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How Many Leaves Does Your Shamrock Have?

It has become a holiday tradition in my family, along with the wearin' of the green, to complain about the epidemic of four-leaf clovers substituted for St. Patrick's Day shamrocks.

Do Not Kiss This Person

In brief (and not that I need to tell you): the shamrock, symbol of St. Patrick (or, rather, symbol of the Trinity used by St. Patrick) and thus of Ireland, has three leaves. The four-leaf clover is a good-luck symbol that has nothing to do with St. Patrick's Day.

You may never have given it a second thought, but if you keep an eye out as you go about your business today, you'll probably be surprised how many inappropriate four-leaf clovers you (forgive me) overlooked before. It's an irritating mistake, like typos on menus ("burger's" or "Fresh Soups Everyday"), at least if you're the type of person who is easily irritated by such things. (In some cultures we are known as "copy editors.")

It is also, perhaps, a sign of widespread disregard for the religious significance of the holiday -- but there it's in very good company, because let's be honest, there isn't much that's religious about the American celebration of St. Patrick's Day. It's an ethnic-pride holiday, and in a lot of cases it isn't even that so much as an excuse for drinking too much. "Happy St. Patrick's Day! Be safe, everybody!" is a message I still see popping up on my Facebook wall. I don't think the implied danger has to do with praying too hard.

It's easy enough to see how four-leaf clovers worked their way into the holiday's iconography: they're lucky, and there's all this talk of "the luck of the Irish" (though if the Irish were really that lucky they probably wouldn't have needed to establish an ethnic-pride holiday stateside). Maybe it's time to accept the error, and use it to help distinguish between the minor church feast dedicated to St. Patrick and the secular bacchanal with which it coincides.

When it comes to the St. Patrick's Day Parade and disputes about the inclusive or discriminatory policies of same, that tension between religious identity and cultural heritage is what causes all the trouble. Why would gay groups want to "crash" the parade? Could be because they just want to "draw attention to themselves" (said the pot to the kettle).

Or, it could be that a lot of gay people are Irish, and they want to participate in the annual display of Irish pride. The question they, and a lot of onlookers, would ask, is: Why should Catholic doctrine and/or ingrained prejudice determine who gets to go parading? (Apparently, the Ancient Order of Hibernians says that's not the issue at all -- but nobody believes it.)

To say that (family-friendly) gay and lesbian groups cannot march under their own banner strikes many onlookers -- who can see clearly enough that the St. Patrick's Day parade on Fifth Avenue is far from a religious procession -- as an arbitrary exclusion. As Peter Quinn suggested in an interview on NPR yesterday, it could also be seen as out of step with the origins of the parade as an "immigrant event": "You know, the parade is about inclusion. I think that was in the beginning, about immigrant communities trying to find its way in. And I think that immigrant community should be inclusive within its own borders. Times have changed." He also summarized the original message of the parade, in nativist times, as "We're not ever leaving, we're here to stay and, you know, we're proud of who we are." Where have I heard that sentiment before?

My prediction is that either the parade's organizers will relent and allow gay groups to march, or the event will suffer a loss in status and become just another NYC ethnic-pride parade (there are more than you think). Who knows, that might be good for the religious side of the holiday. It could be an opportunity to develop a spirituality of St. Patrick that isn't grounded in Guinness: for example, I like this invocation of Ireland's non-native saint to pray for modern-day victims of human trafficking.

As for four-leaf clovers on St. Patrick's Day, I suspect they're here to stay, and I'll just have to get used to it.

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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It's an ethnic-pride holiday, and in a lot of cases it isn't even that so much as an excuse for drinking too much.

Isn't it convenient that this year it almost coincides with Purim so that, in an act of inter-religious celebration, the Irish and the Jewish can meet and drink together!


What's wrong with "fresh soups everyday"?

As a culinary policy, nothing. But "everyday" should be two words.

Our parochial vicar from Northern Ireland preached this morning on St. Patrick as an example of both the new evangelization and inculturation. On both points, he emphazed the inclusiveness of St. Patrick's approach. He didn't mention parades, and I doubt they figured as a subtext in his mind. But if you look at just what he said about the saint, inclusion of LGBT Irishmen in the parades would seem to be a foregone conclusion.

