Tom Purcell: The wisdom of the Irish

Published 1:00 am Saturday, March 14, 2020

We could use some Irish wit and wisdom right now.

Here’s a good start: “You’ll never plow a field by turning it over in your mind.”

That’s a lesson well-taught by the many Irish immigrants, including my great-grandfather, who boldly came to America to make a better life for themselves and their families – and whose hard work greatly benefited our country.

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“For every mile of road, there are two miles of ditches,” reads another Irish saying.

True success in life isn’t something that can be given to us, but something we must earn. As the Irish say, “You’ve got to do your own growing, no matter how tall your father was.”

However, all successful teachers, entrepreneurs, executives and others have met multiple setbacks along the way – but refused to let the setbacks stand in their way. Vibrant civilizations are built by people who live this way.

Here’s a clever line that relates to the blarney common to presidential campaigns: “Help a man when he is in trouble and he will remember you when he is in trouble again.”

It has the opposite ring from “Give a man a fish, you’ll feed him for a day, but teach him to fish and he will feed himself for life.”

It’s more in line with this quote by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw: “A government [or politician] that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.”

The wise understand that there are no easy fixes in life or in politics and that somebody must pay for every government program. We somebodies are called “taxpayers,” and one of the world’s cleverest wits, who remains unknown, determined that the taxes withheld from our paychecks are our “contributions.”

To be sure, the outcome of a “free” government service is best explained by American humorist P.J. O’Rourke: “If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it’s free.”

The great Irish playwright Oscar Wilde said, “Seriousness is the only refuge of the shallow.”

Aren’t too many of us getting lost — particularly in social-media pontification — in the narrowness and silliness of our serious points of view?

Irish levity offers a solution, and, thankfully, it’s in abundance this time of year.

Here’s a joke I hope we all still agree on:

Q: Why are Irish jokes so short?
A: So members of Congress can understand them.

Here’s another: It was so cold in Washington, D.C., the politicians had their hands in their own pockets.

And another: Kate, a young Irish girl, asked her father, “Daddy, do all fairy tales begin with ‘Once upon a time?’”

“No, Kate,” said the father. “Lots of them begin with, ‘If elected president I promise that … .”

The Irish know there’s “nothing better than warm words on a cold night.” Such words can do us all a bit of good right now.

So I’ll leave you with this sweet Irish blessing:

May love and laughter light your days, and warm your heart and home.

May good and faithful friends be yours, wherever you may roam.

May peace and plenty bless your world with joy that long endures.

May all life’s passing seasons bring the best to you and yours!

Tom Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is syndicated by Cagle Cartoons. Email Tom at