Wednesday, March 15, 2017

History of the Irish Shamrock by Carol King

Photo courtesy CSU
The Irish shamrock (Irish: seamrog) is the most recognized symbol of the Irish. It has been symbolic of many things through the years. It was considered to be a sacred plant to the Druids of Ireland because its leaves formed a triad, and three is a mystical number in Celtic religion as well as many other religions. Supposedly, St. Patrick used it to illustrate the Holy Trinity to help convert Irish peoples to Christianity. 

In Ireland, all shamrocks are considered lucky and are worn and given as gifts on St. Patrick's Day. However, there is some disagreement among the Irish as to the exact plant, but most Irish growers will tell you that Trifolium repens, White Clover, is the plant most commonly known as a shamrock.   What we consider to be a common lawn weed, is a native of Ireland.  In Colorado, this Irish shamrock grows in our lawns, in prairies, pastures and foothills. If you enjoy clover honey, you can thank this lovely little plant.

Ever wonder where the expression “the wear’o the green” came from? In the 19th century, wearing a shamrock became a symbol of the Catholic underground after a government-led religious prosecution began against Catholics. One could get hung for “wear’o the green”!

“O Paddy dear, and did you hear the news that going round?
The shamrock is forbid by law to grow on Irish ground;
St. Patrick's Day no more we'll keep, his colours can't be seen,
For there's a bloody law against the wearing of the green.”
-Dion Bouicaul

Today the plants we associate with St Patrick’s Day and are usually sold as “shamrocks” are actually wood sorrel or Oxalis. The Oxalis is very easy to grow. Check here for growing tips.

Here’s a wish for a very Happy St. Patrick’s Day from all of us at the Jefferson County CSU Extension and this Irish Shamrock blessing:

May your thoughts be as glad as the shamrocks,
May your heart be as light as a song,
May each day bring you bright, happy hours,
That stay with you all the year long.”