The Irish Shamrock

The Irish Shamrock

Ah the little shamrock... known the world over as the badge of Ireland.

However the official emblem of Ireland is not actually the shamrock, that accolade belongs to the 12 stringed Irish Harp!

A shamrock is a young sprig of clover, used as a symbol of Ireland. Saint Patrick, Ireland's patron saint, is said to have used the plant as a metaphor for the Holy Trinity of the father, the son and the holy spirit.

The name shamrock comes from Irish seamróg, meaning little clover or young clover. But having just 3 leaves, it is not to be confused with four-leaf clover.

St Patrick's Day

We in Ireland are very familiar with the Irish Shamrock every year on March 17th, Saint Patrick's Day! The Shamrock is collected like a crop and parcelled and sold outside churches and in shops and from stands wherever people gather. You'll find it everywhere. A bunch of Shamrock is attached like a brooch to lapels on coats or on jackets or on hats or anywhere at all on Saint Patrick's Day.

Shamrock traditionally attached to a lapel
- Shamrock is traditionally attached to the lapel

A Global Celebration

It is worn worldwide nowadays where Saint Patrick's Day is celebrated as a global event from Dublin, New York, and Tokyo, to Paris, Durban and Melbourne.

St Patrick's Day parade in Ireland
- Dublin

St Patrick's Day parade in New York
- New York

St Patrick's Day parade in Tokyo
- Tokyo

St Patrick's Day parade in Sydney
- Sydney

It is celebrated perhaps most iconically in Washington D.C. when our Taoiseach presents The President Of The United States with a customary bowl of Shamrock.

Enda Kenny presents President Donald Trump with a bowl of shamrock
- Enda Kenny presents President Donald Trump with a bowl of shamrock

President John F Kennedy receives a bowl of shamrock
- President John F Kennedy receives a bowl of shamrock

It is celebrated in thousands of other places with carnival parades, green faces, green beer, green ice-cream and green lights on iconic buildings like the White House, the Eiffel Tower and even the Taj Mahal. A day of enjoyment and relaxation for young and old to honour Saint Patrick and the Irish.

The shamrock is used by countless companies on their logos, The Irish Tourist Board and the national airline carrier Aer Lingus are just two examples. Use of the emblem of the Shamrock is restricted to goods and services of Irish origin and only the Minister Of Trade & Enterprise can approve applications to use it.

The Irish Diaspora

It is quite amazing how successful the Shamrock image has become worldwide. It's surely thanks in no small part to the enormous Irish Diaspora, which is the name given to the millions of people around the world who claim irish heritage.

For millions around the world, it is considered a point of pride to have some Irish blood in their veins, even if you must go back five or six generations to when your ancestor emigrated from the Famine Times in Mid Nineteenth Century Ireland to America or elsewhere.

But why do we have such an entensive diaspora?

The Famine

The Famine is a period in Irish history between 1845 and 1852, when the potato crop in Ireland failed due to "blight". During the Famine and following seven or eight decades, the Irish population dropped from eight million souls down to two and a half million.

This came about from starvation largely due to brutal British policies towards Ireland, and where the Irish had to pay rack rents to largely absent British landlords, and where Ireland had to export vast quantities of meat and corn and potatoes to Britain.

While there was still abundant food in Ireland to support the Irish population, the draconian export of food to Britain continued unabated. Due to this, there was literally nothing left for the Irish, who had to resort to eating anything edible, even nettles. The Irish way of life was no longer sustainable.

While the potato blight is commonly considered to have directly caused the Irish Famine, in reality it was only one factor, and the whole episode could have been prevented but for the harsh government policies of Britain at the time.

The Choctaw Tribe

Starvation set in very quickly with people abandoning their hovels in droves and walking the roads to board "coffin" ships. Things got so bad that even the Choctaw tribe of North American Indians, a people treated abominably by the invading whites, gathered some very scarce cash to forward to this country for charitable relief.

This act of kindness was recently celebrated by the erection of a sculpture of nine eagle feathers in Middleton, Co. Cork in their honour in Ireland in 2015. They are such a noble race.

Sculpture of nine eagle feathers in Middleton, Co. Cork
- Sculpture of nine eagle feathers in Middleton, Co. Cork, Ireland

70 million with Irish roots

Thus the Irish diaspora was born and in the one hundred and seventy years since then the Irish have truly gone global, with over 70 million people proudly claiming Irish roots.

The Origin of the Shamrock in Ireland

It was the Celtic druids who started the Shamrock on it's path to Irish glory because they believed the number of leaves on it, which is three, to be a perfect mystical number possibly denoting the totality of our existence, i.e.Past,Present and Future or indeed,The Sky,The Earth and The Underground.

Three is expressed in Irish Artistic Symbolism such as the three headed faces in art relics and three is expressed in Triskeles which are three connected inwards spirals seen in passageway tombs and indeed, in Triskelions or three legged symbols adopted by our Celtic cousins in the Isle of Man.

In this atmosphere is it any wonder the humble Irish Shamrock plant with it's three leaves was so revered.

Did you know, by the way, that the three leaves curl up closed before a storm strikes and so it also acts as a weather alert.

St. Patrick

Saint Patrick, when converting the Irish to christianity, used the plant to explain the concept of the Trinity in order to show the three faces of the one God i.e. The Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost, back in the fifth century.

This story cannot be proven as fact but a church minister in the eighteenth century recorded locals wearing the Shamrock on their hats on Saint Patrick's Day.

The Shamrock appears on medieval tombs and on old coins and there was a written reference to it dated 1681 described as a Badge worn on the lapel on Saint Patrick's Day.

In the 1770s, it was the emblem of the Irish Volunteers which were a militia with republican tendencies or sympathies. The Shamrock became associated with rebellious nationalistic views to the extent that Queen Victoria's government forbade all Irish Regiments in the British Army from wearing Shamrock in the nineteenth century.

Nowadays, The British Royal Family present Shamrock to The Irish Guards Regiment and so, it seems the Shamrock has been rehabilitated.

Botanical species

There is still not a consensus over the precise botanical species of clover that is the "true" shamrock, although Shamrock usually refers to the species Trifolium dubium (lesser trefoil).

A scientific approach was taken by English botanists James Britten and Robert Holland, who stated in their Dictionary of English Plant Names published in 1878, that their investigations had revealed that Trifolium dubium was the species sold most frequently in Covent Garden as shamrock on St. Patrick's Day, and that it was worn in at least 13 counties in Ireland.

Some shamrocks from our collection

House of Lor silver and gold shamrock earrings

House of Lor silver and gold shamrock earrings

10 carat yellow gold shamrock pendant

10 carat yellow gold shamrock pendant

Silver and gold plated shamrock/trinity diamond ring

Silver and gold plated shamrock/trinity diamond ring

10ct yellow & white gold trinity knot/shamrock pendant

10ct yellow & white gold trinity knot/shamrock pendant

Silver and rose gold love diamond set shamrock pendant

Silver and rose gold love diamond set shamrock pendant

Diamond set 9ct white gold shamrock open heart pendant

Diamond set 9ct white gold shamrock open heart pendant

Diamond set 9ct yellow gold love shamrock spray ring

Diamond set 9ct yellow gold love shamrock spray ring

So there you have it

The Irish affinity for the shamrock, and it's global status as the unofficial emblem of Ireland. Celebrated and worn in virtually every country on St Patrick's Day, when everyone is Irish, for a day at least! Be sure to remember to pin a sprig of shamrock to your lapel on March 17th. :)