By Fergal Smiddy
“Is glas iad na cnoc i bhfad uainn” – “Faraway hills are green”.
Something mad, kind of endearing, about seanfhocail, is that they always seem to possess this annoyingly stubborn core of truth that seems impossibly relevant. Now, for the gatekeeping-inclined Gaeilgeoir out there – of whom I hope and believe there are few – before you melt into yourself with the smug glee of someone possibly “not getting that that’s literally the point of seanfhocail”, indulge me for a paragraph or two. I first began learning seanfhocail somewhere around 4th or 5th class of Primary School. Back then, it was a welcome switch up from the horrors of reciting briathra or trudging through Bun go Barr 6. The seanfhocail were accessible, easy to learn by heart, and offered the comfort of already being familiar to us in the form of their English translation.
I still feel to this day that the seanfhocail are massively under-utilised in Irish schools as a means to getting students invested in the language and cultural heritage of Ireland. Not only, like I’ve said, do they offer digestible little slices of Irish that go down smoother than warm báirín breac, but they also represent echoes of an old Irish culture – an old Irish character – that we’ll never recover from losing.
The seanfhocail I chose for the beginning of this editorial – Is glas iad na cnoc i bhfad uainn, a modern day equivalent being the grass is always greener – is one which, ironically, has had quite a bit of relevance to how things have been unfolding here over the past weeks and months. Agonisingly, we’ve been fixated on happenings across the pond, as a man who hasn’t yet mastered the distribution of buttons on his shirt cuffs has somehow orchestrated a vaccine rollout that’s the envy of all but Israel and the UAE. Meanwhile, somewhere in Dáil Éireann, Stephen Donnelly wrings his wrists having just sent a risky WhatsApp message: “any chance of a few spare vaccines Boris man? Staaate of Eu like what a death haha”. Micheál and Leo huddle with him around the phone screen in a disused Dáil cupboard as the response dings in: single thumbs down emoji.
Even in terms of the littler things, it’s such an odd human bias that faraway hills do in fact always seem greener. In the past week, I have been literally astounded by the speed and absolute conviction with which my mind – without a second’s hesitation – has gone from “it is so horrible outside, I’m literally trapped inside doing college work” to “it is so nice outside, and I’m stuck inside doing college work”. The point, I suppose, is that your brain will always be willing to perform some sort of rational gymnastics to get you that little head rush of feeling hard done by. The same advice goes for you as goes for Boris Johnson dressing himself, as goes for Stephen Donnelly crouching in a Dáil Eíreann broom cupboard: a little bit of self awareness goes a long way.