“Excuse me, Miss? Don’t you think it is odd that there are only three-leaf clovers here and no four-leaf clovers?”

(Insert sounds of glass breaking and tires screeching here)

This was a very innocent question posed to me earlier this month by a very kind and seemingly innocent older gentlemen who was perusing through my Irish Gift Shop. I hope that my head didn’t spin a la Exorcist – but I fear it did based on the look on his face when I turned to him.

All jokes aside, this is a question I get a lot! I often get questions from people not of Irish descent who stumble through our doors, genuinely perplexed at the concept of a gift shop almost solely dedicated to all things Irish, but this question is one I receive often from people with some really deep Irish roots.

I think it speaks to the almost unavoidable watering down of Irish culture through the years – which sounds harsh – but really isn’t meant to be. I mean – think about it! Most people in my region of Northeastern Pennsylvania can trace their descendants back to the years immediately following the Irish Famine which means the transplant occurred in the 1850s or so. I have always believed that it does not matter how far removed you are from the immigrants in your line – the Irish blood and soil surges through your veins regardless of the generation you fall into – but, it goes without saying, that information was lost along the way.

How was it lost? Well let’s put it this way. . . your coal mining Irish immigrant great great great grandfather was probably not coming home after a day in the mines and sitting around a toasty fire telling his children about the days in Ireland. If he wasn’t doing this – he most certainly wasn’t sharing stories about the shamrock or ancestral tales about his family. As my immigrant mother used to say, “that stuff wasn’t talked about.”

I think that the wall of silence that existed around the authentic Ireland left open a space that we, as Irish Americans, leaned into. . . and it happens to be a space filled with leprechauns, four leaf clovers, and green beer. I am not judging it. C’mon! I own an Irish store that joins in the festivities of St. Paddy’s Day! And, at the end of the day, I am the daughter of Irish immigrants which makes me a very proud Irish American. I’ve worn green glitter eye shadow to our parade in my twenties and whooped it up with the best of them. I embrace it

But the four-leaf clover. .. Oh HELL no.

And let me tell you – it hits closer to home.

The other night, my husband and I were sitting on the couch while our daughter, Caitlin Mary, flipped through the soft pages of a little Irish baby book that my mother had given her a few years before. The book is “How to Count” and has a Irish symbols to correspond with numbers. When she got to number 8 the page was scattered with 8 lovely shamrocks. She pointed to the page and said, “Oh look! Clovers!”

(Insert screeching tires and glass shattering again.)

We both sat up quickly, “Wait. Wait. . .What??”

Yep, it happened in our own household!!

We, of course, found the humor in this but, at the end of the day, there is a very big difference between the shamrock and the four-leaf clover so give me a second to touch on it. . .

The four-leaf clover is often seen on cereal boxes with a cartoon leprechaun or on trinkets that tout “the luck of the Irish” which is ironic for a population of people who have often found themselves on the wrong side of lady luck (but that’s a story for another day).

The legend of the shamrock is far deeper. As Ireland’s national flower, it is often seen in images being held by St. Patrick, Ireland’s most well-known patron saint. St. Patrick had it tough. He was British born and brutally ripped from his family home and brought to Ireland by pirates when he was just a child. He worked laboriously for six years before escaping his captors and somehow finding his way home. It has been written that he was called by God to return to the Irish people, and so despite the nearly deadly means he took to get out of Ireland, he returned and is ultimately revered for spreading Christianity to the pagan Irish at the time.

How did he do it?

Legend tells us he plucked a shamrock from the ground and used it to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity. One stem and three leaves representing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That, my friends, is what makes the shamrock so significant. You cannot explain the Holy Trinity through a four-leaf clover. It simply would not work.

Now! Don’t come knocking down my door if you see a few four-leaf clovers in my Irish shop. When purchasing merchandise for my store I am extremely intentional about only purchasing items with shamrocks on them – but there are times when a clover will sneak in on a t-shirt or a tea towel. I think it is OK to acknowledge and accept and even enjoy the four-leaf clover as a part of Irish American culture – as long as you can differentiate between that and the shamrock. I would hate to see us as Irish Americans confuse the two!

And with that, I will leave you with The Prayer of Saint Patrick:

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In preachings of the apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who desires me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a mulitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and evil,
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.
Christ shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that reward may come to me in abundance.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation

St. Patrick (ca. 377)