O’Neill’s shamrock shortbread (ETS image)

O’Neill’s shamrock shortbread (ETS image)

Shamrocks are associated with Ireland and so is tea. So, like the transitive property of equality (if a=b and b=c, then a=c), it is safe to conclude that shamrocks and tea just naturally go together. Small wonder it pops up on the tea table.

What is a shamrock?

There seem to be no easy answers in this world. Even answering such a supposedly simple question as this one is fraught with controversy. The consensus, though, seems to be that there is no one plant that is the “shamrock plant.” The word “shamrock” is derived from the Irish Gaelic seamrog which means “little clover.” Since there are hundreds of varieties of clover, more investigation is needed to narrow down the options. Around 1893, botanist Nathaniel Colgan collected samples from people all over Ireland and discovered that there were about four different plants (Trifolium repens, Trifolium minus, Trifolium pretense, and Medicago lepulina) that qualified as shamrocks. The main feature is the three-leaves-on-a-stem shape we have all come to recognize. (There is a mutation that occurs rather often where a fourth leaf is on the stem – the proverbial four-leaf-clover – that is a symbol of good luck.)

Shamrocks and the Irish

Officially, the symbol of Ireland is the Celtic Harp. However, to many people, the shamrock is equally important. It is more of an emblem of Irish culture and is used in the official logos of Fáilte Ireland (the Irish Tourist Board) and other Irish organizations and companies such as Aer Lingus, the official airline of Ireland. Part of the shamrock’s stature as an emblem of Ireland is due to religion, and part is due to politics. The religious connection is the three leaves on that stem being equated to the Christian triumvirate. The political connection started with Queen Victoria who made it a capital crime to wear the shamrock on military uniforms, punishable by death. In defiance, displaying the shamrock proudly on one’s clothing (the “Wearing of the Green”) began and the shamrock became a popular decoration on buildings, clothing, and even furniture. It became a source of empowerment and national pride.

Today, the shamrock, the most instantly recognizable emblem of Ireland, is often included in the bouquet of an Irish bride and in the groom’s boutonniere. A shamrock rating on a Bed & Breakfast in Ireland means high quality. Also on St. Patrick’s Day in these modern times a member of the British Royal Family presents a Shamrock to the Irish Guards regiment of the British Army. And you’ll see the Irish sporting shamrocks on their clothing. Here in the U.S. we’re more inclined to wear the shamrock color – green!

Shamrock Teawares for an Irish tea time! (ETS images)

Shamrock Teawares for an Irish tea time! (ETS images)

“Wearin’ of the Green” at Tea Time

The shamrock tends to pop up at tea time, too, with things like the lovely shamrock teawares shown here (teapot in either the 7-cup or 2-cup size, mugs, sugar & creamer sets, and teabag caddy). (They are earthenware and safe for use in the dishwasher and microwave.) Fill up the teapot with some of Ireland’s favorites, such as Lyon’s and Barry’s. Pile the shamrock shortbread, shortbread fingers, and shortbread petticoat tails on a serving plate, and set it out with that tea for a special tea time. See my list of teas for March.

And don’t forget to “wear the green,” be it a shamrock (real or fake) or green apparel. Enjoy!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

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