Sunday, February 24, 2008


Perhaps it was Terry Thornton’s recent geneablog poetry
that caused it but the topic of the next CoG put me
in mind of an ancient Irish form of poem or proverb called the
triad. Triads were as the name suggests, a list of three things
that somehow were connected. Historians theorize they were
used by the Irish as teaching tools to pass on knowledge or to
serve as memory keys to specific lessons or discussions on
various topics.

For example:

“The rocks to which lawful behavior is tied: A monastery,
a chieftain, the family.”

There in one line are listed the three anchors of civilization

Here’s another. I can imagine some druid or monk working
with a student trying to learn how to deliver a speech and
then listing how he needs to improve:

“Three hateful things in speech-stiffness, obscurity, a bad

There were triads that instructed how to dress and behave:

“Three excellences of dress-elegance, comfort, lastingness.”

“Three Steadinesses of good womanhood-keeping a steady
tongue, a steady chastity and a steady housewifery.”

Triads had pieces of advice and wisdom for everyone,
including the nobility:

“Three things best for a chief-justice, peace and an army.”

“Three worst things for a chief-sloth, treachery, evil

Many of these triads have been translated into a poetic form.
Alfred Perceval Graves translated several of the ones I’ve
cited thusly:

Three powers advantaging a Chieftain most
Are Peace and Justice and an armed host.
Three worse of snares upon a Chieftain’s way:
Sloth, treachery and evil counsel they!”

“Three excellencies of our dress are these:
Elegance, durability and ease.”

Triads were not exclusive to the Irish. They were common
among the other Celts of Britain and Wales and I first
discovered them because of my interest in the legends of
King Arthur, since many of the British triads deal with him
and his followers. The authenticity of some of those is in
question since they make mention of “Lancelot of the Lake”
(although in a Welsh version of the name) and Lancelot
was a later edition from the medieval romances.

But I can see how useful triads must have been for teaching.
They were short, pithy, and easy to recall. And they could
easily be adapted for modern life:

“Three things needed to start the day: clean clothes, clean
teeth and a hot shower.”

"Three things to be bought when I go to the grocery: ground
beef and onions and breath mints for after!”

And I have put the CoG topic into a triad, but you’ll have to
wait until I post my response to see it.

How about you, readers? Can you put something in your life into
a triad?

I found the triads I used in this article here at this website:

Alfred Perceval Graves' verse translations can be found in
Robert Blaisdell's "Irish Verse:An Anthology" at
Google Book.


Jasia said...

Ah, very clever Bill! I never gave the triad a thought until you brought it up. Thank you for that! It's a most interesting thing once you ponder it and observe the world around you. Just now I'm looking at the amber egg on my desk and noticing that the holder is a triad with three lute-playing cherubs as the "feet". I don't think I ever gave it a thought before. Now when I look at it I will remember your post about the triad!

And thanks for mentioning the COG. I noticed you mentioned it twice but not a triad. Perhaps this comment will serve as the third mention to complete the triad. Were you perhaps wondering if someone would catch that and complete the triad?

Terry Thornton said...

Bill, I think I hear a triad challenge being formulated. I hope you will issue one --- these challenges are sorta like drawing a line in the dirt and saying, "I double-dog dare you to step over it!"

footnoteMaven said...


Very interesting post. Where do you come up with them?

Three necessities of a family history: Certain ancestors, certain knowledge, and a certain source.

Oh well, I tried. It can't be much worse than my limericks.


Bill West said...

AHA! You've caught on to my
nefarious scheme!

Bill West said...

Well, I sort of left it at an
optional challenge. Footnotemaven
has the distinction of the first
response to the Triad Un-challenge.
Feel free to fire away as your
conscience (and Muse) dictate!

Bill West said...

I liked it! The cool thing about
triads is that they don't have to
rhyme but it helps if there's a
certain flow of words and logic to them.

As for my ideas, I keep them in an old white owl-shaped cookie jar on top of the fridge.

(My sister and brother will remember the cookie jar in question.)

Terry Thornton said...

Bill, This triad is a new form for me. But here is my first effort.

Three things at Blogosphere I name:
Genealogy, History, and Friends to share.
At Hill County three great themes:
Recollections, Family, and Challenges to dare.
Two things I've named: Three things I proclaim:
Research it right; Post it nice; Your Soul to bare.


Terry Thornton said...

Bill, Please allow me to add one more triad:

Three types of bloggers: those who have a cow; those who have hogs; and flutaphonists.


Bill West said...

You're a poet at heart, Terry!
Well done!

Janice said...

I have a cow alright lol

Lori Thornton said...

Since I don't live in the country where I can have cows and hogs, I must be a flutaphonist. It's strange though because my specimens looks suspiciously like a flute and a piccolo!

I tried to come up with the 3 things Brumley demands, but I couldn't get the list down below 5.

Since I'm watching CSI right now, I guess I can say that the 3 CSIs are Las Vegas, New York, and Miami.

Of course, there are always the three states (or grand divisions) of Tennessee, but they are hardly original: East, Middle, and West. (I've actually lived in all three.)

As a UT Vols fan, I could say that the 3 best coaches are Pat Summitt, Bruce Pearl, and Philip Fulmer.

Then we have the 3 current favorite quarterbacks of Mississippians: Brett Favre, Eli Manning, and Peyton Manning.

I'm afraid I'm not very creative tonight, and I've been trying to come up with something for this post for a few days.