The shamrock is thought by many Irish people globally, to be grown exclusively in Ireland, in Irish soil. Some sources would argue that this is a myth however and was perpetrated by entrepreneurial business people and owes more to their marketing wizardry rather than to horticulture truth. Their wizardry was used to sell the shamrock as an Irish idiom, rather than it being a fact. The shamrock can, in fact, be found growing all over the world; England, Tasmania, South Africa, North America, to name just a few of the places. The traditional Irish shamrock belongs to the white clover family [Trifolium repens], a common lawn weed [spelt seamróg in Gaelic] which means summer plant. Occasionally, a fourth leaf will appear, making it a four-leafed clover, which is said to bring good luck and good fortune to the person who has found it. 

Shamrock, the emblem of Ireland, is synonymous with St. Patrick and his teaching of Christianity to the pagan Irish, using the three-leafed shamrock to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity [The Father, Son and Holy Spirit]. Back in my day, we called them Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Some would suggest that he used the shamrock to deliver his Christian message.

However, some sources say that the first mention of shamrock in the English language was noted in 1571 by the Elizabethan scholar Edmund Campton. His work “Boke of the Histories of Irelande “ described very vividly the habits of the ‘wilde Irish’ and their tendency to eat shamrock [shamrotes, watercress, roots, and other herbes] to feed themselves. This description of Irish habits castigated the Irish over many centuries, and when famine struck, particularly the Great Famine of 1884/85, the issue of eating shamrock reared its head again. Now as history tells us, the Irish did eat all sorts of grass and berries to keep themselves alive during the Great Hunger tragic times. What happened, however, was that all these herbs did become popular over the centuries - not only the Irish but many other cultures recognised that herbal plants, including shamrock, could be used for medicinal purposes. Today, herbal shops have grown rapidly.

Shamrock has been symbolic of many things in Ireland and dates back to the Celtic Paganism and Druid era’s as the number three was a mystical number and sacred in the Celtic religion, and which had a very long and colourful tradition in even more ancient Celtic cultures.

Up until the 17th century, the Irish wore a special wooden cross made from reeds, specifically for St. Patricks Day [similar to a St. Bridged’s Cross]. Then in the late 18th century, the shamrock was adopted as an emblem of Ireland by the Volunteers of 1777. It did not, however, become widely popular until the 19th century, when the emerging Nationalist movements took the shamrock along with the harp as their National emblems.

Some sources would suggest that this act of displaying an Irish emblem by the Nationalist movements was a causal factor in the shamrock being banned from all Irish Military regiments on St. Patricks Day. The Crown decreed that all Irish regiments were forbidden to display the shamrock on their person. However, this single act by the Crown may have done more to establish the shamrock as Irelands National emblem than anything else! It was also the catalyst for the creation of the famous Irish ballad - The Wearin ‘O’ The Green.

 "Oh Paddy dear, and did ye hear the news that's going round?
The shamrock is forbid by law to grow on Irish ground!                 
No more St. Patrick's Day we'll keep; his color can't be seen,
For there's a cruel law again' the wearing o' the Green!"

The lyrics may have indeed stirred the hearts and souls of all Irish men wherever they were, there are, however, a couple of contradictions in the lyrics. It is very likely that St. Patrick wore vestments of blue, not green, and since the shamrock grew wild in Ireland and was not cultivated, there was no way that the Crown could have successfully banned the growth of the shamrock on Irish soil. But sure what’s the harm in injecting a little bit of conjecture into an Irish ballad when the heart and soul are being torn apart... 

So bearing all the above in mind, Nathaniel Colgan, a 1900s to early 20th-century botanist, set out to discover the true identity of the Irish shamrock. He asked people from all over Ireland to send him in samples with the roots attached, [which he was inundated with]. He planted every single one of the samples, labelling them carefully, so that when they grew and matured, he was able to identify different plants, the small hop clover, and the wood sorrel, or oxalis, and one he called Black Medrick.

