The title Trecheng Breth Féne "A Triad of Judgments of the Irish", more widely known as "The Triads of Ireland", refers to a miscellaneous collection of about 214 Old Irish triads (and some numerical variants) on a variety of topics, such as nature, geography, law, custom and behaviour. Its compilation is usually dated to the ninth century.
The following example is Triad 91:
The use of the triad form (arrangement into threes) to encapsulate certain ideas is neither distinctively Irish nor Celtic, but can be widely attested in many societies over the world, in part owing to its usefulness as a mnemonic device. It does appear to be particularly popular in the literatures of Celtic-speaking areas, one notable other example being the later Welsh collection Trioedd Ynys Prydein "Triads of the Isle of Britain". Beyond the particular form, however, there is nothing to suggest a shared literary tradition. Although triads can be pointed out in both Irish and (again later) Welsh law texts, they are the rule in neither as other numerical forms are usually preferred.
Kuno Meyer proposed that the practice was inspired from the Old Testament, which however, offers very few examples. Fergus Kelly concludes that "[t]he case for a special Celtic cult of threeness is unproven, as is the attempt by Meyer and other scholars to establish a biblical origin."
Hereby is a short example compilation from the work by Kuno Meyer "TheTriads Of Ireland" published on 1906. The collection of Irish Triads, which is here edited and translated for the first time, has come down to us in the following nine manuscripts, dating from the fourteenth to the nineteenth "century :
=B=, i.e. the Book of Ballymote, a vellum of the end of the fourteenth century, pp. 65b-66b (ends
=M=, i.e. the Book of Húi Maine, a vellum of the fourteenth century, fo. 190a-fo. 191a. A complete copy
=Lec=, i.e. the Book of Lecan, a vellum of the fifteenth century. The leaves on which the Triads are found are now bound up with the codex H. 2. 17 belonging to Trinity College. It is a complete copy beginning on p. 183b: 'Ceand erenn Ardmacha,' and ending on p. 184b: 'ceitheora aipgitri baisi baig connailbi gell imreasain.' =N=, i.e. 23. N. 10, a paper MS. written in the year 1575, pp. 98-101. A complete copy, the gap between pp. 100 and 106 being made up by pp. 7a-10b of the vellum portion of the manuscript.
By an oversight I have referred to this MS. sometimes by Lec and sometimes by H. In some cases both Lec and H will be found quoted in the variants. The same MS. is always meant. As appears from the following colophon on p. 101: 'Oraoit uaim ar do lebor a hOedh in cédluan iar
n-aurtach Johannes. Baile Tibhaird ar bla maige mo mendad scribne hi farrad Se(a)ain hi Maoilconari. Mese (Dubthach) do scrib in ball soin da derpiris [et] rlæ. Anno domini 1575. Guroiuh maith agat.
=H=[Prime], i.e. H. 1. 15, pp. 946-957. This is a paper manuscript written by Tadhg Tiorthach O Neachtain in 1745. It is a complete copy, with copious glosses in Modern Irish, the more important of which are printed below on pp. 36-43. At the end O Neachtain has added the following:--'Trí subhailce diadha: creidhemh, dothchus agus grádh. Trí a n-aon: athair, mac, spiorad naomh, da raibh gloir, mola[dh] [et] umhlacht tre bith sior tug ré don bhochtan bocht so. Aniu an 15 do bhealltuine 1745. Tadhg O Nechtuin mac Seain a n-aois ceithre bliadhna déag et trí fithchit roscriob na trithibh [.s]uas.'
TheTriads Of Ireland
Three slender things that best support the world: the slender stream of milk from the cow's dug into the pail; the slender blade of green corn upon the ground; the slender thread over the hand of a skilled woman.
The three worst welcomes: a handicraft in the same house with the inmates; scalding water upon your feet; salt food without a drink.
Three rejoicings followed by sorrow: a wooer's, a thief's, a tale-bearer's.
Three rude ones of the world: a youngster mocking an old man; a robust person mocking an invalid; a wise man mocking a fool.
Three fair things that hide ugliness: good manners in the ill-favoured; skill in a serf; wisdom in the misshapen.
Three sparks that kindle love: a face, demeanour, speech.
Three glories of a gathering: a beautiful wife, a good horse, a swift hound.
Three fewnesses that are better than plenty: a fewness of fine words; a fewness of cows in grass; a fewness of friends around good ale.
Three ruins of a tribe: a lying chief, a false judge, a lustful priest.
Three laughing-stocks of the world: an angry man, a jealous man, a niggard.
Three signs of ill-breeding: a long visit, staring, constant questioning.
Three signs of a fop: the track of his comb in his hair; the track of his teeth in his food; the track of his stick behind him.
Three idiots of a bad guest-house: an old hag with a chronic cough; a brainless tartar of a girl; a hobgoblin of a gillie.
Three things betokening trouble: holding plough-land in common; performing feats together; alliance in marriage.
Three nurses of theft: a wood, a cloak, night.
Three false sisters: 'perhaps,' 'may be,' 'I dare say.'
Three timid brothers: 'hush!' 'stop!' 'listen!'
Three sounds of increase: the lowing of a cow in milk; the din of a smithy; the swish of a plough.
Three steadinesses of good womanhood: keeping a steady tongue; a steady chastity; a steady housewifery.
