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The Story Behind The Luck Of The Shamrock
The shamrock is a well-known symbol of luck and adorns all sorts of items, including our shamrock t-shirts, which are available in a range of colors such as Orange and, of course, Green. But where did the shamrock get its luck? Let's find out!
What is a shamrock?
Many people think that the shamrock and the four-leaf clover are one and the same, but this is not the case. The shamrock is a kind of clover plant, but it has just three leaves. It is these leaves that give it a lot of its luck. In many cultures - and in Irish folklore - three is a lucky number, so plants with three leaves are ones to have around - except for poison ivy, of course, which has three leaves, too!
There are lots of different types of clover, including wood sorrel, black medick, lesser clover, red clover, yellow clover, and white clover, and there are a multitude of theories about which one is actually a shamrock. All of them have three leaves, but the Departure of Agriculture in Ireland did conduct several polls in order to pick its official shamrock plant and it was decided that the yellow clover was the one.
The shamrock and St. Patrick
St. Patrick is Ireland’s patron saint, and the shamrock is his symbol. Irish legend has it that the saint once used the plant’s three leaves to teach people about the Holy Trinity, although many people now think that this is just a myth.
Regardless of how the link came about, St. Patrick and the shamrock are often pictured together, and there are statues and paintings of him holding the clover in locations all around the world.
There are many stories about the magical powers of the shamrock, and there are lots of people who believe that the plant can do everything from predicting the weather to breaking the curse of a leprechaun.
The history of the shamrock
The name of the plant is said to come from the Irish word seamróg. This is a shortened version of seamair óg, which means "young clover". It was traditionally used as a medicine.
References to the young clover can be found in very early Irish literature, such as the tale of St. Brigid and how she chose to stay in the Irish county of Kildare after she saw the beauty of Irish blossom. Irish literature does not distinguish between the shamrock and clover, however, and it was in English that shamrock became a distinct word. It first appeared in English literature in the work of Edmund Campion in 1571.
Since the 18th century, the shamrock has been a symbol of Ireland. It evolved from being simply associated with St. Patrick to being a national symbol after rival militias took it up as an emblem toward the end of the 1900s. Today, it is used as an emblem of all sorts of organizations and companies, including Tourism Ireland, the Aer Lingus airline, and the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Ireland’s government even registered it as a trademark in 1985 after a court case.
Every St. Patrick’s Day, people around the world wear shamrocks and the Irish Taoiseach presents a Waterford Crystal bowl of the plants to the U.S. president.
Shamrock and the druids
Long before this tradition - and before St. Patrick even existed - Ireland’s early druids believed that the shamrock had special powers. It is said that they thought that it could detect any bad spirits and that the plant’s trio of heart-shaped leaves represented the theory of the triple goddess. Celtic legend says that every goddess had the capacity to take on three forms: wise woman, mother, and maiden.
Three is also an extremely prevalent number in Celtic culture and was believed to be something to be respected and honored. It features heavily in all sorts of different myths and legends, and in the Triskele, which is a druidic symbol made up of a trio of spirals.
Shamrock and Irish pride
People around the world now wear the shamrock as a symbol of luck and pride, but it was once banished by Britain’s Queen Victoria. Wearing one was a capital offense during a period when the monarch wanted to suppress Irish rebellion, and combining shamrock with a military uniform could be punished by death. These rules further cemented the shamrock’s place in Irish hearts, however, and from the 19th century, the plant was increasingly used as a decoration on everything from furniture and Celtic revival artwork to churches.