All of this is a very long time ago - that was then and this is now. That St. Patrick used the shamrock to teach us the mystery of the Holy Trinity is still up for debate as it was never mentioned in any of his writings. So, that of itself remains a mystery. On the other hand, Triads, or groups of three, were of major significance in ancient Ireland; so it is quite possible that the shamrock may have been used by early Christian teachers because, not only could it instantly illustrate and explain an important belief, it would also have been symbolically acceptable.

A little late in the day, the Irish Government in early 1980 registered the shamrock as its official emblem- however the German Government, none too happy with this, opposed the registration and took the Irish Government to court. When Ireland, with representation from its highest level, the Taoiseach Charles Haughey and other dignitary’s failed to secure the shamrock as its national emblem, they did not take that lying down, so they appealed against the decision and the case went to the German Supreme High Court. On appeal, Ireland won the case in 1985.

Today, the shamrock is firmly established as the most instantly recognisable emblem of Ireland. For good luck, it was usually included in the bouquet of an Irish bride. It's the symbol of quality for many thousands of business - from the everyday B & B's that have earned the right to display it, to part of the Aer Lingus logo, an Póiste, as well as those of many other companies, sports teams and organisations. And importantly, it's also an integral part of an old tradition called "drowning the shamrock". For the most part, this usually takes place on St. Patrick's Day, by ex-pats nostalgic for their homeland, when the shamrock that has been worn in the hat or lapel is then removed and put into the last drink of the evening. When the toast is proposed and has been honoured, the shamrock is taken from the bottom of the glass and thrown over the left shoulder.

Since then it has been used in many different forums and has also become a tradition for the Irish Taoiseach to present a Waterford Crystal bowl full of shamrock, the bowl also featuring a shamrock design, to the President of the United States on St. Patricks Day, in the White House.

The shamrock became the badge of the Most Illustrious Order of Saint Patrick, founded in 1783. The Order was a British Order of Chivalry associated with Ireland. It technically still exists, however, no Knights of Saint Patrick have been created since 1938.

Views: 449

Tags: Feasts, Folklore, Symbols

Comment by Mike McCormack on March 15, 2017 at 2:03pm

Nice story, but permit me to add a few clarifications. First of all, there is no evidence that St Patrick ever used the shamrock to explain the trinity.  Some clerics even believe it to be a bad analogy anyway because the three leaves are separate. The first written reference to the story didn't come until the late 1700s when Rev. Caleb Thielkeld dismissed it as a current tradition. However, Charles Nelson effectively disproved the legend in his 1991 book, Shamrock: Botany and History of an Irish Myth.   As for the Irish Volunteers of 1777, their official emblem was a Celtic harp with a crown on top.  Later when Catholics were allowed to join, some of them wore shamrocks, but it wasn't official.  As for the song Wearing of the Green, though loaded with parody and sarcasm, it refers to the color not the plant. St. Patrick's Blue was and is the national color of Ireland and the United Irishmen (1796) used green as a blend of Catholic blue with Protestant orange to represent united opposition to the Crown.  Thus, wearing green apparel was proscribed and when patriot Robert Emmet was executed in 1803, sympathizers put shamrocks in their lapel or hat band to show support for his nationalist ideals.  Thereafter, it was the green, not the shamrocks, that became the symbol of nationalism.  As for the legal issues of 1980 and 85, that was to register the shamrock as a world-wide trademark to signify goods and services of Irish origin. You can find it on everything from Bord Failte material to Aer Lingus airplane tails although it is still used by some organizations to signify their ethnicity.  The national symbol of Ireland was and still is the Brian Boru Harp -- with the Crown removed! 


