Good Things Come in Threes

What is it about the number three?  In stories, fairies and genies grant three wishes.  Goldilocks met three bears.  Three little pigs built different houses.  Blue, red and yellow are the three primary colors; all other shades are blends of those three colors.  They say good things come in threes, and that is definitely true when it comes to the traditional designs on many Irish gifts.  Three different iconic symbols of Ireland have a pattern with three parts!

  • The Shamrock – St. Patrick himself brought our attention to the fact that shamrocks have three leaves.  He used it to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity when he brought Christianity to Ireland, and this wee plant is one of our most popular and widely recognized symbols.  It doesn’t hurt that it is green, but maybe those three leaves have a subconscious impact.  You’ll see the cheerful shamrock on a huge array of different Irish gifts from clothing to porcelain and pottery to garden decorations.
  • The Trinity Knot – This design combines the timeless appeal of a knot without beginning or end with deep spiritual significance.  It is variously interpreted as a symbol of the Holy Trinity and as sign of the pre-Christian triple goddess.  Other understandings include the three stages of womanhood (maiden, mother and crone) and the past, present and future.  Just the fact that it has so many possible meanings shows how strong the draw of the number three is.  The trinity knot is a popular design for Irish jewelry.
  • The Newgrange Triple Spiral – The famous passage graves at Newgrange feature this swirling, spiraling pattern.  It’s carved into massive stones at the entrance, a popular spot for visitors to photograph.  We can only speculate about its meaning now, but it is widely understood to represent the pre-Christian triple goddess Morrioghain (Badb, Macha and Anand).  Like the trinity knot, the triple spiral lends itself to some stunning jewelry designs.  Its appeal goes well beyond its association with this ancient site.

The number three is significant in many cultures, and triple deities have been worshipped around the world.  Ireland is not unique in this.  What is it about the number three?  All stories have a beginning, a middle and an end.  Trilogies are popular in both books and movies.  A stool with three legs is stable.  Perhaps three suggests completion or balance.  Then again, anyone who has ever found themselves in a love triangle can attest to the unhappy aspects of the number three.

Mostly, the number three is considered very lucky.  We’ve all heard the phrase ‘the luck of the Irish’.  Maybe that’s part of why we have so many symbols reflecting three!  Does someone you love need some good luck and good wishes?  If you are looking for Irish gifts to say ‘good luck’ and wish someone well, especially if you’d like something with some spiritual significance, look for something with one of these iconic Irish images: the shamrock, the trinity knot or the Newgrange triple spiral.