Three excellences of dress: elegance, comfort, lastingness.
Three candles that illume every darkness: truth, nature, knowledge.
Three keys that unlock thoughts: drunkenness, trustfulness, love.
Three youthful sisters: desire, beauty, generosity.
Three aged sisters: groaning, chastity, ugliness.
Three nurses of high spirits: pride, wooing, drunkenness.
Three coffers whose depth is not known: the coffers of a chieftain, of the Church, of a privileged poet.
Three things that ruin wisdom: ignorance, inaccurate knowledge, forgetfulness.
Three things that are best for a chief: justice, peace, an army.
Three things that are worst for a chief: sloth, treachery, evil counsel.
Three services, the worst that a man can serve: serving a bad woman, a bad lord, and bad land.
Three angry sisters: blasphemy, strife, foul-mouthedness.
Three disrespectful sisters: importunity, frivolity, flightiness.
Three signs of a bad man: bitterness, hatred, cowardice.
Three worst smiles-the smile of a wave, the smile of a loose woman, the grin of a dog ready to leap.
The Three wealths of fortunate people-a ready conveyance, ale without a habitation, a safeguard upon the road
Three sons whom chastity bears to wisdom-valour, generosity laughter.
Three entertainers of a gathering-a jester , a juggler, a lap-dog.
Three things best for a chief-justice peace and an army.
Three worst things for a chief-sloth treachery, evil counsel.
The three things that ruin wisdom-ignornace, inaccurate knowledge, forgetfulness.
Three nurses of dignity-a fine figure a good memory, piety.
Three nurses of high spirits-pride, wooing, drunkenness.
Three dark things of the world-giving a thing into keeping, guaranteeing, fostering.
Three that are most difficult to talk to-a king about his booty, a Viking in his hauberk, a boor who's under patronage.
Three whose spirits are highest-a young scholar after having read his psalms, a youngster who has put on mans attire, a maiden who has been made a woman.
Three wealths in barren places-a well in a mountain, fire out of a stone, wealth in the possession of a hard man.
Three renovators of the world-the woman of a woman, a cows udder, a smiths moulding block.
Three concealments upon which forfeiture does not close-a wifes dowry, the food of a married couple a boys foster fee.
Three contracts that are reversed by the decision of a judge-the contracts of a woman, of a son, of a cotter.
Three that are incapable of special contracts-a son whose father is alive, a betrothed woman, the serf of a chief.
Three sons that do not share inheritance-a son begotten in a brake, the son of a slave, the son of a girl still wearing tresses.
Three chains by which evil propensity is bound-a covenant, a monastic rule, law.
The rocks to which lawful behavior is tied: A monastery, a chieftain, the family.
Three candles that illumine every darkness-truth, nature, knowledge.
Three things that constitute a king-A contract with other kings, the feast of Tara, abundance during his reign.
Three locks that lock up secrets-shame silence, closeness/
Three keys that unlock thoughts: drunkenness, trustfulness, love.
Three inheritances that are divided in the presence of heirs-the inheritance of a jester, of a madman and of an old man.
Three youthful sisters-desire, beauty, generosity.
Three aged sisters-Groaning, chastity, ugliness
Three well-bred sisters-constancy, well-spokenness, kindliness
Three Ill-bred sisters-fierceness, lustfulness, obduracy
Three sisters of good fortune-good breeding, liberality, mirth
Three sisters of good repute-dilligence, prudence, bountifulness
Three sisters of ill-repute-intertness, grudging, closefistedness
Three angry sisters-blasphemy, strife, foulmouthedness
Three irreverent sisters-usefulness, an easy bearing , firmness
Three reverent sisters-usefulness, an easy bearing, firmness.
Three causes that do not die with neglect-the causes of an imbecile, and of oppression, and of ignorance
Three bloodsheds that need not be impunged-the bloodshed of battle, of jealousy, of mediating
Three cohabitations that do not pay a marriage-portion-taking her by force, outraging her without her knowledge through drunkenness, her being violated by a king.
Three that are not entitled to exemption-restoring a son, the tools of an artificer, hostageship
Three deposits that need not be returned-the deposits of an imbecile, and of a high dignitary, and a fixed deposit
Three dead ones that are paid for with living things-an apple-tree, a hazel bush, a sacred grove.
Three that neither swear nor are sworn-a woman, a son who does not support his father, a dumb person.
Three that are not entitled to u\renunciation of authority-a son and his father, a wife and her husband, a serf and his lord.
Thre who do not adjudicate though they are possessed of wisdom-a man who sues, a man who is being sued, a man who is bribed to give judgment
Three on whom acknowledgement does not fall in its time-death, ignorance, carelessnes.
Three maidens that bring hatred upon misfortune-talking, laziness, insincerity
Three maidens that bring love to good fortune-silence, diligence, sincerity.
Three hateful things in speech-stiffness, obscurity, a bad delivery.
Three Steadinesses of good womanhood-keeping a steady tongue, a steady chastity and a steady housewifery.
Three strayings of bad womanhood -letting her tongue and her housewifery go astray.
Three excellences of dress-elegance, comfort, lastingness
Three that are not entitled to sick-maintenance-a man who absconds from his chief, from his family, from a poet.