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An Fháinleog Chapter 9

Chapter 9 of an online drama for learners of the Irish language (intermediate level) - 20 chapters. Written by Pól Ó Muirí. Additional resources in association with the Ultach Trust.

Ní hé lá na gaoithe lá na scolb The windy day is not the day for thatching.

1. Ní hé lá na gaoithe lá na scolb
This means ‘Don’t thatch your roof on a windy day’ (literally, ‘the windy day is not the day for the scallops’). A scolb is what was used to pin down the thatch; it could be a flexible hazel or willow stem, or even a briar from which the thorns had been stripped, although nowadays wire is used. The scolb was pushed down into the scraith, or scraw, a layer of thickly-rooted turf laid on top of the rafters. Although thatch has almost disappeared, and the techniques of thatching are now as arcane as those of the blacksmith, everyone who learns Irish learns this proverb, and indeed often knows what a scolb is. As a result, this glimpse of Ireland’s rural past can be part of the mental furniture of street urchins, suburban yuppies and comely bourgeois maidens in the cities of Ireland.

You will have gathered that this proverb is to do with timeliness. There are dozens of these, many of which recommend getting up early in the morning. Here are a few more:
Ná díol do chearc lá fliuch – Don’t sell your hen on a wet day
Sábháil an féar le teas na gréine – Make hay while the sun shines (literally ‘with the heat of the sun’)
Is fusa breith ar an ghiorria ina chodladh ná ar bheirt ina ndúiseacht – It’s easier to catch one sleeping hare than two that are awake

2. Cúrsaí
Tá cuma níos fearr ar chúrsaí – Things are looking better
Ná bíodh imní ort faoi chúrsaí croí – Don’t worry about affairs of the heart

The dictionary gives ‘matter, affair, circumstance’ as a translation of this sense of the word cúrsaí, but the term (a plural word) cannot be translated satisfactorily. It is best understood through examples:
Tá cúrsaí níos measa anois – Things are worse now
Sin mar atá cúrsaí – That’s how matters stand
Bhí muid ag plé cúrsaí – We were talking about things in general
Bhí muid ag plé cúrsaí airgid – We were discussing money matters
Níl suim ar bith agam i gcúrsaí polaitíochta – I have no interest in politics
Cúrsaí an tsaoil – the ways of the world, world affairs
Cúrsaí dlí – legal matters

3. Some idioms with ‘le’
a. Examples from Scene 9 of a very common idiomatic use of le are:
Tá mé ag obair liom
Tá mé ag scríobh liom
Tá mé ag tógáil liom
Tá mé ag gníomhadh liom

These sentences are not particularly easy to translate. In the above examples, le is used to add a sense of continuity. Where Tá mé ag obair merely means ‘I am working’, the sentence Tá mé ag obair liom means something like ‘I’m working away’ or ‘I am continuing to work’ or ‘I am going on working’.

Ól leat – Drink away / Keep drinking. This phrase is sometimes used to encourage someone to begin taking a drink – not necessarily an alcoholic one.

b. The preposition ‘le’ may also be used along with verbs (and verbal nouns) to give emphasis:
Imigh – Go away
Imigh leat – Take yourself off

Abair – Say (sing)
Abair leat – Speak away. Go on talking. (Away you go, give us a song)

c. Sometimes it can be used to imply a (very emphatic) verb:
Suas leat – Up you go
Ar aghaidh leat – Keep on going. Go ahead.
Amach leat – Get the hell out

3. Some idioms with as
Níl dóchas caillte agam as cúrsaí polaitíochta – I haven’t lost hope in politics
Níl muinín agam astu – I don’t trust them (I don’t have faith in them)

As you can see in these two examples from Scene 9, prepositions in Irish are often unexpected. Where English has ‘in’ Irish has as which means ‘out of’. Here are some more idioms with as:
Bain triail as – Try it
Bain úsáid as – Use it
Díol as (Íoc as) – Pay for it
D’éirigh sí as a cuid oibre – She resigned
Níl aon dul as agam – I have no alternative
Cérb as duit? – Where are you from
Lig sé béic as – He let a yell out of him

4. More idioms
Tá biseach orm – I am better (or I have improved)
Tá biseach ar an aimsir – The weather has improved
Bhí an fliú orm an tseachtain seo caite, ach tá biseach orm anois – I had the flu last week but I’m better now

a. You’ll remember from Scene 3 that all illnesses use this structure:
Tá slaghdán orm – I have a cold
Tá tinneas cinn orm – I have a headache
Tá tinneas fiacaile orm – I have a toothache

b. As do emotions. In the notes to Scene 3 you met sentences such as: Tá imní orm – I am worried; Tá fearg orm – I am angry; Tá brón orm – I am sad / I am sorry. You will also remember: Tá cumha orm and Tá uaigneas orm, the subtleties of which were explained ad nauseum in the notes to Scene 8. If you don’t remember what they mean, take it as a sign to go back and do a bit of revision.

You can add other prepositions to this structure, sometimes the same as those in English:
Tá fearg orm leat– I am angry with you
But sometimes, as you would expect, they are different:
Níl eagla orm romhat – I am not afraid of you
Tá buaireamh orm faoi – I am worried about him / it

c. The same structure is also used for parts of the body. Remember Tá ocht gcos ar an ochtapas from Scene 3. Here are some more examples:
Tá cloigeann mór air siúd – Thon boyo has a quare big head
Tá muineál air mar a bheadh bun crainn ann – He has a neck on him like the stump of a tree
Tá béal air mar a bheadh rópa scipeála ann – He has a mouth like a skipping rope
Nach bhfuil béal ort? – Haven’t you a mouth on you? (said – rather unpleasantly – to someone who is either too shy or too reserved to ask for something)

5. A new compound word
The word lagmhisneach is made up of lag meaning weak, and misneach meaning courage. It implies despondency and low spirits, much like beaguchtach. The word misneach is aspirated. Generally, the initial letter of the second word in a compound is aspirated. However, attentive readers will have noticed that this is not always the case. Readers with a basic knowledge of Irish grammar will know that sometimes letters are not aspirated because they cannot be aspirated, but they may also have wondered why there is no aspiration on the letter ‘d’ of the word seanduine (old person, old man). The rule here is that the letters ‘d’, ‘t’, ‘s’ are rarely aspirated after the letter ‘n’, as described to grammar nerds in the notes for Scene 6. Is there a reason for this? There is but it’s nothing to do with being a grammar nerd and it is all to do with the position of the tongue in the mouth, but you will have to work it out for yourself.

6. Double your word power
If you stick a little negative particle in front of a word, you have two words for the price of one. In English, kind and unkind have opposite meanings. The problem is that you do not always know what particle to use. English has plenty of them, think of the words impatient, intolerant, misunderstanding, disenchantment. We have the same problem in Irish, which has a variety of negative particles. The word éadóchas involves one of these, and is based on the word dóchas with a little negative particle ‘éa-’. Negative particles generally aspirate, but this one happens to eclipse – except that it does not eclipse the letter ‘d’ (it’s all to do with the position of the tongue in the mouth). So we have some useful little pairs:
trom – heavy; éadrom – light (>éa-dtrom)
cinnte – certain; éiginnte – uncertain (>éi-gcinnte)
cóir – correct, justice; éagóir – injustice (ea-gcóir)
cothrom – evenly balanced, fair; éagothrom – unsteady, unfair (éa-gcothrom)

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