ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Shamrocks, Snakes and Shililelaghs: St Patricks' Day Symbols Explained

Updated on July 24, 2012
St Patrick banishes the snakes
St Patrick banishes the snakes

St Patrick's Day has come to be celebrated all over the world. Wherever there is an Irish bar (and that's most places!) on the 17th March you will see people wearing shamrocks, embracing all things green and telling stories about how the snakes were driven out of Ireland. But why? Here follows a guide to some of the most common Irish symbols you might see on St Patrick's Day, and what they actually mean....

Shamrock

The shamrock is a universally recognised symbol of Ireland, and it is closely associated with St Patrick's mission to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity. Here's the story we were told at school: when St Patrick was preaching Christianity to the Irish the religious concept he found hardest to explain to his followers was that of the Trinity. That is, the belief that God is three parts equal and indivisible - the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. One day as he cast about himself, frustrated at the inability of the Irish to understand the Trinity he glanced down and saw a shamrock growing. Shamrocks are three-leaves-in-one, a perfect illustration of the Holy Trinity, and using the shamrock St Patrick was finally able to help the Irish understand.


The Colour Green

Green represents Ireland because it really is the Emerald Isle. Our wet climate isn't much fun for us humans, but it is great for grass, trees and all growing things. On all my travels, I've never seen fields as green as in Ireland after a shower of summer rain. Green has also come to represent Ireland in a political sense - there is a folk song called 'The Wearing of the Green' which refers to the habit in 18th and 19th century Ireland of declaring your desire for Irish independence from Britain by wearing a piece of green cloth on your jacket.


Green, white and orange: the Irish Flag

If you see three bands of colour, green white and orange, on St Patrick's Day that is representing the national flag of the Republic of Ireland, a well-known symbol of Irishness. The flag was designed in 1848 but only became adopted as Ireland's national flag after it was flown as part of the Easter Rising. The flag was flown to symbolise an Ireland free from British political control, with unity between the two main traditions of Ireland - Catholic and Protestant. The Catholics of Ireland are mainly descended from the native inhabitants of the island, represented by green. Irish Protestants came to the island later, from 1600 onwards, and they believe their survival on the island was protected by William Prince of Orange as the famous Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Orange as a colour has thus come to be closely associated with the Protestant tradition in Ireland. The white is in the middle of the flag to symbolise peace and unity between the Catholics and Protestants of Ireland.


Shillelagh

The shillelagh (pronounced shil-ay-lee) is a traditional Irish walking stick. They were traditionally carved from blackthorn or oak. And although they were nominally walking sticks, they could be used as a weapon when required. One folk-song (Arthur McBride) celebrates a man bringing down his shillelagh on the head of a soldier recruiting for the British Army! So if you happen to see a Leprechaun on St Patrick's Day with a walking stick in his hand you can impress your friends with your knowledge of Irish culture by pointing out the 'shillelagh'.


What's all this about snakes?

One of the most popular (though least historically accurate) stories about St Patrick is that he banished the snakes from Ireland. This story probably grew up as an attempt to explain the remarkable fact that there are no snakes native to Ireland. Legend has it that St Patrick threw a silver bell down the slopes of the sacred mountain called Crogh Patrick, and all the snakes in Ireland duly slithered away. In reality there have almost certainly never been snakes in Ireland, and what the story really symolises is how St Patrick's Christianty signalled the end of the pagan Druidic religion in Ireland. Irish druids carried staffs carved with snakes, so St Patrick banishing the snakes is a powerful metaphor for the falling away of old druidic practices and beliefs as the Irish embraced Christianity.


The green fields of Ireland
The green fields of Ireland

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      Ghaelach 

      7 years ago

      Well written Marie.

      I think your picture is typical of the whole island. Small fields surrounded by meter high stone walls. Apart from Scotland and the north of England you wont see a land scape like this anywhere else in the world. For me it's magic. It's nice to see the small white washed homes dotted sparingly about the country side.

      Good hub with a lot of info for the none Irish readers. lol

      Ghaelach

    • arhaider3 profile image

      arhaider3 

      7 years ago from Lahore

      good information

    • Marie McKeown profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie McKeown 

      7 years ago from Ireland

      It sounds like you have real Scots-Irish roots there! There are some interesting hubs around on that subject, and I've written one about Irish emigration to America which might interest you too if you're into family history. Great to hear you are keeping up the true meanings of St Patricks Day - in Ireland it is still more a religious holiday than a party, though that's changing fast!

    • profile image

      emeraldkell 

      7 years ago

      Thanks for writing this hub. I'm Irish American. My grandmother's family came to the states in the early 1700's. Her last name was McCann. Her mother was McCardle. She married a Scott American with the last name Carr. My husband is Hispanic and I've been teaching him about the true meaning of Saint Patrick's Day. It's such a shame in America the holiday has lost its true meaning. Keep up the good posts.

    • Marie McKeown profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie McKeown 

      7 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks for raising that Royo. I always appreciate feedback. I checked to see if what we learnt at school was wrong (always possible!). The flag was invented in 1848 but only became regarded as the national flag of Ireland when it was the banner of the Easter Rising - will change words to make it more clear!

    • Royo1234 profile image

      Royo1234 

      7 years ago from Galway, Ireland.

      Very good and interesting hub. Just one thing, I think the Irish tri-colour flag dates from before the 1916 rising, but very good all the same.

    • BrendyMac profile image

      BrendyMac 

      7 years ago

      Yet another of your hubs I love,Marie!! I love the photos you put in too...makes me want to paint them.And as a Mc Geown from Armagh and Belfast,I will be following all your hubs avidly as they come online!!?

    • Diane Inside profile image

      Diane Inside 

      7 years ago

      Nice hub, it is a quick reminder of the stories I learned as child. I am of irish descent but over the generations many of the stories have been lost. And sadly our family is totally americanized. lol Good luck on your journey with hubpages. It is a great community.

    • Marie McKeown profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie McKeown 

      7 years ago from Ireland

      Glad you found it interesting David - thanks for the feedback!

    • profile image

      David99999 

      7 years ago

      This is fascinating!

    • Marie McKeown profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie McKeown 

      7 years ago from Ireland

      Good tip, thanks!

    • profile image

      mikeq107 

      7 years ago

      Marie :0)

      your very welcome!!

      A good hub to read on adsence is by Hubber Mark knowles

      "The Best Easy Way to Make Money Online is to Open a Hubpages Account97"

      Mark has only been a member 3 years!!

      Mike :0)

    • Marie McKeown profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie McKeown 

      7 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks for your welcome! Am working on the adsense thing - I think I have to wait a couple of days for approval or something?

    • profile image

      mikeq107 

      7 years ago

      Marie :0)

      great hub by a fellow Irish writer, welcome to hub pages...make sure you sign up for adsense..you can make good money ..it takes a while, butits worth it

      Mike :0)

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)