Is WHITE CLOVER (Trifolium repens) the shamrock, the emblem of Ireland? That belief is not as old as may be supposed. In fact, it is first mentioned in Tudor times. Campion's Historie of Ireland (1571) refers to "shamrokes, water cresses and other herbs they feed on". A hundred years later, shamrock is clearly identified as an Irish emblem. Thomas Dinely, who made a tour of Ireland in 1681, wrote in his journal of "shamroges" (Sheehy). All this in spite of the legend that had St Patrick himself using the trefoil leaf of a clover as an illustration of the Holy Trinity (it is still used as the emblem of the Trinity (Haig) ). But, as Nelson says "the shamrock had not been invented in 700 AD". Shamrock is actually Irish seamrog, the diminutive of seamar, clover (Lockwood). But the identity of the plant that truly bears the name has been a vexed question of a great many years. The white clover is, or used to be, worn as such on St Patrick's Day, though Medicago lupulina was also sold as the shamrock. Threlkeld, the earliest writer on the wild flowers of Ireland, gives Seamaroge as the Gaelic name for white clover, and expressly says this is the plant worn by the people in their hats on St Patrick's Day. Colgan said that T repens and T dubium (Lesser Yellow Trefoil) were equal candidates for the true shamrock. A recent survey carried out by Nelson showed that T dubium was recognised by most people as "shamrock". 46% claimed this while 35% claimed White Clover. Sometimes it was thought to have been Oxalis acetosella, WOOD SORREL, probably because the Gaelic name, seamroge, does for both (Sheehy). BLACK MEDICK, Medicago lupulina, has also been claimed by a few. GERMANDER SPEEDWELL (Veronica chamaedrys) also bears the name, and one suspects, in this one case only, it is chamaedrys in another guise.

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