Irish Proverbs a Guide
to the Lessons of Life
No one turns a phrase like the Irish. You've heard many of these Irish proverbs in the familiar English version. Here I will show you the proper Irish phrasing of these familiar proverbs. You just may learn one of life’s valuable lessons along the way.
The following list will show the English version in bold letters with the Irish version after. There may be more than one Irish proverb for each. Different areas in Ireland have their own particular turn of a phase.
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
- A trout in the pot is better than a salmon in the pool.
- A wren in the hand is better than a crane to be caught.
- Better is a wren in your fist, that is your property, than a crane or heron on loan.
- This is better than the thing we never had.
A chip off the old block.
- The big dog's nature will be in the pup.
(A little twist with this next Irish proverb.)
- A wild goose never laid a tame egg.
All that glitters is not gold.
- Pleasant on the outside, gloomy on the inside.
- All that's yellow is not gold, and all that's white is not eggs.
You may lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink.
- One man may lead a horse to water but twelve won't make him drink.
A rolling stone gathers no moss.
- Moss grows not on oft turned stones.
Birds of a feather flock together.
- Go nine ridges and nine furrows further to help your own people than you would to the stranger.
- Birds of one feather are often together.
- Each bird draws to its own flock.
- Wild geese are, will goslings be.
Don't count your chickens before they're hatched.
- Do not bless the fish till it gets to land.
- Do not build the sty before the litter comes.
- Don't cry "Shoo" to the chick till it be out of the egg.
- Don't skin the deer till you get it.
Every man thinks his own geese swans.
- Black as the raven he thinks his children fair.
- Its own child is bright to the carrion crow.
- Every mother thinks it is on her own child the sun rises.
- The scald crow thinks her daughter is the prettiest bird in the wood.
All talk, no action.
- Loud cackle, little egg.
- Great noise, little hurt
- Great noise for a little wool.
Half a loaf is better than no bread.
- Better are small fish than an empty dish.
- A wise woman is better than a foolish doctor.
It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good.
- It is a bad wind that does not blow good for somebody.
- No wind ever blew that did not fill some sail.
- One mans death is grace to another.
- There is no misfortune that comes on the country that someone is not the better for it.
A day late and a dollar short.
- When the corn is stolen the silly body builds the dyke.
Look before you leap.
- Every business ought first to be thought over.
- Look at the river before you cross the ferry.
Misery loves company.
- Pity him who turns his back on his own people.
One swallow does not make a summer.
- One dose will not cure nor one feed make fat.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire.
- Out of the briers into the thorns.
- Out of the fire into the embers.
- Out of the cauldron into the fire.
Set a beggar on horseback and he will gallop.
- When the goat goes to church he does not stop till he gets to the alter.
Still waters run deep.
- It is the smooth waters that run deepest.
- Where water is stillest it is the deepest.
(This next Irish proverb says the same thing at a different point of view.)
- It is the shallowest water that makes the most noise.
The pot calling the kettle black.
- The griddle calling the pot black bottom.
There's many a slip twixt the cup and the lip.
- What one swallows is his own but not what he is chewing.
Rob Peter to pay Paul.
- Plunder Peter and pay Paul.
- Starving Mike Malcolm to fatten big Murdock.
- The thatch of the kiln on the mill.
When in Rome do as the Romans
- The manner of folk one lives among will be followed.
When the cat is away the mice will play.
- When the cat shall leave home the mice shall have leave to dance.
- When the cats leave town the mice dance.
(Here is another of the Irish proverbs with a twist of wording.)
- Were the cat at home it were worse for you.
You can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear.
- The world would not make a racehorse out of a donkey.
- You cannot make hawks of kites.
I couldn't tell you if these Irish proverbs all originated in Ireland or not. Good proverbs in general all seem to have the same theme. They just happen to be changed in wording from one country to another. I think when people heard a good meaningful proverb regardless of place of origin; they would rephrase them and call them their own. Irish proverbs seem to fit in different areas of the country whether on the farm or on the shore or in the city.
But all in all I still love the Irish turn of a phrase.
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