Mar 15, 2010

The Shamrock

©Cindy Thomson
In Irish Gaelic, seamróg, the shamrock is an Irish symbol we're all familiar with. But how did it come to be associated with Ireland, and why is it important to St. Patrick's Day? In a previous post I talked about St. Patrick's association with the shamrock and the Irish fondness for the number three.

The plant is common in Ireland, a clover weed. Sometime in the 17th century Irish folk began wearing shamrocks on St. Patrick's Day. In the 19th century the shamrock became a symbol of Irish independence and was worn in the lapel. This is where the term "Wearnin' o' the Green" came from. Irish regiments were forbidden to display the shamrock because it was seen as an act of rebellion against the British government. This prompted the words to the popular song:

O Paddy dear, and did ye hear the news that's goin' round?
The shamrock is by law forbid to grow on Irish ground!
No more Saint Patrick's Day we'll keep, his color can't be seen
For there's a cruel law ag'in the Wearin' o' the Green."
The words and music can be found here.

From Irish Culture and Customs:
Today, the shamrock is firmly established as the most instantly recognizable emblem of Ireland. For good luck, it's usually included in the bouquet of an Irish bride, and also in the boutonniere of the groom. It's the symbol of a quality B & B that's earned the right to display it. It's part of the Aer Lingus logo, as well as those of many other companies, sports teams and organizations. And, it's also an integral part of an old tradition called "drowning the shamrock."
This takes place on St. Patrick's Day, when the shamrock that has been worn in the hat or lapel is removed and put into the last drink of the evening. A toast is proposed and then, when the toast has been honored, the shamrock is taken from the bottom of the glass and thrown over the left shoulder. Sláinte!
So, it seems that the shamrock as the symbol of Ireland is a much more recent tradition than St. Patrick's era, but still a vital part of Irish history.

The picture above is a shamrock plant I bought at a store. Like I said, the shamrock is a variety of clover, but just which variety? This has been debated for quite some time. In the late 1800's a man named Nathaniel Colgan undertook the mission of determining which one was the shamrock. He had botanists from all over Ireland send him samples, which he planted and labeled. His conclusion:
The results of this harvest may be most clearly shown thus :-
19 Shamrocks matured into Trifolium repens.
12 Shamrocks matured into Trifolium minus.
2 Shamrocks matured into Trifolium pratense.
2 Shamrocks matured into Medicago lepulina.
Make of that what you will, but it seems to me that there is no one conclusive variety that we can call THE Irish shamrock. Later, I hope to post a photo of shamrock growing wild in Ireland. I'm awaiting permission. (I'm particular that way!)

More about the shamrock and the shortage this winter's weather has caused can be found here.

So, wear your green this St. Patrick's Day. I always do, and if I were to forget, I'm always covered. I have green eyes!

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