All Irish...a Handy Wee Blog

Where too many things Irish are barely enough!


The Shamrock and the Blarney Stone

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, a shamrock is "any of several similar-appearing trifoliate plants (plants whose leaves are divided into three leaflets). Common shamrocks include the wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) of the family Oxalidaceae, or any of various plants of the pea family (Fabaceae), including white clover (Trifolium repens) and suckling clover Trifolium dubium." According to Irish legend, St. Patrick chose the shamrock as a symbol of the church's Holy Trinity because of its three leaflets bound by a common stalk. Wood sorrel is shipped in large quantities from Ireland to other countries for St. Patrick's Day.

The Legend of the Blarney Stone

There is a stone there,
That whoever kisses,
Oh, he never misses
To grow eloquent.
'Tis he may clamber
To a lady's chamber,
Or become a member
Of Parliament.

Just northwest of the Irish village of Cork is the village of Blarney. The name Blarney is derived from the Irish An blarna, "the plain." Blarney is home to the 90-foot-tall (27.4-meter) Blarney Castle. The castle visited today is the third one built at the site and was erected in 1446.

Built on a rock, above several caves, the tower originally had three stories. On the top story, just below the battlements on the parapet, is the world famous Blarney Stone. While its origins are unknown, the Blarney Stone is said to give the gift of eloquence (beautiful speaking ability) to all who kiss it. Today, "Blarney" means "the ability to influence and coax with fair words and soft speech without offending."

Kissing the stone is quite a physical feat. You have to sit with your back to the stone, and a local guide or friend sits on your legs or firmly holds your feet. Then you lean back and down into the darkness between the castle's 18-foot-thick (5.5-meter) walls and, grasping the iron rails, lower yourself until your head is even with the stone.

One local legend claims that an old woman, saved from drowning by a king of Munster, rewarded him with a spell that if he would kiss a stone on the castle's top, he would gain a speech that would win all to him. It is not known, however, when and how the word Blarney entered the English language and the dictionary.

Origins of St. Patrick's Day

Saint Patrick's Day has come to be
green and gold, shamrocks and luck. Most importantly, to those who celebrate its intended meaning, St. Patrick's Day is a traditional day for spiritual renewal and offering prayers for missionaries worldwide. The Irish are descendants of the ancient
Celts, but the Vikings, Normans and English contributed to the ethnic nature of the people. Centuries of English rule largely eliminated the use of the ancient Gaelic, or Irish, language. Most Irish are either Catholics or Protestants (Anglicans, members of the Church of England).

So, why is it celebrated on March 17th? One theory is that that is the day that St. Patrick died. Since the holiday began in Ireland, it is believed that as the Irish spread out around the world, they took with them their history and celebrations. The biggest observance of all is, of course, in Ireland. With the exception of restaurants and pubs, almost all businesses close on March 17th. Being a religious holiday as well, many Irish attend mass, where March 17th is the traditional day for offering prayers for missionaries worldwide before the serious celebrating begins.

In American cities with a large Irish population, St. Patrick's Day is a very big deal. Big cities and small towns alike celebrate with parades, "wearing of the green," music and songs, Irish food and drink, and activities for kids such as crafts, coloring and games. Some communities even go so far as to dye rivers or streams green!