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June 2019
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2002-08-21 Groups of three galore

Why is it that things seem to come in groups of three? What is it about this number?


We have The Three Tenors; The Three Irish Tenors; The (three) Vard sisters; The Three Irish Sopranos; The Three Counter-tenors; The Three Degrees; The Three Musketeers; The Three Stooges; The Three Graces; The Three Ladies, The Three Genies and the three trials in The Magic Flute; The Three Witches (Macbeth); the choice of the three caskets (gold, silver and lead) in The Merchant of Venice; King Lears three daughters - Goneril, Reagan and Cordelia; The Three Wise Men (The Magi); Shem, Ham and Japheth (Noahs three sons); Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego - the three men who walked out of Nebuchadnezzars fiery furnace; the three-leaved trefoil or shamrock (The Trinity) - Father, Son and the Holy Ghost; On the third day (day three) he rose again; St. Peters three denials; Cock will crow three times; the priest, the Levite and the Good Samaritan (the third one stopped); The Bells of the Angelus in groups of three; I love you (those three magical words); Three Hermits (Yeats); the three books in The Lord of the Rings; Goldilocks and the three bears; The Three Little Pigs; Three Blind Mice; King Coles fiddlers three; Three little maids from school; Three men and a baby; Three men and a little lady; the three priests on Craggy Island (Fathers Ted, Dougal and Jack); the three boys (Ross, Chandler and Joey) and three girls (Rachel, Monica and Phoebe) in Friends; Homer and Marge Simpsons three kids (Bart, Lisa and Maggie); the three girls in Atomic Kitten; the Page three girls;  a threesome (just to see if you were still reading!); the best of three; three cheers (Hip, hip hooray!); three wishes from the Genie; three guesses; three knocks; I will count to three.......; the three Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic); The three laws of thought; three notes of a chord/ triad; a three-point plug (positive, negative and earth); three sides of a triangle/ pyramid; Three Monkeys (Hear no evil/ See no evil/ Speak no evil); Twos company - Threes a crowd; a three goal hat-trick; the three-point turn; the three-point landing; a three-card trick; Three French hens; the Fleur de Lis (three-leaved flower emblem of France); the three-leaved Maple leaf of Canada; the three-colour process; a three-cornered hat; the threepenny bit, three score and ten (70); The Three Choirs Festival in England; The Three Gymnopedies by Eric Satie; The Threepenny Opera(Weill); The Love for Three Oranges (Prokofiev); Puccinis Il Trittico (three operas in one); Ping, Pang and Pong - the three assistants in Turandot; the three riddles in Turandot; the three cigarette girls in Carmen (Carmen, Frasquita and Mercedes); Cinderella and the two ugly sisters (three in all); the three movements of a baroque concerto; Once, twice, three times a lady!; Three coins in a fountain; The Three Bells; Three little words; the Abba songs Money, Money, Money! and Gimme, Gimme, Gimme!; the Sanctus in the mass - Holy, Holy, Holy!; Three rock mountain/ TV transmitter; three-wheeled Robin Reliant; three-wheeled tricycle; Three-in-one oil; the three colours on the tricolour flag(s); a three course meal; three bean salad; three fruit marmalade; three-legged race; the three-set ladies tennis match; Neptunes three-pronged trident; the three lakes on the River Shannon (Lough Allen, Lough Ree and Lough Derg); the Isle of Mans three-legged emblem; the three golden balls emblem of the pawnbrokers; the three castle emblem of Dublin; The Three Fishes (common English pub name); a three year BA university degree; The (three) Nualas; The Three Weird Sisters; The (three) Beverley Sisters; a three-fly cast (fly-fishing); the many large companies/ institutions using three letters for their name (eg. HMV, BMW, IBM, ESB, CRH, UCD, AIB, etc.), the three-legged tripod; a triptych; a trilogy; the triceps; threefold; third time lucky; the three Paddys - Paddy Irishman, Paddy Englishman and Paddy Scotsman; and I am sure Ive forgotten loads?

So what is it about this number? It has always been associated with the biblical, the mysterious, the mystical, the magical, the literary (from nursery rhymes to fairy tales to the classics), the poetic, the artistic and the musical. No one can deny that it is possibly the most used number, for whatever reason that may be. And with such an extensive list, how could I possibly have omitted Shane, Mark and Cian - the three Sligomen in Westlife, oops, and indeed Niall, Matthew and myself - the three Celtic Tenors!