted.

64. It is easy to halve the potato where there is love – if you love someone you will share whatever you have without resentment

65. Enough and no waste is as good as a feast – Having enough is better than having too much.

66. While a person is out, his food goes cold – good things turn bad if left neglected.

67. Do not take the thatch from your own roof to buy slates for another man's house – you can't help others unless you help yourself first.

68. It is better to be a coward for a minute than dead for the rest of your life – safety is better than bravery.

69. Better to spend money like there's no tomorrow than spend tonight like there's no money – live in the moment.

70. Never dread the winter til the snow is on the blanket – there is no need to worry about the cold while you have a roof over your head.

71. One beetle recognises another - Like attracts like (Aithníonn ciaróg, ciaróg eile) 72. It’s long road that has no turn in it - (Is fada an bóthar nach bhfuil aon chasadh ann) - Be nice to people because you never know when you might meet/need them in the future. 73. Put silk on a goat and it’s still a goat - (Cuir síoda ar ghabhar agus is gabhar i gcónaí é) - It means it doesn’t matter how well you dress up, if you’re not attractive it won’t make any difference!

Sounds Nonsensical to us!

There are also plenty of Irish proverbs that we're not quite sure on!

Here are 26 of the best. See if you can decipher their meaning!

Goats Prez

1. It's difficult to choose between two blind goats.

2. A whistling woman and a crowing hen will bring no luck to the house they are in.

3. Don't be breaking your shin on a stool that's not in your way – don't make trouble for yourself unnecessarily.

4. When the sky falls, we'll all catch larks

5. If the knitter is weary the baby will have no bonnet.

6. It's for her own good that the cat purrs.

7. Don't tell your secret even to a fence.

8. There never was an old slipper but there was an old stocking to match it.

9. Firelight will not let you read fine stories but it's warm and you won't see the dust on the floor.

10. A buckle is a great addition to an old shoe.

11. In winter the milk goes to the cow's horns.

12. Snuff at a wake is fine if there's nobody sneezing over the snuff box.

13. A turkey never voted for an early Christmas.

14. A cat can look at a King.

15. A Tyrone woman will never by a rabbit without a head for fear it's a cat.

16. Soft words butter no parsnips, but they won't harden the heart of the cabbage either.

17. Never give cherries to pigs or advice to a fool

18. A nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse.

19. Never scald your lips with another man's porridge.

20. God is good, but never dance in a small boat.

21. If a cat had a dowry, she would often be kissed.

22. Never bolt the door with a boiled carrot.

23. When a heifer is far from home she grows longer horns.

24. The stars make no noise.

25. Never rub your eye with anything but your elbow.

ABOUT US Eileen Moylan, jewellery designer and silversmith celebrates her Irish heritage in her contemporary Irish jewelry design. Each piece is hand made and engraved here in our Claddagh Design workshop in County Cork Ireland, before being shipped to our Irish customers spread around the globe. Find out more about what we do

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