While the Celtic harp is the surprising official emblem of Ireland, the shamrock remains the country’s most enduring symbol in the hearts and minds of many. Like most legends, the shamrock story is based partly on history and derives from St. Patrick’s missionary work in the fifth century.
According to tradition, St. Patrick used the shamrock to illustrate the doctrine of the Trinity to the ancient Druids. The threeleaved clover was used as an analogy to “three persons in one God,” or the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The shamrock was already considered to be sacred by the Druids prior to St. Patrick’s arrival, and Irish folklore explains that this is the reason it was an ideal choice to describe the Trinity. In his wisdom, St. Patrick used pagan beliefs to his benefit, describing Christianity in such a way that it would be embraced.
In 1762, a minister recorded in his diary that the people of Ireland wore small bouquets of shamrocks affixed to their hats or lapels on March 17 to commemorate what is believed to be the date of St. Patrick’s death. Using the shamrock as a holiday fashion accessory became what is known as “the wearing of the green.”
During the 19th century, the shamrock became a powerful symbol of the solidarity of the Irish
Republic. Because it was seen as such a token of rebellion, Queen Victoria forbade the “wearing of the green,” permitting only the wearing of a red and green paper cross. However, after learning of her Irish Regiment’s bravery and sacrifices during the Boer War, she decreed that soldiers from Ireland should wear a sprig of shamrock in recognition of their fellow Irish soldiers, a tradition that continues today.