There are famous Irish sayings for every occasion.
My Irish husband knows them all. Or maybe I should say, my Irish American husband who reluctantly concedes also being Scottish and Welsh – a fact that some would say makes him a danger to his own bodily well-being. Like his Chinese/Irish buddy who isn’t sure which half is which, he likes to joke that he isn’t sure where exactly his Irishness is located.
But I know.
It’s all right there in the gab.
The Irish are famous for the gift of the gab. The word blarney is theirs – after a stone that belonged to a castle whose owner, well, blarneyed his way out of handing it over to the English crown.
Where do these famous Irish sayings come from?
My husband tells me that the poor Irish, the Catholic Irish, the very-large-family-indeed Irish developed this enviable gift in their evenings around the fire. Overworked, under-privileged, yet always lively, they cheered themselves by passing down stories of their ancestors.
Sad tales of love, happy tales of war, tales of heroism, revenge, faith, and… whiskey. These were savored and doubtless, flavored. It was an oral tradition like that of Homer, complete with saints and miracles, witches and leprechauns, always with a crackle of good Christian humor.
Of course, the very same, themselves, also gave us ardent hymns such as, “To Jesus Heart all Burning” and blessings that double as wedding toasts:
May your neighbors respect you
Trouble neglect you
The angels protect you
And heaven accept you
Every nation has its poets. In Ireland it’s the words themselves that are famous, not those who made them.
It would seem that the good Lord thought it would be fun to spread the genius out over the entire race rather than bestow it all upon a single Shakespeare.
If you are foolish enough to cross an Irishman, you might find yourself the target of a zinger. I am reminded of the unfortunate lady who once remarked to my husband’s grandmother Nellie, that really, didn’t she have enough children already?
“I’d rather have them on my pillow than on my conscience,” Nellie quipped from her maternity bed.
No matter how many generations removed or how diluted the blood, the Irish thrive off an appetite for the one liner.
They’ve got something to say about everything. Here are my favorites:
Hospitality: “There is no such thing as a stranger, only a friend you have yet to meet.”
Religion: “God is good but never dance in a small boat.”
Old age: “Do not resent growing old, for many are denied the privilege.”
Friendship: “May the hinges of our friendship never grow rusty.”
Long life: “May you live to be a hundred years, with one extra year to repent.”
Community: “May the roof above us never fall in and the friends below it never fall out.”
Men & Women: “There are only three kinds of Irish men who can’t understand women: young men, old men, and men of middle age.”
Sin: “If you lie down with dogs, you’ll rise up with fleas.”
Graduation: “As you slide down the banister of life, may the splinters never point in the wrong direction.”
Farewell: “May the Lord keep you in his hand and never close his fist too tight.”
Finally, as we celebrate the feast day of the glorious St. Patrick, himself a French-educated, Roman Brit who by the grace of God ended up Irish, here is one for all of us Christians.
“Get on your knees and thank the Lord you’re on your feet.”
Originally published as “Irish by Marriage” in Faith and Family Magazine, Spring 2004. Now read: An Unpopular Mercy, also from Faith and Family.