Close your eyes and think of Ireland! What did you picture first?
Most people associate Ireland with beautiful grassy shades of green, leprechauns, and 4 leaf clovers.
4 leaf clovers are considered lucky and magical because they’re rare.
In fact, for every 4 leaf clover, there are 10,000 more of the 3 leafed ones.
Because shamrocks grow in such plentiful quantities in Ireland, it is easier to find this special 4 leaf mutation.
That’s why we use the phrase “the luck of the Irish”!
While 4 leaf clovers have taken on a ubiquitous reputation, 3 leaf shamrocks have their own magical associations.
Many people like to pick them up as a gift to a loved one or to press into some glass for good luck.
Of course, if you don’t have any shamrocks nearby, you could always get a shamrock tattoo.
They’re a versatile little design and can be drawn in many different ways.
But what does a shamrock tattoo mean and what are shamrocks anyway?
Let’s slide over the rainbow into a wealth of information about shamrocks, 4 leaf clovers, and how you can use their images to bring a little luck into your life.
What is a Shamrock?
To the untrained eye, there are a few 3 leafed plants that present as shamrocks.
There is some debate in the botany community over which plant is the stuff of legend, but the two most common plants we call shamrocks are:
- Common White Clover (named for the white flowers that grow from the plant)
- Wood Sorrel
A wood sorrel is a popular houseplant, especially near St. Patrick’s Day.
But don’t throw out this little pot of greenery after your big night, they’re very easy to care for.
Besides, if you’re going to get a shamrock tattoo it would be nice to have some living inspiration.
Are Clovers and Shamrocks the Same Thing?
All shamrocks are clovers, but not all clovers are shamrocks.
Apparently, to be considered a proper shamrock, the plant needs to have 3 leaves.
So pay attention, because if you ask for a lucky shamrock you may get 3 leaves when you wanted 4.
Let’s explore the mythology around both so you can make an informed decision.
Mythology Behind Shamrocks
The word shamrock comes from the Gaelic word Seamróg, which means “little clover.”
Their magic lies in those 3, cute little heart-shaped leaves.
The number 3 is magical for so many faith systems, and Irish traditions are no exception.
The most famous shamrock legend is about Saint Patrick.
The story goes that he was trying to explain the holy trinity, something that many non-Catholics have trouble understanding.
The theory is that the Father, Son & Holy Spirit make up one the one divine being called God.
The 3 incarnations of this divine being are distinct but unified.
To illustrate how this could possibly work, Saint Patrick picked a clover and pointed out that, even though there are 3 separate leaves, they all come from the same stem.
Though this is the most widespread story about shamrocks, they were actually part of the ancient Druid belief system before Catholicism made its way to Ireland.
In this pagan faith, holy men believed if they carried a shamrock they’d be able to spot evil spirits.
This way they could protect themselves before being attacked.
The number 3 was also important to the Druids because it encompasses so many things in nature:
Land, Sea, and Sky
Past, Present, and Future
The Moon’s Phases (Waxing, Half, and Full.)
The Triple Goddess, a goddess with 3 major aspects to her personality who is made up of maiden, mother and crone energy.
Before Saint Patrick, the Irish people had Goddess Brigit, the patron of healing, birth/home, and inspiration/poetry.
The clover’s heart-shaped leaves make shamrocks a nice offering to Brigid if you’d like to invite her to work with you.
Another legend goes that children would carry shamrocks, believing it gave them the ability to see fairies.
Fairies or “wee folk” are a big part of Celtic history.
Unfortunately, white nationalists have taken on the shamrock for their own use. In this case, it becomes a symbol of oppression.
That said, it is usually accompanied by the initials AB (Aryan Brotherhood) and the numbers 12 or 666.
It is unlikely your innocent shamrock tattoo will be mistaken as a racist image, but it may be best to surround it with some cheeriness to be sure.
This is not the first time the shamrock has stirred up controversy.
When rebelling against British rule in 1798, Irish militia adorned their uniforms with shamrocks as a sign of pride.
This was referred to as “the wearin’ o the green” and became such a powerful symbol Queen Victoria banned it.
What is the Legend of the 4 Leaf Clover?
When something is rare, it becomes magical in many people’s eyes.
The 4 leaf clover is no exception.
The 4 leaves are thought to represent faith, hope, love, and luck.
In some legends, it was the 4 leaf clover Saint Patrick used in his holy trinity explanation, with the additional leaf standing for God’s graciousness.
Some say the legend of the 4 leaf clover goes back to biblical times.
In this theory, Eve takes a 4 leaf clover from the Garden of Eden to remind her of the wondrous place.
Main Themes in Shamrock Tattoos
If you’re getting a shamrock tattoo to celebrate your Irish heritage, why not make it extra special?
Here are some fun images that can accompany your shamrock tattoo if you so desire:
Celtic Knots Shamrock Tattoos
You can have an artist draw a clover made of Celtic knots, or add some intricate shapes to each leaf.
These knots can have different meanings, but generally symbolize eternity and divinity.
Harp & Shamrock Tattoos
Many people assume the shamrock is Ireland’s national symbol, but it is in fact the harp.
