Proverbs and Riddles

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  • Teideal (Title): Proverbs and Riddles.
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): 781504.
  • Uimhir Chnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann (National Folklore of Ireland Number): none.
  • Uimhir Roud (Roud Number): none.
  • Uimhir Laws (Laws Number): none.
  • Uimhir Child (Child Number): none.
  • Cnuasach (Collection): Joe Heaney Collection, University of Washington, Seattle.
  • Teanga na Croímhíre (Core-Item Language): English.
  • Catagóir (Category): lore.
  • Ainm an té a thug (Name of Informant): Joe Heaney.
  • Ainm an té a thóg (Name of Collector): Esther Warkov.
  • Dáta an taifeadta (Recording Date): 06/03/1978.
  • Suíomh an taifeadta (Recording Location): University of Washington, United States of America.
  • Ocáid an taifeadta (Recording Occasion): interview.
  • Daoine eile a bhí i láthair (Others present): unavailable.
  • Stádas chóipcheart an taifeadta (Recording copyright status): unavailable.
  • Is minic fear fada ag ceannach fataí ó fhearr gearr. (‘Tis many a tall man who bought potatoes from a short man.)
  • Ní hiad na fir mhóra a bhaineanns an fómhar ar fad. (The biggest men don’t cut the whole harvest.)
  • Tuig an fear léinn leathfhocal. (A learned man understands half a word.)
  • Fear dubh, fear bán, fear macánta, fear slán. (Dark-haired or fair, a mannerly man, a sound man.)
  • Is minic a bheir cearc dhubh ubh bhán. (‘Tis many the black hen that laid a white egg.)
  • Tuigeann Tadhg Taidhgín. (Tadhg understands Little Tadhg; like-minded people understand each other.)
  • Chomh folláin le bradán. (As healthy as a salmon.)
  • Chomh géar le súil mná óige ar aonach. (As sharp as the eye of a young woman at a fair.)
  • Chomh leathan le cailleach agus chomh dubh (dúr?) le seanbhean.
  • A man’s picture is hanging on the wall in a frame. A person comes in and asks who is the man in the picture. ‘Brothers and sisters I have none; that man’s father is my father’s son.’ Answer: The picture is of the person himself.
  • Twins were born in March, on the first of April. One died young, and the other lived to marry his mother. Answer: March is the name of a little village in Wales, where the twins were born on 1st April. The one who survived became a priest, and performed the ceremony for his widowed mother when she married again.
  • Ten men come into a hotel looking for a place to spend the night. There’s only nine beds available. The butler is told to put one man in each bed, and have no two in the one bed. How did he do it? Answer: He put the second man in the first bed, the third man in the second bed, the fourth man in the third bed, the fifth in the fourth, the sixth in the fifth bed, the seventh in the sixth bed, the eighth in the seventh bed, the ninth in the eighth bed, and the first fellow in the ninth bed1.
  • A man comes to a house, looking for a horse. He’s told that he can only have a horse that was never born. Answer: The mare died as the foal was being born. As a hint to the solution of this riddle, Joe mentions the line in ‘Captain Wedderburn’s Courtship’ that refers to the ‘priest unborn’ – Meetcheldase (Melchisidec).


1. The problem here, of course, is that the tenth man remains unaccounted for. Perhaps the point of this riddle is simply to befuddle the target!

At the end of this segment, Joe sings a stanza from Óró, a bhuachaillín, seol do bhó, which can be heard in its entirety here.

Here’s another one, given in 2010 by Pádraig Ó Coirbín, a native of Carna:

Dhá mbeadh uisce agam, d’ólfainn fíon; ach faoi nach bhfuil uisce agam, ólfaidh mé uisce. (If I had water, I’d drink wine; but since I don’t have water, I’ll drink water)

Answer: The speaker of the riddle is a ship’s captain. If the tide were favourable, he’d bring his ship in to shore and head for the pub. But since the tide is out, he’ll have to be content with drinking the water he has on board.