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Heard the one about the three monks?

Thursday, 5 April, 2012

Seeing that this is Holy Thursday, it’s time for something contemplative, and they don’t get much better than this very old Irish joke, which begins: “Tríar manach do rat díultad don tsaegul.” Not familiar with ancient Gaelic? Here’s some help: tríar = three persons, a threesome; manach = of monks (genitive plural of ‘manach‘); do rat = gave (3rd singular perfect active of ‘do beir‘); díultad = denial, repudiation; don = to the (preposition ‘do’ + article ‘in’), saegul = ‘world’.

Old Irish script

Don’t know if this word-for-word translation would work on the stand-up comedy circuit, though. The audience might get impatient. The problem is that the language being used is probably more than a thousand years old. Here’s a modernized, translated version:

Three monks decided to abandon the material world and its distractions for the ascetic, contemplative life in the wilderness. After exactly a year’s silence the first monk said:

“Tis a good life we lead.”
At the end of the next year, the second monk replied: “It is so.”
Another year being completed, the third monk exclaimed: “If I can’t have peace and quiet here, I’m going back to the world!”

Those anxious to read the original can find it in the British Library, where it’s known as Egerton 190. The manuscript was copied in 1709 by one Richard Tipper of Mitchelstown. Dennis King, who writes the Nótaí imill blag Gaeilge/Sean-Ghaeilge, has gone to considerable lengths to translate, illustrate and record this medieval Irish joke and his web page devoted to the Tríar Manach is entertaining and enlightening. It might not be the stuff of stand-up, but it’s good for the soul, nonetheless.


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