The Shifty Shamrock

Today, we have a special treat: a St Patrick’s Day story written by award-winning author Gabrielle Ni Mheachair.

Gabrielle was born at Ivy Hall, Templemore, Co. Tipperary, the sixth of 13 children who now live all over the world.  A gifted storyteller and renowned historian and genealogist, Gabrielle lives in St Louis with her husband and three children and teaches fifth grade at Holy Redeemer Catholic School in Webster Groves. She has completed her clan history, O Meachair, the Story of a Clan, and is currently searching for a publisher. Gabrielle was honored with a writing award from her home county at the Tipp FM Awards January 2009. She is a contributor to The Septs, and another of her articles will be featured in the near future. Here is Gabrielle’s autobiographical tale of her shamrock experiences, with our thanks: 

The Shifty Shamrock

By Gabrielle Ní Mheachair

St. Patrick’s day in the morning, and we scurried around the house like blind mice looking for our shoes, which we found all lined up in order of size alongside the cupboard door. They had been polished and shined the night before. The men’s shirts swung all crisply ironed from the end of the clothesline high above the AGA. The grandfather’s clock bonged the twelfth hour in hollow echoing sounds. It was time to go. Mass was at twelve fifteen.

“Where’s the shamrock?” mother called from the scullery dabbing her face with makeup.

 “Oh, no, we forgot the shamrock!”

“Wouldn’t you think that by now someone would remember the shamrock,” she added with an edge that could cut.

“We did. But it’s wilted since last night.”

“Do you expect me to put that straw thing on my lapel for Mass. Get out of here this minute, and get some fresh shamrock,” yelled our perpetually frustrated mother streaking red lipstick across her lips.

One of the oldest traditions of our national day is to wear fresh shamrock on the lapel of the coat. The shamrock has to be freshly picked, roots and all, on the morning of Saint Patrick’s Day. It should be nicely dusted with the misty morning dew heaven sent by Saint Patrick himself. Children wear badges with green, white, and gold ribbons dangling from them. They look like first place ribbons from a dog show, except they have pictures of Saint Patrick on them, or golden harps, or even green cut out shamrocks.

Mother sent the older ones out the fields to locate a bit of shamrock on Patrick’s morn while she readied the younger siblings for middayMass.They combed the farm year after year with out success. Jim landed home one year with a great bunch of clover. It had leaves as big as pennies.

“What kind of an amadán (fool) are you at all?” Mother yelled, “Do you not know the difference between a clover and a shamrock?”

One clout across the head sent him reeling, and a biting lecture on the difference between clover and shamrock ensued. No one ever made that mistake again.

There wasn’t a lick of shamrock anywhere on the farm. We scoured under the apple trees, the horses’ field, the front lawn, the backfield and nothing. For the size of the farm and the amount of grass around us you’d think we could have produced one bit of shamrock. But we didn’t. Not one leaf grew anywhere near the house or on the farm.

At some point, the older ones figured out that scouring the farm for shamrock was an absolute waste of time. From stealing apples out of Nelly Brennan’s orchard they discovered that she had a field of shamrock behind her house. Henceforth, they climbed the ditch and brought home the finest shamrock in allIreland.

Mother washed the roots, gave herself a huge share and divided the rest among the other adults. At Mass she was proud to show off her fine farm. We children sat along the pew studying strangers, friends and relations. Proud Irish men and women seemed to wear their entire farm on their shoulders. We snickered all the way through Mass passing judgment upon their shamrock.

“I’ll catch her when she falls under the weight of her farm. Maybe she will leave it to me.”

“Would you look at Mrs. O Brien, she’s humpbacked under the weight of her shamrock.”

“What about your one there, Mrs. Reilly, you’d think she had a huge farm by the look of her and she straight from the bog.”

 “Look at the West Brit. His coat is bare. He doesn’t give a hoot who’s looking at him. He’d probably have been the first to hang Patrick if he had been around in his time.”

“Ah, would you look at poor Joney, his shamrock is all wilted and dead.”

“He probably fed it stout last night and killed it!”

“Oh, no, Mrs. Ormond’s is bigger than Mothers!”

“Great, now we’ll have to sit after Mass and wait till she’s gone out.”

On and on we went with running commentary until Mass was over. We had great fun in between blows from Mrs. Long and Mrs. Connelly behind us. Mother’s arms couldn’t reach to the ends of the pew so the neighbors behind put manners on us for her.  

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