Irish Druids And Old Irish
THE SHAMROCK, AND OTHER SACRED
The Shamrock is even more typical of Ireland
than the Oak is of Britain, and
was the greater object of reverence and regard.
But Moore might have added the claims of Religion. Is it not a sacred emblem
of the Trinity? Does not the legend remind us of St Patrick convincing his
doubting hearers of the truth of the Three in One doctrine, by holding up
a piece of Shamrock? It is true that the Philosophical Magazine, June
1830, throws some doubt on the story, since the three-leaved white clover, now
accepted as the symbol, was hardly expanded so early in the year as St.
Patrick's Day; and Irishmen to this day do not agree which is the real Shamrock.
Bard and Chief,
Erin's native Shamrock!
spring for me,
leafy gems of morning!'
Love, 'No, no,
me they grow,
fragrant path adorning!'
cries,--'O do not sever
type that blends
Valour, Wit, for ever!
O! the Shamrock, the green, immortal Shamrock!"
The trefoil that was sour was certainly eaten by primitive Irish, while the
white clover, not being sour, was not eaten. It may, therefore, have been the
Wood Sorrel, trefoil out in early spring. Spenser says--"If they found a
plot of watercresses or shamrocks, there they flocked as a feast" Wyther
wrote--"And feed on shamrooks as the Irish doe." The word
Shamrock, or Shamrog, is applied to
various trefoils, however, by Erse and Gaelic writers, though ancient herbalists
knew only the sour variety by that appellation. The Gaelic seamarog is
the little seamar trefoil. Dr. Moore of Glasnevin declares the black
nonsuch (Medicago lupulina) to be the true shamrock, though the white clover
is often sold for it.
The pious Angelico introduced the white clover in his sacred pictures, like
the Crucifixion, and as Ruskin thinks, "With a view to its chemical
property." Its antiquity is vouched for. Dr. Madden sings--
"'Tis the sunshine of Erin that glimmer'd of old
Ancient bards declare that it was an object of worship with the remote race
of Tuath-de-Danaans. It was the emblem of the Vernal Equinox with the Druids.
Greek emblems of the Equinox were triform. As the Seamrag, it was long
used as an anodyne, being seen gathered for that purpose by Scotch wives as late
as 1794; it must, however, be gathered by the left hand in silence, to preserve
its virtues. The four-leaved shamrock is called Mary's Shamrock. According to an
engraving in Ledwich's Antiquities of Ireland, the shamrock appears on
the oldest Irish coin. It is the badge of the Order of St. Patrick, founded in
1783, but the national badge since 1801. Pale or Cambridge blue, not green, is
the true national colour of Ireland. But Ireland cannot claim sole possession of
it as a sacred symbol. It was the three-leaved wand of Hermes, the triple oracle
of the ancients. It was the three-leaved sceptre of Triphyllian Jove. It
was seen on the head of Isis, of Osiris, and of a god of Mexico. It was
recognized both on Persian and Irish Crowns. We perceive upon a monument from
Nineveh a couple of sacred hares engaged in devouring it. The Berlin Museum has a
representation of some rude satyrs jestingly offering it to a woman. Artists, in
the Middle Ages, have shamelessly made it the plant presented by the Angel to
the Virgin Mary. The Bismarcks use the shamrock with the motto "In
trinitate robur." The sacred Palasa of India has triple leaves. The French,
like the Irish, retained it as a national symbol. To this hour the three-leaved,
or Fleur-de-lis plant is preserved as a sacred, symbol in architecture, on
altar-cloths, &c., the emblem being now seen in Nonconformist churches as
well as in the Episcopalian.
On the banners of Green we have loved to behold,
On the Shamrock of Erin and the Emerald Isle."
It was the three-in-one mystery. "Adorning the head of Osiris, it fell
off at the moment of his death. As the trefoil symbolized generative force in
man, the loss of the garland was the deprivation of vigour in the god, or, as
some think, the suspension of animal strength. in winter"
In the Dublin Museum is a beautiful copper vessel, or plate, with the
trefoil, from Japan. In the Mellor church of Derbyshire is a very ancient font,
with rude figures, horses, and men with Norman helmets. The tails of the horses,
after passing round the body, end in a rude form of trefoil, which another
horse, with open mouth, is prepare to eat, while its own long tail is similarly
presented to the open mouth of its equine neighbour. The shamrock w mysteriously
engraved on the neck of the oriental crucified figure in the relic collection at
The OAK was also venerated by the early Irish. We read of Kil-dair,
the Druids' cell or church of the Maig-adhair or Dearmhagh, the
field of oaks; the Daire-calgaich, now Londonderry, the wood of Calgac; Dairbhre
(now Valentine, Isle of Kerry), the place producing oaks Derrynane was Doire-Fhionain,
the oak grove of Finian; Doire-maelain, now Derryvullan, the grove of
Maelain; Derrada-Doire-fhada, the long oak grove; Derrybeg,
little oak; Derry Duff, black-oak wood. Derry is from Doire or Dair,
oak. Kildare was Cill-dara, the church of the oak. St. Bridgid of Kildare
built her cell, it is said, under a very high oak. Hanmer wrote--"Bridget
builded a cell for her abode under a goodly faire oke, which afterwards grew to
be a monasterie of virgins called Cylldara, in Latin Cella quercus."
Druids were so named from Dair, Doire, or Duir--the oak. The
Druids were Dairaoi, or dwellers in oaks. There was the Gaulish Drus
or Drys, the Gaelic Daru, the Saxon Dre or Dry, the
Breton Derw, the Persian Duracht, the Sanscrit Druh.
