Saint, Snakes, Shamrock

As I write, it’s nearly the 17th of March again.

I groan when I visit the shops and especially commercial web sites.

St. Patrick was a real person, though probably Welsh Celtic rather than Irish. Unfortunately most Irish traditions about him are not just made up, but as late as the 18th and 19th Century. Or even the 20th Century. He lived in the 5th Century and didn’t actually bring Christianity to Ireland or convert Ireland, though he was influential. He may have been even Roman – British, though even by the 12th Century only really Wales, Cornwall and Devon had “British” people Queen Elisabeth I in 16th Century decided England was British to bolster her claim to the Americas as a Welsh prince was supposed to have “discovered” them before Columbus.

According to the ‘Confessions of Patrick’, he was captured by Irish pirates from his home in Britain, and taken as a slave to Ireland when he was about 16. He is supposed to have looked after animals on Slemish Mountain. Then after six years escaped and returned to his family. After becoming a cleric in France, he returned to northern and western Ireland. Later he served as a bishop, but little is known about the places where he worked. By the seventh century, he had already come to be revered as the patron saint of Ireland. The 17th March is supposed to be the date of his death.

Fake snake myth

He never chased snakes from Ireland, nor were they associated with Irish Druids, as snakes (and moles) never came to Ireland after the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago!

Shamrock

Shamrock and Clover are only two different words in English. In Gaelic, ‘Shamrock’ is ‘seamair óg’, in Irish an ‘s’ is almost always ‘sh’. Shamrock technically doesn’t exist! It’s from the Irish for Young Clover, and we don’t know which clover the ancients meant! A 17th Century English writer mistranslated “wood sorrel” as “shamrock”, a word in English from about the 16th Century. Perhaps that is why the UK coins, UK coat of Arms and even Aer Lingus has a very indented wood sorrel style leaf.

Aer Lingus Logo

Not actually a shamrock!

 

The myth is that St. Patrick used the three leaves / trefoil nature of some particular clover to illustrate the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It’s a story that seems to have started in the 17th Century. The problem is that Irish Celts didn’t need such an idea explained. The Iron Age Celts adopted many ideas from the Bronze Age peoples, who had adopted the Neolithic triple spiral. Triple aspect Gods and Goddesses are common in ancient pre-Christian Irish Celtic traditions.  St. Patrick didn’t need the ‘seamair óg’, the young clover, later called Shamrock in English. Surveys took place in 1890s and 1980s to identify which clover Irish people regarded as the shamrock. Over 80% chose two species, it’s small, has rounded or pointed tips to the trefoil rather than heart shaped and NEVER has four leaves as that would totally spoil the point of the story.

Pre-Celtic Triple spiral

Neolithic design still used in St. Patrick’s era

See also

Wikipedia: Lucky four leaf  Clover

Wikipedia: Shamrock: Which Clover?

Green

Even ‘green’ is a recent idea! To the old Celts it was a colour of ill-omen. Blue was an auspicious colour. It’s from the 18th Century. St. Patrick and early Irish Christians had no affinity for green.

Summary

The 17th March is a long standing Christian festival, perhaps one day of avoiding lent (Easter can never be as early as the 17th). It’s not about green beer (an American idea), and four leafed Clovers. Not just Trump’s hat, but Amazon.com web site banner and clueless sellers of Shamrock on line are now having the four leaf lucky clover. Nothing to do with Ireland or St. Patrick’s Day!

Other News

Tomorrow sees the release of ‘The Master’s Talent’. Though I have written two more books in the series, I will be concentrating on the Celtic Otherworld. No shamrock  or Leprechauns!