5 Lucky Shamrock Facts for St. Patrick’s Day

Learn how to tell fact from blarney when it comes to this symbol of Ireland! Here are five shamrock facts to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.

Shamrocks are one of the most famous symbols in the world, easily conjuring up the image of Ireland at first sight. Find out how this symbol came to be, which plant it truly represents, and more with these lucky shamrock facts.

The shamrock’s importance all comes back to the lucky and sacred number 3.

Legend says that St. Patrick used the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to the local people when he brought Christianity to Ireland. But there’s evidence to suggest that the number 3 was sacred to the Irish long before his arrival. Pagans in Ireland had several triple dieties, such as the Morrígan, and may have used the shamrock as their symbol too. When St. Patrick arrived, he might have simply adopted this same method to explain the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Photo Credit: Inspired Images / Pixabay

The real shamrock plant is Trifolium dubium… or Trifolium repens… or Oxalis acetosella… or…

Ask a botanist for the “real” shamrock plant, and they’ll likely just shake their head in confusion. Even the Irish don’t agree on which three-leaved clover plant is the original shamrock. There are several leading candidates:

Trifolium dubium. Roughly half of Irish citizens believe this is the “real” shamrock (shown above). It’s native to Europe but is now found around the world, and often treated as a weed.

Trifolium repens. White clover is another top contender, and also very well-known globally due to its cultivation as a forage crop.

Oxalis acetosella. European wood sorrel, along with other oxalis species, is yet another possibility. This species is common in Europe and was sometimes used a last-resort food during bleak times.

These days, just about any trifolium or oxalis species may be sold as “shamrock.”

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Shamrocks are an important part of the “The Wearing of the Green.”

O Paddy dear, and did you hear the news that’s 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 Boucicault, The Wearing of the Green

In 1798, the Irish rebelled against British rule in a short but brutal uprising. In just five months, at least 10,000 (and possibly more) rebels and civilians were killed. The popular Irish ballad, The Wearing of the Green, celebrates the rebels, who often wore shamrocks and green clothing even though to do so was illegal. For many years, it was a custom to pin a sprig of shamrock to your lapel or wear a bunch in your hat on St. Patrick’s Day.

Photo Credit: Irish Defence Forces / Wikipedia

The shamrock is a registered trademark by the Government of Ireland.

While the shamrock isn’t the official national symbol of Ireland (that’s the harp), it’s so associated with Irish tradition that the government registered it to reserve its use for Ireland. A shamrock appears as part of the emblem of Great Britain, alongside the rose that represents England and the thistle for Scotland.

Shamrock motifs in general are found nearly everywhere in Ireland, including building architecture, pottery, linens, and crystal. It’s become a tradition for Ireland to present the President of the United States with a special Waterford crystal shamrock bowl filled with fresh shamrocks on St. Patrick’s Day.

Photo Credit: Forest & Kim Starr / Wikipedia

You’ve got a 1 in 5,000 chance of finding a four-leaf clover.

While shamrocks themselves are considered lucky, the rare four-leaf clover is even luckier. This variant of the traditional shamrock may be due to environmental or genetic causes, but whatever the case, their relative rarity makes them prized. The four-leaf clover has itself become a symbol for organizations like 4-H, and it was celebrated in the popular 1927 song, I’m Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover.

Photo Credit: Joe Papp / Wikipedia

Jill Staake
Jill lives in Tampa, Florida, and writes about gardening, butterflies, outdoor projects and birding. When she's not gardening, you'll find her reading, traveling and happily digging her toes into the sand on the beach.