The oak was thought sacred from its acorns being food for man in his savage
state. It was dedicated to Mars and Jupiter. Etrurian inscriptions appear about
the oak. The temple of the oracular Dodona was in an oak forest We read that 456
B.C., a Roman Consul took an oak solemnly to witness as a god. That tree was the
symbol of the Gaulish deity Hesus, as it was of the German Thor. The Dryades
were priests of the oak. It was associated with the tau or cross.
"So far as I know," says Forlong, "the cutting of a live oak into
a tau, or deity, is unique on the part of the Druids." The stones in
Sichem were placed under an oak. The oak or terebinth of Mamre was worshipped as
late as the fourth century. The oak was sacred, as the acorn and its cup
represented the male and female principles.
The MISTLETOE had an early reputation as a guide to the other world. Armed
with that golden branch, one could pass to Pluto's realm:--
"Charon opposed--they showed the Branch.
Its connection with health, as the All-heal, is noted by the poet
Callimachus, under the appellation of panakea, sacred to Apollo:--
They show'd the bough that lay beneath the vest;
At once his rising wrath was hush'd to rest."
"Where'er the genial panakea falls,
As the seat of the life of the Oak, as then believed, it had special virtues
as a healer. The Coel-Creni, or omen sticks, were made of it, and also
divining-rods. It had the merit of revealing treasure, and repelling the
unwelcome visits of evil spirits When cut upon St. John's Eve, its, power for
good was greatest "While the shamrock emblematic of the equinox, the
mistletoe is associated with the solstice," says St. Clair.
Health crowns the State, and safety guards the walls."
The ancient Persians knew it as the healer. It told of the sun's return to
earth. Farmers in Britain used to give a sprig of mistletoe to the first cow
calving in the year. Forlong points out the recovery of old heathen ideas;
saying, "Christian priests forbade the mistletoe to enter their churches,
but yet it not only got in, but found a place over the altars, and was held to
betoken good will to all mankind." It was mysteriously associated with the
dove. The Irish called it the uil-iceach: the Welsh uchelwydd. The
County Magazine for 1792 remarked "A custom of kissing the women
under the mistletoe-bush still prevails in many places, and without doubt the
sure way to prove prolific." Pliny considered it good for sterility. It was
the only thing that could slay the gentle Baldur. In England there are some
twenty trees on which the mistletoe may grow.
Certain plants have at different times been objects special consideration,
and worshipped as having divine qualities, or being possessed by a soul. Some
were thought, to manifest sympathetic feeling with the nation by which they were
cherished. The fetish tree of Coomassie fell when Wolseley's ultimatum
reached the King of Ashantee. The ruthless cutting
of trees was deemed cruel. Even if they had no living spirit of their own, the
souls of the dead might be there confined; but perhaps Mr. Gladstone, the
tree-feller, is no believer in that spiritual doctrine.
In Germany one may still witness the marrying of trees on Christmas Eve with
straw-ropes, that they may yield well. Their forefathers' regard for the World-tree,
the ash Yggdrasill, may incline Germans to spare trees, and raise them, as
Bismarck loves to do. Women there, and elsewhere, found consolation from moving
round a sacred tree on the approach of nature's trial. The oldest altars stood
under trees, as by sacred fountains or wells. But some had to be shunned as
The Irish respected the Cairthaim, quicken-tree, quick-beam, rowan, or
mountain ash, which had magical qualities. In the story of the Fairy Palace
of the Quicken-tree, we read of Finn the Finian leader being held in that
tree by enchantment, as was Merlin by the fairy lady. MacCuill, son of the
hazel, one of the last Tuath kings, was so-called because he worshipped the
hazel. Fairies danced beneath the hawthorn. Ogham tablets were of yew. Lady
Wilde styled the elder a sacred tree; and the blackthorn, to which the Irishman
is said to be still devoted, was a sacred tree.
Trees of Knowledge have been
recognized east and west. That of India was
the Kalpa. The Celtic Tree of Life was not unlike that of Carthage. The
Persians, Assyrians, and American Indians had their Trees of Life. One Egyptian
holy tree had seven branches on each side. From the Sycamore, the goddess Nou
provided the liquor of life; from the Persea, the goddess Hathor gave fruits of
immortality. The Date-palm was sacred to Osiris six thousand years ago. The Tree
of Life was sometimes depicted on coffins with human arms. The Lotus, essentially phallic,
self-produced, was an emblem of self-created deity, being worshipped as such at
least 3000 B.C. Homa was the Life-tree of Zoroaster. The bean was thrown on
tombs as a sign of immortality. The banyan and the onion denote a new
The Indian and Cingalese Bo or Asvattha, Ficus religiosa, sheltered
Gautama when he gained what is known as Entire Sanctification, or Perfection.
The sacred Peepul is the male fig, the female being Ficus Indica.
The fig entwines itself round the palm. The Toolsi, Ocymum Sanctum, and
the Amrita are also worshipped in India, so are the Lien-wha, or
Nelumbium, in China, the cypress in Mexico, and the aspen in Kirghizland.
Trees and plants were devoted to gods as the oak, palm, and ash to Jupiter,
the rose, myrtle, and poppy to Venus; the pomegranate to Proserpine; the
pine-apple to Cybele; the orange to Diana, the white violet to Vesta, the daisy
to Alcestis; the wild thyme to the Muses; the laurel to Apollo; the poplar to
Hercules; the alder to Pan; the olive to Minerva; the fig and vine to Bacchus;
the lotus to Hermes. The leek of Wales, like the shamrock of Ireland, was an
object of worship in the East, and as associated with Virgo. The Hortus
Kewensis states that it first came to Britain in 1562. The mandrake or
Love-apple was also sacred. Brinton gives a list of seven such sacred plants
among the Creek Indians. The Vervain, sacred to Druids, was gathered in Egypt at
the rise of Sirius the Dogstar.