Heritage Partner
Comment by That's Just How It Was on March 15, 2017 at 5:42pm

Hello Brian thank you for your comments .. I listen with interest when you speak ..In the 7th chatter above ,, I did clarify the fact that there is no evidence to suggest that St Patrick taught the Trinity by the shamrock ,as there is not evidence in his writings ....The fact that some sources claim that to be true, are alluding themselves..I am actually researching the Harp at the  the present time,,, and have nearly completed that work for the Wild Geese... The Harp is the oldest symbol of Ireland and my research so far suggest that it date back to 1014,,,, Brian Boru, and O'Neill Harp .

Comment by Richard R. Mc Gibbon Jr. on March 15, 2017 at 6:52pm

Shamrocks, harps,.... how about a wee bit of Irish Zen as to unintended validation.  "The Wild Geese do not intend to cast their reflections. The Water has no mind to receive their images." Sometimes the story just happens and we should enjoy it for its own life, and not look to much further as it interrupts the flow of conscience.    Slainte all.  


Heritage Partner
Comment by That's Just How It Was on March 16, 2017 at 7:38am

There is some truth in what you say Richard, however, my grandmother was always want to say  '

The past has a habit of stealing up on us, and if we forget the mistakes of past,, then we will repeat them- learn from our mistakes  and try not to repeat them..

I wish she ws around now , to teach my grand-children !!

Comment by Mike McCormack on March 16, 2017 at 2:26pm

Richard, I agree wholeheartedly that we should always enjoy a story for its content and its telling.  God bless the seanachies and and their disappearing trade.  HOWEVER, when the story pretends to give is a revised version of history, we are honor bound, as were the Bards of old, to insure that it is corrected or enhanced and that is all I meant to do with that tale of the shamrock.. 


Heritage Partner
Comment by That's Just How It Was on March 16, 2017 at 3:52pm

Mike .. It was never my intention to pretend to give a revise version of history..... My research found that

A] That there is no evidence to support the claims that St Patrick taught the Irish with the Shamrock, with regard to the Trinity  - plus the fact that there as no evidence in his writings to suggest this had happens.

B]  My research found that St Patrick did not wear green -but blue  vestments ..... This is all in my story above..

I am sorry that I did not get the balance of my research right enough,... as you are very aware, some sources differ from others in the telling of history... I honestly thought that I had got the balance right....  I did not set out to pretend to give a revised version of history, quite the opposite, I wanted to offer  a perspective on the true nature of the Shamrock........ no pretense at a revision of history.. !!  

Comment by Richard R. Mc Gibbon Jr. on March 16, 2017 at 4:34pm

I teach history as a profession and I know that history really never repeats itself, but if you see the pattern you can catch the rhythm of the "tune" and decide whether on not to dance to it or find another tune. As for the shamrock, its a plant with its own legend in Irish culture. I love your writings keep up the grand work, and Mike your right to try to serve the Bards with honor. We are the Wild Geese and a better lot I have yet to see. Slainte  


Heritage Partner
Comment by That's Just How It Was on March 16, 2017 at 4:40pm

Rishard , it is a wonderful forum we have here ..  I enjoy it all so much 

Comment by Mike McCormack on March 17, 2017 at 10:28am

Dear JUST HOW IT WAS, Please don't think I was criticizing, I was more trying to expand on your effort. You had a lot of good information in your blog, although the shamrock was not the OFFICIAL emblem of the Volunteers and was registered as a trademark, not  the national emblem.  I was just putting in my 2 cents to clarify what I assumed could be misinterpreted.  You always do a good job, keep it up and I hope you don't mind if I occasionally look over your shoulder.


Heritage Partner
Comment by That's Just How It Was on March 17, 2017 at 12:02pm

Mike .. My name is Mary Thorpe... please call me Mary... !!

Thank you for your comments, I really do appreciate your comments , because clearly, from any  of your comments I have read , your are an expert.... I am not, do nor profess to be.... just someone who likes to read up on Irish History , and write articles... desperately trying to get the balance right every time... so please , carry on commenting...

Like Richard  R McGibbon  has commented above. 'this is a wonderful forum we have here , and i do so enjoy reading the articles , and commenting ... 

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