Mar 15, 2011

Classic Symbols of St. Patrick's Day ~ Part two ~ Shamrocks, Four-Leaf Clovers, and "The Luck of the Irish"

The shamrock, which is a registered trademark of Ireland, is a three-leaf plant from the clover family. There are three main varieties of clover considered to be true shamrocks that grow in Europe, they are: 1. Lesser Trefoil (Trifolium dubium),  2. White Clover (Trifolium repens) and 3. Red Clover (Trifolium pratense). There are other clover-like plants that are sometimes used as shamrocks such as the Oxalis acetosella, which is not from the clover family at all but rather from the Wood Sorell family.

At the risk of becoming repetitious, in discussing shamrocks I feel the need to mention one more time the link between St. Patrick and the shamrock. You will recall that St. Patrick is a patron saint of Ireland, known for converting mass numbers of the Irish people from paganism to Christianity. Beginning in 1726,  the story arose that while teaching Christianity to the Irish people St. Patrick displayed a shamrock to illustrate the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, stating that just as the three leaflets of the clover were united by a single stalk so the three beings of the Trinity combine to form the Godhead. Some people question the authenticity of this story since it did not surface until 1,200 years after St. Patrick's death and there was no mention of it in his personal writings. Whether the story has it's roots in St. Patrick or not, the Irish Catholic people still consider the shamrock to be a symbol of the Holy Trinity and it has become a symbol of Ireland.

According to Wikipedia, "Queen Victoria decreed over a hundred years ago that soldiers from Ireland should wear a sprig of shamrock in recognition of Fellow Irish soldiers who had fought bravely in the Boer war, a tradition continued by British Army soldiers from both the north and the south of Ireland following partition in 1921."  

Four-Leaf Clovers
The four-leaf clover is a universal symbol of good luck. It may be disheartening for some to learn that because of the correlation between the Trinity and the three-leaf shamrock the four-leaf clover cannot be considered a shamrock.  

It is believed that the tradition of the four-leaf clover as being lucky dates back to pre-Christian Celtic beliefs. Druid Priests considered the four-leaf clover to be a charm against evil spirits. It is said that the four leaves stand for faith, hope, love, and luck.

It is estimated that the ratio of three leaf clovers to four leaf clovers is 10,000 to one, so you can see how finding a four-leaf clover amidst a sea of three-leaf clovers could be considered a very special thing and a stroke of good luck. Here are 25 Four Leaf Clover Facts you may like to learn about.

The Luck of the Irish
We've all heard the saying "The luck of the Irish". Some people would argue that this isn't necessarily speaking of good luck. Many people would say that the Irish people have had more than their fair share of tragedy, trouble, and strife and that they would not be considered a lucky people.

When I typed, "What are the origins of the saying "The luck of the Irish" into Google search I found a myriad of answers as to how this phrase came about. Some of which, as an American, I'm not too proud of.
  • "Actually, as the Irish became more and more politically active, and as their contributions to the U.S. grew, it was a way to pass off all of their major accomplishments as "the luck of the Irish" instead of giving them due credit. It was a derogatory term, essentially."
  • From History News Network we read, "In truth, this term has a happier, if not altogether positive, American origin. During the gold and silver rush years in the second half of the 19th century, a number of the most famous and successful miners were of Irish and Irish American birth, for example, James Fair, James Flood, William O'Brien and John Mckay were collectively known as the "Silver Kings" after they hit the famed Comstock Lode. Over time this association of the Irish with mining fortunes led to the expression "luck of the Irish" Of course, it carried with it a certain tone of derision, as if to say, only by sheer luck, as opposed to brains, could these fools succeed.
  • Another thought comes from Fun , "The saying refers to the fact that the Irish people have come through such overwhelming adversity and have come out on top and kicking! It must be luck... or true perseverance." 

 Sources: Wikipedia 

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