By Sister Kathleen Mary O’Connell

The shamrock is the most commonly recognized symbol of the Irish, especially on St. Patrick’s Day when, all over the world, everyone is Irish for a day! Even the streetlights of Dublin show off the culture of the Irish. But we also see the four-leaf clover used as a symbol of Irish lore. So, shamrocks or clover? In truth, all shamrocks are clovers. The difference between the two is that the shamrock has three leaves while some clovers have four. Shamrocks grow in clumps, and the four-leaf clovers are rare and grow one at a time, thus making them harder to find. More importantly, the shamrock has deep religious significance and the four-leafed clover is considered a sign of luck.  

Legend has it that St. Patrick himself used the shamrock as a visual to describe the inter-connectiveness of the Blessed Trinity: Father, Son, Spirit. Three in one. Three leaves of the one shamrock. It was a common visual, one to which the Irish could relate. Fields are filled with the tiny little heart-shaped leaves growing in clumps of three. Over time St. Patrick’s shamrock became associated with the Irish people, and it has maintained its place in Irish culture ever since.  

But the clover also has a long history in Ireland. The Druids are said to have believed clovers had magical powers and used them to ward off evil. Even today, the four leafed clover is thought to also bring luck or good fortune as does the shamrock.  

Traditional thinking suggests that the four leaves of the clover stand for faith, hope, love and luck. But our faith leads us to look at the clover in this way: three leaves being the Trinity: Father, Son, and Spirit, and the fourth being ourselves who, because of our Baptism, have become one with the Father, Son and Spirit. We are united to the God who formed us. Perhaps not a theological teaching but a sign of our being at one with the God of all creation. It might be a visible reminder that we are a member of the family of God and we are blessed with more than just Irish luck.  

Still, the three-leaf shamrock still holds the place of honor when it comes to celebrating all things Irish.   

Peace, my friend, and may the luck of the Irish be with you.