Oh yeah.

Don't mean to burst your bubble, but thisvideo will put the shamrock analogy in ersoective

That was in perspective.

This year I'm overlooking a four-leaf clover, and instead, looking at my altogether splendid wife.  Met her St. Patrick's day while drinking green beer at a Catholic social club I won't say how long ago.  This year We'll be hosting a large family gathering in mid-April, but still...

So I have a soft spot for St. Patrick's Day, so there will be some green beer.

Hasn't there been an altenative parade with the popular drag artists Panti Bliss? I suggest that this parade is more reflective of Ireland today than a creaky, stuffy, elephantine homophobic cult-event.

The truth shall make you free, but no one said that it would make you comfortable, Grant.

The shamrock is such a perfect teaching tool for creating an image the human mind can hold of the Holy Trinity.  I will not let it go as my symbol for the feast of St. Patrick.  Truly the Irish cannot be said to be very lucky when looking back on their long difficult history.  However, they were blessed to have such a teacher as St. Patrick, whose mission yielded a rich cast of "saints and scholars". 

It is my prayer to St. Patrick that the country will heal from the consequences of many years of a repressive and powerful church hierarchy. I pray that the justified anger and disgust of Irish Catholics will evolve into forgiveness and that the Catholic Church will rediscover its true purpose: to spread the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in love.

By the way, I do enjoy a glass of Guinness on St. Patrick's Day!

Is loss of faith the fault of the Irish Tridentine church? I fear we must look closer to hand. 

In so far as the ethnic group analogy goes, isn't there a gay pride parade every summer?

Do the Irish march in the Puerto Rican Day parade with their own banner of ethnic pride?

We have gay marriage in New York, which I highly doubt was anticipated by the original people who asked to march in 1990.  Why does this parade matter anymore for gay rights?


This is a bit late, but here are some beautiful antique colored photos of Ireland between 1890-1900. 



The following was sent to  Guinness USA for their caving in to the the radical,vocal elements of the LGBT cabal.
"I and other members of my Irish families are starting a boycott of your products because of your withdrawing support for the New York City St.Patrick's day parade. The Parade is in honor of St Patrick and all are welcome No organizations NRA, Red Cross, et all, are allowed to march under their own banners and the gays, lesbians,trangendered and whatever are not being treated any differently. They can march with any school, band, County, military unit, city and town police, fire department. Letting  LBGT influence your business decision may have repercussions."


As a sponsor of the parade your company was no doubt aware of the Parade guidelines which the LGBT were trying thwart, see Guideline Nos.4 and 12





All units must have two (2) flags.

Irish & American flags or no flags at all.


An American

flag on the right and an

Irish flag on the left.


A minimum of eight (8) abreast.

Ten (10) if room is available.

A unit with 250+ members MUST march 10



Two (2) marshals

of each marching unit s

hould bring up the rear.


The only banners allowed are

ones identifying the unit or

“England Get Out of Ireland”

. Only

one identifying


for each unit.



Green hats, sneaker

, or other

“odd ball” dress

is not permitted.



animals or mascots


No eating, drinking or smoking

in the Line of March.


No displays

of any kind will be permitted.



Units should make sure they are in

proper formation

before approaching Fifth Avenue.


After units get on Fifth Avenue,

no stragglers

should be allowed to join the unit.

Unit marshals should be on the

alert for this at

each intersection.

Please be viligant.


Shirts with advertising are

NOT an appropriate form of dress.
No children's pull or push wagons permitted.


Please remember, you are on Fifth Ave. for one hour once a

year and you should march with

pride in your heritage

and dress accordingly,


For your information the LBGT cabal have their own parade in New York City and contingents which
oppose the gay/lesbian life style are not welcome. In the not so distant past the gay parades featured
the topless Dykes on Bikes, formal dress was bow ties,bare chests and bare bottom chaps for men and
the performance arts of simulated,perhaps even real, sex acts in front of St.Patrick's Cathedral. 
This is what it looks like today
Will your company be supporting their parade in the future?


Oh shit, I'm sure Guinness will now have the courage (*badump!*) to resist the "LBGT Cabal."


But will they stand up against the Illuminati? 

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