A three-leafed clover, the shamrock is the national emblem of Ireland. Although it is widely believed that St. Patrick used the shamrock to illustrate the Christian doctrine of the trinity, this idea cannot be proven. In fact the first written mention of this story did not appear until nearly a thousand years after Patrick's death.
The shamrock, which was also called the "seamroy" by the Celts, was a sacred plant in ancient Ireland because it symbolized the rebirth of spring. By the seventeenth century, the shamrock had become a symbol of emerging Irish nationalism. As the English began to seize Irish land and make laws against the use of the Irish language and the practice of Catholicism, many Irish began to wear the shamrock as a symbol of their pride in their heritage and their displeasure with English rule.
Music is often associated with St. Patrick's Day—and Irish culture in general. From ancient days of the Celts, music has always been an important part of Irish life. The Celts had an oral culture, where religion, legend, and history were passed from one generation to the next by way of stories and songs.
After being conquered by the English, and forbidden to speak their own language, the Irish, like other oppressed peoples, turned to music to help them remember important events and hold on to their heritage and history. As it often stirred emotion and helped to galvanize people, music was outlawed by the English. During her reign,Queen Elizabeth I even decreed that all artists and pipers were to be arrested and hanged on the spot.
Today, traditional Irish bands like The Chieftains, the Clancy Brothers, and Tommy Makem are gaining worldwide popularity. Their music is produced with instruments that have been used for centuries, including the fiddle, the uilleann pipes (a sort of elaborate bagpipe), the tin whistle (a sort of flute that is actually made of nickel-silver, brass, or aluminum), and the bodhran (an ancient type of framedrum that was traditionally used in warfare rather than music).
Very small sprites who sometimes live in farmhouses or wine cellars. They are known to aid humans and perform small labors for them. Sometimes they ask humans for supplies and furniture, for which in return they give objects which bring luck and fortune. Leprechauns are called fairy cobblers, for they make shoes for elves (but always one shoe, never a pair). They are seen quite often by humans and are described as merry little fellows gaily dressed in old-fashioned clothes; green, with a red cap, leather apron, and buckled shoes.
When they finish their daily tasks, leprechauns like to organize wild feast, during which time they are referred to as cluricauns. These (often drunk) cluricauns can then be seen riding in moonlight on the back of a dog or a sheep.
According to popular belief, a leprechaun possesses a treasure (usually a pot of gold) which a human may obtain if he succeeds in capturing one, which is extremely difficult. Even after capture, a person may not take his eyes off of him for an instant, for then he will vanish. Leprechauns are mainly found in Irish folklore.
It has long been recounted that, during his mission in Ireland, St. Patrick once stood on a hilltop (which is now called Croagh Patrick), and with only a wooden staff by his side, banished all the snakes from Ireland. In fact, the island nation was never home to any snakes. The "banishing of the snakes" was really a metaphor for the eradication of pagan ideology from Ireland and the triumph of Christianity. Within two hundred years of Patrick's arrival, Ireland was completely Christianized.