Translation (Literal): There’s no hearth like your own hearth
Translation (Modern English): There’s no place like home
Background: Informant is 54-year-old woman living in Dublin, Ireland. Raised in rural Ireland, she has a wealth of Irish proverbs and sayings, which are called seanfhocail in the original Irish (literally “old words”). She is married and has one grown daughter. She is signified in this conversation by the initials C.D.
C.D.: The saying goes, “Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán fein.”
A: Would you be able to define that for me?
C.D.: Of course. It’s an old Irish seanfhocail – that’s like an old proverb or saying – that means ‘there’s no hearth like your own hearth,’ kind of like the modern ‘there’s no place like home.’ I’d say that’s the most popular one of all the old sayings. I think a lot of them got assimilated into English because there’s loads of things that are kind of cliché sayings nowadays that got taken from the Irish and made their way into popular culture. I suppose that it helped that there was already a phrase in English ready to accommodate it.
A.: And do you think that it’s true? Is there really no place like home?
C.D.: Well, it’s nice to go on holidays and everything, but I don’t think I’d ever leave Ireland for good. A lot of my family emigrated and it was tough on them, they could hack it of course but they’d always be counting down the days until they came home – and then they’d be off again! I don’t want to live my life like that. I’ve made a life for myself here and I couldn’t be happier with it. I wouldn’t want to have to be wishing my time away, sure life’s too short for that! I suppose that’s why we use it when welcoming people home, because it’s such a quintessentially Irish phrase and in the language it has a bit more punch to it.
Performance context: I interviewed the informant over FaceTime due to her being in Ireland and I in California. In conversation about me coming home at the end of the semester, she mentioned this saying to me. However, this saying was not new to me as seanfhoclai are taught during Irish class at about the age of 10/11 in most Irish primary schools. At school, the purpose of the exercise of learning these proverbs was to enrich our spoken Irish and connect us with a history of Gaeilgeoir (Irish speakers). These phrases are very common in speech, even in their Anglicized format.
My Thoughts: Folk speech and expressions are some of the most enduring and transmitted forms of folklore. Alan Dundes says that proverbs are concise statements of situational philosophies, and so this leads us to consider in particular the Irish history of emigration in relation to this saying. This has a twofold effect. Firstly, this saying appeals in particular to emigrants, who would experience homesickness on a scale perhaps unrivalled by any other people. Romantic Irish writers abound write about their longing for Ireland, but acknowledge that they did leave for a reason. Secondly, my informant’s clever linking of this saying with the Anglicized and more popular ‘there’s no place like home’ illustrates the inherent and large field of transmission in folk-proverbs. I am personally unsure whether the English or Irish phrase came first, or whether this exists in a multiplicity of cultures, perhaps further collections can shed light on this. This saying is also past-focused, reinforcing Dundes’ idea that European culture is less future-focused than American society, as this saying suggests the ultimate comfort exists in what one has, as opposed to what one will have in the unreachable and ever-fleeing future.