The shamrock, a small three-leaf clover, is known around the world as the national symbol and badge of Ireland. It is generally confused and used interchangeably with the four-leaf clover, which is popular for being a lucky charm that brings love, hope, faith, and luck. If you visit Northern Ireland, you will see this emblem abundantly used in a variety of places, from the airline Aer Lingus to shops and buildings around the country. The locals and tourists consider the shamrock to be the official symbol of Northern Ireland, though the golden 12-string harp has been given that status. The shamrock is part of the Irish Tourist board and Failte Ireland logos as well. Moreover, it has been declared as the national flower of Ireland.
The Legend behind the Shamrock
It is said that the Celtic druids were the ones who began using the shamrock as a symbol of luck and path leading the Irish to glory. They thought ‘3’ to be the ideal number, and believed it had inherent mystical powers. While there is no written reference that shows why the Celts thought of the number 3 to be powerful, but it is possible that they associated it with past, present, and future, or the three dominos of sea, earth, and sky, or the three phases of moon. Regardless of the reason of their belief, the Celt put great emphasis on its significance. Celtic society also comprised of three classes, three principal gods, and three colors.
This is one of the reasons why the shamrock plant has been revered so highly in the history of Ireland. The legend further depicts that St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, used the shamrock to make the Celts understand the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity. He showed how one God can be divided into three different entities: the Holy Spirit, the Father, and the Son, hence spreading the teaching of Jesus that appealed the Celtic inhabitants.
The shamrock also appears on old coins and medieval tombs, and there is a written reference as well that dates back to 1681. It describes the shamrock as a badge that was worn on the lapel every year on St Patrick’s Day. Over time, the shamrock gained ground steadily, and in the 19th century was used as a symbol of rebellion by the rebels against the Crown.
Significance of Northern Ireland Shamrock Today
Today, the shamrock is recognized worldwide as one of the most important symbols of Ireland. It is one of the national emblems of the country, and has been used by the Nationalist tradition mostly, but can be found within the Unionist tradition as well on St Patrick’s Day where the Royal Irish Rangers wear the shamrock on their uniforms. Moreover, the Irish wear shamrocks on 17th March, which is St Patrick’s Day, to celebrate the saint.