The simple but beautiful three-leafed Shamrock is a plant symbol that is based on clover. The name itself is taken from the Irish “seamrog”, short for seamar clover. As early as the Druids, the plant was revered as sacred, growing with such vitality that it came to represent life itself. Medieval love poetry continued this association where young couples would meet or make love in clover. But the phrase to be “in clover” probably has more to do with the fact that livestock thrive on it, giving us our modern meaning of being rich and without a care when we’re “in clover”. Although the interesting heritage of the shamrock undoubtedly contributes to its popularity today, it was eventually the patron saint of Ireland who turned it into the definitive and modern icon of Irish and Celtic culture for which it is best known.
Legend has it that St. Patrick was the first person to choose the shamrock as a symbol because its three leaves, bound by a common stock, represented the Trinity of the Christian church. Often times he is depicted killing a snake with his staff, essentially a tall and narrow cross, that is topped with a shamrock. During the early part of its Christian association, clover was at one time even planted on graves to symbolize the hope of new life after the resurrection and, by association, also linked with a sense of parting. St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York is resplendent with a multitude of three-leafed symbols and shamrocks sprinkled throughout its architecture. Today, however, the shamrock is not just a symbol of the church, it is overwhelmingly the symbol of Ireland itself. Often in tattoo imagery it is paired with other symbols of that country including a harp, a leprechaun, or even the early and poetic name of the country “Erin”. Great quantities of shamrocks are shipped from the Emerald Isle to other countries every year in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, in keeping not only with its patron saint but also with its long and varied heritage as an important symbol of the Irish.