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All About Ireland's Shamrock

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1 of 5

A Shamrock Wreath
Clip Art of a Shamrock Wreath
© Dixie Allan

I have never understood why so many people think the shamrock has four leaves because a true Irish shamrock only has tree. It is true that a shamrock is actually clover and you do find the occasional four-leafed-clover. This article will give you a little history of the shamrock in Ireland.

There will be four more pages, each will have a different piece of clip art of the shamrock.

Page 1 - A Shamrock Wreath

Page 2 - A Shamrock Bouquet

Page 3 - A Single Shamrock

Page 4 - Shamrocks

Page 5 - Shamrock Page Border

The shamrock plant is recognised the world over as the badge of Ireland and it is the logo of the Irish Tourist Board. Most visitors, and even many locals, believe the humble weed is the official symbol of Ireland but that high status is held by the 12-stringed harp.

Strangely, and perhaps sadly, it is only as an emblem that the shamrock thrives in its home nation... the tradition of wearing a sprig of the lush green plant on St Patrick's Day is fading fast in Ireland. Even the invention of a little lapel sachet, a clever device that keeps the shamrock plant fresh has not revived this tradition in Ireland. It has, however, bolstered exports of shamrock all around the world.

The Celtic druids started the shamrock on its path to Irish glory. They believed the number three to be a perfect number and, as such, to have inherent mystical powers. No one is quite sure why they believed this but it is possible the number signified totality... past, present and future, or sky, earth and underground. In addition, Celtic society was organized around the sacred three, with three classes, three colors and three principal gods.

In this atmosphere, it is no wonder the humble shamrock plant, with its three leaves, was so desirable. St. Patrick, when he set out to convert the Celtic inhabitants of Ireland, would have been fully aware of their predilection for the number three and, according to legend, he used the plant to illustrate the Christian concept of the Trinity... to show how one God was divided into three: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Whether or not the story of St. Patrick using the shamrock plant in his teachings is true doesn't really matter because by the time it was reported as truth, the Irish had already chosen it as their symbol. It appears on medieval tombs and on old coins, and a written reference dating from 1681 describes it as a badge worn on the lapel on St Patrick's Day.

It is said that the true plant can be grown only in Ireland or in Irish soil. This myth owes more to marketing than to any horticultural truth. In fact, the three-leaf clover grows all over the world, from Tasmania to South Africa and from North America to England. It's just called by some other name in those places.

Indeed it could be argued that the plant doesn't grow in Ireland at all. As Charles Nelson, one of Ireland's leading botanists, puts it, "The shamrock exists only on St Patrick's Day. Every other day of the year it's known simply as young clover."

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