Is it just me or has anyone noticed how many Irish things come in threes? I reckon it all started 5200 years ago in an underground stone passage at Newgrange with this carving on a rock:
This mysterious trefoil swirl has baffled historians for centuries but I think it’s really quite simple, people in Ireland must simply love the number three. (May sometimes be pronounced ‘tree’). They must love it so much that they engraved it permanently on a well preserved but ancient underground rock for all to see and be amazed by.
When we arrived in Ireland, my ear wasn’t tuned into the subtleties of the accent. The first time I noticed this was when I went shopping for groceries and the supermarket P.A. system declared that ‘If you buy two, you get a turd free’. I grasped my shopping trolley for support as I tried to deal with the culture shock. What kind of a dirty joke was this now?
Coming from South Africa my ear was tuned into a different type of accent but I was used to humour. However, it usually fell under the ‘laugh’ and death category, not so much the dirty jokes. For example, in SA You could fly on a local airline and be asked to put on a ‘laugh’ jacket in the event of an emergency.
South Africans deal with so much death and other hateful things, they are definitely good at looking on the bright side of life. ‘Laugh’ is too short to take yourself too seriously.
After all this time though, I’ve become so used to the Irish accent and expressions that when we go back to SA to visit, I think my nieces and nephews talk funny. And I get some odd looks when I snort with laughter through the airline safety demonstration.
However, that beautiful and mysterious three spiralled symbol, the origins of which nobody seems to know the meaning, got me thinking about all the things that come in threes in this country.
Here are a few I have discovered:
- The flag has three bands (green, white and orange).
- The shamrock has three leaves (national symbol for good luck).
- Three most important national institutions: Church, state and the pub.
- Three times your parents will almost certainly bring you to church: your baptism, communion and confirmation.
- Most typical Irish dinner would consist of: bacon, cabbage and potatoes.
- Any self-respecting Irish Mammy should be able to bake these: scones, apple pie and tea brack.
- Three most popular soda drinks: coke, club orange and 7-up.
- Three fruit juice flavours you will always find in any grocery store: apple, orange and blackcurrant.
- Three drinks consumed in greatest quantities. Guinness, tea and blackcurrant juice.
- Three choices of sauce for your chips: Ketchup, mayonnaise or curry sauce.
- Three favourite sun holiday destinations: Spain, France, Italy
- Your three biggest parties will be at your first Holy Communion, your marriage and at your funeral
You may be able to think of more, and please note, this list is not based on any surveys or research, it’s just a wee bit of craic (pronounced crack, meaning fun).
Now that we have been here for a number of years, my ear has grown accustomed to the variations of the accent around the country. I now know that when the tree men visit Mary and Jospeh that they are wise men, not lumberjacks.
The other thing I learned is, the word for three in Irish is actually trí, (pronounced tree)! Can you believe it? Finally, everything makes sense and I realise that all this time I simply couldn’t see the forest for the trís.
So for now, I’ll say slán! (pronounced slaan – not in this case the South African word for slap, meaning good health and used as a salutation).
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