The Shamrock


The shamrock and Saint Patrick.

Although the shamrock is closely associated with Saint Patrick, it is more likely that the shamrock was worn it as a symbol of the cross - the old Tua Cross, presumably and not the modern one - rather than of the Trinity. Shamrock itself is simply immature trefoil, or young clover, and the name is an anglicisation of seamair óg or "young clover". The myths themselves, though, are much more interesting. The shamrock, it is said, symbolises the Trinity, that is, the Christian idea that there is one God but three Persons in the one God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Before the Christian era it was a sacred plant of the druids of Ireland because it's leaves formed a triad. Famous stories tell of how St. Patrick used the shamrock in his teachings. Preaching in the open air about God and the Trinity, he illustrated the meaning of the Three in One by plucking a shamrock from the grass growing at his feet and showing it to his congregation. Just as the shamrock is one leaf with three parts, so God is one entity with three Persons. The legend of the shamrock is also associated with the banishment of the serpents from Ireland by a tradition that snakes are never seen on shamrock and that it is a remedy against the bites of snakes and scorpions. Because the shamrock was a sacred plant to the druids, and three was a mythical number in Drudic religious practice, Patrick was probably well aware of the significance of the shamrock as a teaching tool.

On the subject of green plants, it should be said that the colour of St. Patrick was not actually green, but blue. In the 19th century, however, green came to be used as a symbol of Ireland. Thanks to plentiful rain and mists, the "Emerald Isle" is indeed green all the year 'round, which is probably the inspiration for the national colour. Although many people would presume that the shamrock is also the national emblem of Ireland, this is not so. The national symbol of Ireland is the harp.

Three is Ireland's magic number. Numbers played an important part in Celtic symbolism Three was the most sacred and magical number. It multiplies to nine, which is sacred to St. Brigid. Three may have signified totality: past, present and future, sky, earth and underground. Everything good in Ireland comes in threes - the rhythm of Irish storytelling is based on three-fold repetition. This achieves both intensification and exaggeration. " Three accomplishments well regarded in Ireland - a clever verse, music on the harp, the art of shaving faces."

On St. Patrick's day, a member of the British Royal Family presents Shamrock to the Irish Guards regiment of the British Army, so integral is the shamrock in the history of the Irish people.

The shamrock is a fragile little plant, and doesn't keep long out of its habitat. A fresh sprig in the morning will have dried and withered by noon, and can look a bit limp. Recently a few bright sparks have invented a little lapel sachet in which the shamrock is both grown and worn, and will bloom until the last of Patrick's pot is drunk. The Irish have a few difficulties translating ingenuity into gold over a last few thousand years, but being Green wasn't one of them.


In written English, the first reference to the shamrock dates from 1571, and in written Irish as seamrog, from 1707. As a badge to be worn on the label on the Saint's feastday, it is referred to for the first time as late as 1681, The shamrock was used as an emblem by the Irish volunteers in the era of Grattan's parliament in the 1770's before 98 and The Act of Union. So rebellious did the wearing of the shamrock eventually appear, that in Queen Victoria's time Irish regiments were forbidden to display it. At that time it became the custom for civilians to wear a little paper cross coloured red and green.


Shamrock Shore
Ye brave young sons of Erin's isle
I hope you will attend a while
To the wrongs of dear old Ireland I'm going to relate
'Twas black and cursed was the day
That our Parliament was taken away
And all our grief and suffering commences from that day
Our hearty sons and daughters fair
To other countries must repair
And leave their native lands behind in sorrow to deplore
For to seek employment they must roam
Far far away from their native home
From that sore oppressed island that they call the Shamrock Shore

Now Ireland is with plenty blessed
But the people they are sore oppressed
All by those cursed tyrants we are forced for to obey
Some haughty landlords for to please
Our houses and our lands they'll seize
To put fifty farms into one and take us all away
Regardless of the widow's cries
The mother's tears and the orphan's sighs
In thousands we are driven from home
which grieves our hearts full sore
We are fraught by famine and disease
We emigrated across the seas
From that sore oppressed island that they call the Shamrock Shore

Our sustenance is taken away
Our tithes and taxes for to pay
To support that law-protected church to which they do adhere
And our Irish gentry, well you know
To other countries they do go
And the money from all Ireland is squandered here and there
But if those squires would stay at home
And not to other countries roam
But to build mills and factories here to employ the labouring core
For if we had trade and commerce fair
To me no nation could compare
To that sore oppressed island that they call the Shamrock Shore

John Bull he boasts and he laughs with scorn
And he says that Irish man is born
To be always discontented for at home he cannot agree
But we'll banish discord from our land
And in harmony like brothers stand
To demand the rights of Ireland let us all united be!
Our Parliament and College Green
For to assemble 'twill be seen
And happy days in Erin's isle we soon will have once more
Then dear old Ireland soon will be
A great and glorious country
And peace and blessings soon will smile all 'round the Shamrock Shore!