A recent blog in this series on figurative speech in Irish mentioned “na laethanta go léir a bhí ag na Paoraigh.” Some of you probably recognized this as a reference to the well-known seanfhocal (proverb): Beidh lá eile ag an bPaorach (Mr. Power will have another day).
So how does this seanfhocal break down as far as vocabulary and grammar go? And if you’re new to Irish, you might be wondering where the verb “to have” is.
Let’s start with the “to have” question. The short answer is that there isn’t really a verb “to have” as such in Irish, but instead things are generally “at you,” using the preposition “ag” (at). Naturally this can be extended to all three “persons” (1st, 2nd, 3rd), so the paradigm starts out like this: Tá carr agam (There is a car at me), Tá carr agat, Tá carr aige, Tá carr aici, Tá carr ag Seán, Tá carr ag an Domhnallach, etc. Literally, the proverb would be translated as “There will be another day at Mr. Power.” There are some other ways to express possession, such as “Is liomsa é” (It is with me) but that, of course, will have to be ábhar blag eile.
beidh [bay]: will be
lá eile: another day, with the adjective (eile) in second place, the usual word order in Irish
ag an bPaorach: at Mr. Power (or the Power fellow, or as an another form of the surname “Power,” Mr. de Paor)
Paorach vs. bPaorach, and occasionally Phaorach: Paorach is the basic form of the name [PWEER-ukh or PWAYR-ukh]. In the prepositional phrase “ag an bPaorach,” the letter “b” is used to show eclipsis and the word is pronounced [BWEER-ukh or BWAYR-ukh]. This form is used in standard Irish and in some dialects. Curiously, even though in Donegal the form would normally be “ag an Phaorach,” there’s very little evidence of this usage online. That, of course, doesn’t mean some Donegal speakers wouldn’t make the conversion, but in this case, it seems tradition may sometimes trump dialect and “ag an bPaorach” may show up sometimes, even in Irish in the North, where lenition would normally occur. The few examples I did find online of “ag an Phaorach” were mostly from Donegal, as one would expect.
How about the “-ach” ending? It’s a way of saying the “Power” man, i.e. the man with the surname “Power.” Similarly, “an Domhnallach” is “the O’Donnell man” (or in Scotland, the MacDonald man) and “an Flaitheartach” is “the O’Flaherty man.” The proverb is usually translated as “Mr. Power,” but technically, of course, “Mr.” would be “an tUasal” (an tUasal de Paor). Wouldn’t have quite the same ring, though.
The proverb is believed to date to 1798, when Edmund Power was about to be hanged for his role in the Rebellion at Waterford (Dungarvan). That would give us over 200 years of the name “Paorach” being invoked to encourage people to struggle on for future success. So while we can’t actually answer the questions in the title of this blog, “Cé Mhéad Lá? Cé Mhéad Paorach?,” we can at least translate them: How many days? How many Messrs. Power? (How many Power men?). The nouns “lá” and “Paorach” stay singular in Irish, even in the question “Cé mhéad?” (How many?, lit. What amount?) which implies a plural answer.
Bhuel, sin é don lá inniu, cé nach lá an Phaoraigh é. So that’d be the genitive case of “Paorach” but that’s ábhar blag eile. SGF, Róislín
Nóta: the original blog in this series on figurative speech is: http://blogs.transparent.com/irish/between-a-rock-and-a-may-day-fire-or-life-on-the-horns-of-a-dilemma-as-gaeilge/