At first glance, one might read this phrase as saying that one’s trade shapes one’s station in life. However, this seemingly simple seanfhacail is elaborated upon by T. D. MacDonald in Gaelic Proverbs and Proverbial Sayings with a very different emphasis:
“The tradition associated with the above is that, when Alastair MacColla (Alexander MacDonald), the Great Montrose’s principal lieutenant, found himself pent up with a handful of followers, surrounded by the Covenanters, a tinker of the name of Stewart, from Athol, made his appearance among MacDonald’s men, and with his claymore hewed down the Covenanters till but few were left. MacDonald, astonished at the timely succour and the successful onslaught of the unknown warrior, bade him be called to his presence after the fray, and asked him who and what he was. The tinker modestly replied that he was but a tinker, and hardly deserved to be named among men, far less among such brave men as were then present. MacDonald, turning round to his followers, proclaimed the heroic tinker’s praise, citing the words quoted, and which are now a proverb . . .”
Following upon T. C. MacDonald’s story, we might learn from this seanfhacail that ability, courage, or wisdom might arise from any quarter, even the unexpected quarter, even one society might overlook.