Shamrock: A Triad of Beauty, Legend and Myth

Storytellers regaled listeners with the history of this planet traversing the cosmos for untold centuries before the written words were first transcribed.  Some of these men and women went from the oral to drawings of tales as found in caves.

The ancient Egyptians had their hieroglyphics to relate their history and stories. The Indigenous People of the Americas had rich oral traditions.

All of these stories, legends and myths coalesce into what makes a culture unique.  Sadly many of these origin stories have been lost over time or suffered suppression by those in power.

However somewhere, lost in the annals of the past, the grains of truth can be found in the myths and legends of culture which have survived.  This is especially true of the mystical shamrock and its symbolism.

The shamrock holds a special place for the Irish.  It is believed that the patron Saint Patrick used the shamrock to demonstrate the Christian Trinity—God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, one of the greatest religious mysteries.

Of course, there are those who doubt that Saint Patrick actually used the shamrock at all.  They reason— how could something so small be used to illustrate the God of the Cosmos?

The teaching of the Trinity (Τριάδος ) has taken many forms over the centuries.  The ancient Celtic triquetra, the Irish shamrock and even the Borromean Rings of mathematics have been used to illustrate this doctrine which has been cherished as well as hotly debated.

Perhaps, it was Theophilus of Antioch near the end of the 2nd Century who clearly expressed the concept of the Trinity.  For him it was God, Logos (God’s Word) and Sophia (God’s Wisdom).

Coming back to the shamrock, in Irish it is seamróg. It means “trefoil leaf of any clover

However, the shamrock with its trefoil is very different from the tetrad clover (four leaf clover).  One should always distinguish the two in order to be true to each distinct meaning.

Perhaps, for us in the Northern Hemisphere the shamrock is a promise of Spring after a harsh winter.  After the Winter of 2019 we all could use a triadic blessing of faith, hope and love.

May your blessings outnumber
The shamrocks that grow,
And may trouble avoid you
Wherever you go.
An Old Irish Blessing


G. D. Williams       © 2019

POST 797



According to the Concise Columbia Encyclopedia, the identity of the true shamrock has long been debated, but the plants most often designated as the emblem of Ireland are the white clover, the small hop clover, and the wood sorrel, or oxalis.

It’s likely that some or all of this information was provided by the botanist, Nathaniel Colgan, who endeavored to identify “the real shamrock” at the turn of the 20th century.
He asked people all over Ireland to send him living, rooted specimens which he carefully planted and labelled. When the plants matured and blossomed, he was able to identify four different plants – the three already mentioned and one called Black Medick.

First of all, the shamrock is not the name of the plant itself. It refers to the sprigs, or leaves and short stem that appear above ground on the clover or trefoil plant. To give it its proper botanic term, shamrock refers to either the species tirfolium dubium (lesser clover) or trifolium repens (white clover). Other similar three-leaved plants such as medicago lupulina, trifolium pratense and oxalis acetosella are sometimes mistaken for shamrocks. The exact botanical species of the shamrock was the cause of much debate in the world of botany, dating right back to the 16thand 17th centuries.

To settle the matter, not one but two botanical surveys of Ireland were carried out, one in 1893 and another almost a century later in 1988. Both surveys asked people from all around the country to provide them with examples of what they believed to be shamrock. The samples were potted and allowed to flower, and then identified once grown. Both surveys got more or less the same result. While trifoilium dubium was the species most identified by people as shamrock, it only accounted for between 46 and 51 per cent of all samples. So there is no definite single species of shamrock, and none of the species are unique to Ireland either. In fact, they are common all across Europe, so the shamrock isn’t even ‘Irish’!

The “shamrock” is a mythical plant, a symbol, something that exists as an idea, shape and color rather than a scientific species. Its relationship to the plant world is a bit like the association between cartoon hearts we draw and the anatomical ones inside our bodies. The word “shamrock” first appears in plays and poetry in the 1500s, but the first person to link it to a recognizable plant was the English herbalist John Gerard, who in 1596 wrote that common meadow trefoil, also known as clover, was “called in Irish Shamrockes.” Botanists have been trying to match the idea of the shamrock with a particular species for centuries, so far without unanimous success. Although the plant is assumed to be a type of clover—the term “shamrock” comes from the Gaelic seamrog, or “little clover”—the clover genus (Trifolium) includes hundreds of species. Other herbs, such as wood sorrel, have also been labeled and sold as “shamrock” over the years. The confusion stems in part from the time of year when St. Patrick’s Day approaches on the calendar: In Ireland, the holiday comes along in spring, when plants are at their most nascent stages and many species are just sprouting leaves. When fully grown, white clovers bloom white flowers and red clovers bloom reddish flowers (naturally), but most laypeople won’t be able to tell the difference when pinning just the baby clover leaves on a jacket.


The Wearing of the Green

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.”

I met with Napper Tandy, and he took me by the hand

And he said, “How’s poor old Ireland, and how does she stand?”

“She’s the most distressful country that ever yet was seen

For they’re hanging men and women there for the Wearin’ o’ the Green.”


“So if the color we must wear be England’s cruel red

Let it remind us of the blood that Irishmen have shed

And pull the shamrock from your hat, and throw it on the sod

But never fear, ’twill take root there, though underfoot ’tis trod.


When laws can stop the blades of grass from growin’ as they grow

And when the leaves in summer-time their color dare not show

Then I will change the color too I wear in my caubeen

But till that day, please God, I’ll stick to the Wearin’ o’ the Green.


Paddys Green Shamrock Shore


Oh fare-thee-well, sweet Liza dear, and my own Derry Town
It breaks my heart to see friends part, for it’s then that the teardrops fall;
I’m on my way to Amerikay, will I e’er see my home once more?
For now I leave my own true love on Paddy’s green shamrock shore.

Our ship she lies at anchor, she’s standing by the quay
May fortune bright shine down each night, as we sail over the sea
Many ships were lost, many lives it cost on the journey that lies before
With a tear in my eye I’m bidding good-bye to Paddy’s Green shamrock shore.

So fare thee well my own true love, I’ll think of you night and day
And a place in my mind you surely will find, although I am so far away
Though I’ll be alone far away from my home, I’ll think of the good times once more,
Until the day I can make my way back to Paddy’s green shamrock shore.

And now the ship is on the waves may heaven protect us all
With the wind in the sail we surely can’t fail on this voyage to Baltimore
But my parents and friends did wait till the end, till I could see them no more
I then took a chance for to glance at Paddy’s green shamrock shore.


St. Patrick Day: A Shamrock Blessing To You

March 17: Are you wearing green today?  Now, you don’t have to be Irish to wear green or to observe the day.  In essence we all have a bit of Irish in us.


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