Show off your heritage with this piece of Irish culture.
Rainbow & Shamrock Tattoos
The leprechaun’s pot of gold is said to be hidden in a field of shamrocks, and we all know the pot of gold is at the end of a rainbow.
Rainbows can be a symbol of calm after the storm, a gift from God, and/or solidarity with the LGBTQIA* movement.
Shamrock Tattoo Designs
Are you feeling inspired to get a little luck of the Irish of your own?
We love a shamrock tattoo in any context, so it can be hard to pick just one style.
Here to help you narrow down your options, we’ve collected some of our favorite shamrock tattoo designs.
American Traditional Shamrock Tattoos
You can always stick with a classic.
American traditional shamrock tattoos are bold with saturated shades of emerald green and nary a bell or whistle.
We love this design for its simplicity, readability, and old school tattoo aesthetic.
Black-work Shamrock Tattoos
You don’t need green ink to make a recognizable shamrock.
Black-work tattoos are deeply saturated with black ink, so they look more like the shadow or silhouette of a shamrock.
This is a bold design that suits people with more minimalist tastes.
Geometric Shamrock Tattoos
These designs bring shamrock tattoos into the modern era with their futuristic shapes.
In a geometric tattoo, the shamrock is made up of smaller geometric shapes.
The effect is somewhat robotic, and an unexpected twist on a classic design.
If you want something a little different, you may want to consider this approach.
Watercolor Shamrock Tattoos
As you can see, there are many approaches to a watercolor tattoo, each as visually striking as the next.
Watercolor shamrock tattoos are expressive and celebratory, which is a nice nod to the lively folk culture in Ireland.
You may choose to pair your splashy watercolor tattoo with a bold outline for contrast, or boldly go without one.
Sketchy Shamrock Tattoos
Sketchy tattoos often go hand in hand with watercolor designs, because both styles are artsy and imperfect.
A sketchy shamrock tattoo has the same “raw” quality you might find in an artist’s sketchbook.
This tattoo style is on the cutting edge of tattooing but feels timeless because of its reference to classic art.
It’s a perfect choice for people who like to live outside the norm.
Illustrative Shamrock Tattoos
“Illustrated” is an umbrella term in the world of tattooing, and refers to a tattoo that feels 2D and “drawn on” when compared with more realistic designs.
As you can see, an illustrative shamrock tattoo gives you the freedom to be creative and playful.
You can incorporate things that have great meaning to you- like this reference to the Boston Celtics.
Tribal Shamrock Tattoos
Shamrock Tattoo Ideas
Clover and shamrock tattoos are a nice way to reclaim the image from hateful people, invite some luck into your life, and celebrate Irish culture.
Still not sure if a shamrock tattoo is for you?
Take a look at our gallery and see if it gets your Irish eyes smiling.
Celtic Cross with Shamrock Tattoos
The Celtic cross can be interpreted as both a pagan and a Christian symbol.
When St. Patrick was converting Celtic people to Christianity, he is said to have designed the cross.
Incorporated into the image was the sun, which was worshiped by Pagans.
To some, this represents a harmonious blending of Pagan & Christian worship.
To others, it represents the domination of the Christian faith.
In still other people, the Celtic cross represents pride for their Celtic roots without religious meaning.
Celtic cross tattoos with shamrock tattoos would be closest to this interpretation because they blend two images synonymous with Celtic culture.
Simple Shamrock Tattoos
You don’t have to commit to a full sleeve to get a tattoo you love.
If you’re into something more subtle or want to build a collection of tattoo memories over time, you may like a simple shamrock tattoo.
These designs are typically micro in size and depict the outline of a shamrock rather than the more saturated options above.
Flaming Shamrock Tattoos
The sacred heart is a symbol of a heart on fire, often representing Jesus’s divine light and passionate love for humanity.
Because the shamrock can represent the holy trinity to some, it is blended with the sacred heart to create a flaming shamrock design.
This can be a symbol of religious pride or just a passionate pride of your heritage.
Small Shamrock Tattoos
Small shamrock tattoos are very similar to the minimal tattoos above but feature a little more color.
If a shamrock without its gorgeous green color just doesn’t feel right to you, but you do want to stick in the micro category, check out these designs for a teensy bit of inspiration.
Heart Shamrock Tattoos
Hearts are often incorporated into Irish knots for wedding or love designs.
Because shamrock leaves already have a heart-like shape, they need only a hint of tweaking to make them into a more refined design.
We love this as a symbol for the love of your Irish family and heritage.
It may also symbolize someone who feels lucky in their love life, or wants to invite some luck in that direction!
Shamrock Tattoos with Names
Shamrock tattoos with names may differ on symbolism from person to person.
Typically, a shamrock with a lettering tattoo would represent a family member or loved one of Irish descent.
It is a unique and loving homage to someone who has passed or someone in your life who you want to show your love to.
Delicate Shamrock Tattoos
Shamrocks don’t have to be bold and in your face.
They can have a sweet, serene quality.
These delicate shamrock tattoos are perfect for someone on the quieter side who wants to pay homage to the natural beauty of these little good luck charms.
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