Seamra vs. Seamróga: Which Plant Goes with St. Patrick’s Day?

Posted on 17. Mar, 2014 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

cúig chraobhóg de ___ (do bharúil?)

cúig chraobhóg de ___ (do bharúil?)

An tseamair nó an tseamróg?  There’s lots of discussion online and in print about what plant is actually meant by the term “shamrock.”  This blog isn’t going to attempt to solve that riddle, but we will look at the related vocabulary for “clover” in general and for “shamrock” in particular.

Seamróg” is the Irish for “shamrock.”  It’s a diminutive of the word “seamair,” which means “clover.”

Since we mostly talk about “seamróga” for Lá ‘le Pádraig, we’ll start with that:

seamróg [SHAM-rohgg], a shamrock

an tseamróg [un TCHAM-rohgg], the shamrock [note that the “s” becomes silent after the prefixed “t”]

seamróige, of a shamrock

na seamróige, of the shamrock

seamróga, shamrocks

na seamróga, the shamrocks

seamróg, of shamrocks (looks the same as the basic form for “a shamrock,” but, as you can see, it translates differently here)

na seamróg, of the shamrocks

And here are a couple of sample sentences:

Cén dath atá ar an tseamróg seo?  Tá dath glas uirthi.  That would be for a “gnáthsheamróg” (an ordinary shamrock).

Cén dath atá ar na seamróga eile?  Is féidir le seamróga a bheith buí, dearg, corcairdhearg, nó corcra.  One plant sometimes considered to be a shamrock is called “Black Medick,” but from what I’ve seen in pictures, it doesn’t look particularly “dubh” to me.

A shamrock is basically a type of clover, so now let’s look at the word for “clover” in Irish.

seamair, a clover

an tseamair, the clover

And here’s where the word starts to get interesting:

seimre, of a clover

na seimre, of the clover

The plural is not quite what we might expect either.  Instead of simply adding an ending, we drop a syllable and then add the ending “-a.”  Or we might think of it simply as dropping the “i” and reversing the remaining “a” and “r.”  At any rate, the plural is:

seamra, translatable as either “clover” or “clovers” in English, depending on context.  In a general reference, we could say “a field of clover.”  But, especially when discussing different types, we could have a phrase like  “Clovers: Species and Varieties,” the title of an online article by Penn State’s College of Agricultural Science (nasc thíos).  If there’s anyone who should know the ins and outs of the use of the plural of “clover,” it would be an “eolaí talmhaíochta,” so I’ll take their word for it.

And to continue:

na seamra, the clover(s)

Another slight change to show possession, or more likely, attribute or characteristic, at any rate, “an tuiseal ginideach” (the genitive case), to use the formal term.

seamar, of clover(s)

na seamar, of the clover(s).

Here are some sample phrases:

féarach gan seamair, clover-deficient pasture

Bóthar Chnoc Seimre, Cloverhill Road (Dublin)

Príosún Chnoc (na) Seimre, Cloverhill Prison.  Note: the “na” (“of the”) is in parentheses because I’ve seen both usages, with “na” and without “na.”

Seamra: Speicis agus Cineálacha (my translation of the title of the above-mentioned Penn State Extension article)

I haven’t actually found a lot of references online using “na seamar” (of the clover/s), but here’s one embedded in a hybrid English-Irish phrase, from a rather brutal period in Irish history:

John (or Shane) na Seamar Burke, aka “John of the Shamrocks” Burke: Note that in the name of this 16th-century personage, “na seamar” (of the clovers) is usually translated as “of the shamrocks.”  C’est la vie and so much for meticulous differentiations.

And then there’s the adjective form “seamrach,” as in:

crosbhealach seamrach, a clover-leaf intersection (a far cry from “crosbhóthar do mhamó“!)

And that’s in contrast to the adjective “seamrógach,” as in:

taetuáillí seamrógacha, shamrock-covered tea-towels, and, for good measure,

púiceanna tae seamrógacha, shamrock-covered tea cosies (or “cozies” if you prefer; it occurs to me that this is probably the first time I’ve used “tea cosy / tea cozy” in the plural, at least in writing!)

púiceanna uibhe seamrógacha, shamrock-covered egg cosies (again, “cozies,” if you prefer)

Bhuel, sin é don tseamróg agus don tseamair sa bhlag seo.  To answer the title question for this blog, both, really.  Shamrock and clover, over and over!  An bhfuil do cheannsa fliuchta agat fós?  And that’s not a reference to soaking your “head” (ceann) but to your shamrock / clover.  In other words, “Ar ól tú do Phota Pádraig fós?”  What’s that “St. Patrick’s Pot”?  Bhuel, the beverage goes by two names in Irish, “fuisce” or “uisce beatha,” and on Lá Fhéile Pádraig, it’s garnished with a real shamrock, which quickly gets “drowned,” after which it can be eaten.  That could be the subject of yet another blog, sa todhchaí.  SGF, or should I say, *BNFPO, an “acrainm” which may be “gearrshaolach” but “tráthúil,” at least for today. – Róislín


And for a bit more on shamrocks and shamrock-related words, (3 Márta 2012) (8 Márta 2014)

* Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig ort (plural: oraibh)

When to Say ‘Pádraig,’ When to Say ‘Phádraig,’ and When to say ‘Saxifraga spathularis’

Posted on 11. Mar, 2014 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Naomh Pádraig (le Andreas F. Borchett ag

Naomh Pádraig (photo of stained-glass window by Andreas F. Borchett, Kilbannon,

With Lá Fhéile Pádraig just around the corner, let’s take a closer look at the name “Pádraig” itself.  It has two main forms, “Pádraig” being the basic form, and “Phádraig,” used in certain types of phrases.  Less frequently, we may also encounter “bPádraig.”  Of course, there are also nicknames, like Páidín, Páid, Padhra, Pat, Paudeen, and Paddy (but not ‘Patty’!).  And there are also some variant spellings, like “Pádhraig,” “Pádhraic,” and “Pádraic.”

Whether to say ‘Pádraig‘ or ‘Phádraig‘ depends on the phrase involved.  Here are some sample sentences (translations below, so new learners get a bit of a work out):

Pádraig: the basic form:

Tá Pádraig anseo. 

Cloisim Pádraig ag caint.

Is le Pádraig é seo.

Tá rothar ag Pádraig.

Phádraig: And now some examples with the “Phádraig” form:

“Dia dhuit, a Phádraig!”

Seo cóta Phádraig.

Tá caipín ar Phádraig.

Tabhair do Phádraig é.

bPádraig: And now the occasional use of “bPádraig,” most typically used in certain sentences that say what kind of person Pádraig is/was:

Fear deas atá i bPádraig.

Naomh a bhí i bPádraig Naofa ach saighdiúir agus iarla a bhí i bPádraig Sáirséal.

I suppose one might have reason to say:

Tá péist ribíneach i bPádraig.


Tá boiteog i bPádraig.

In those last two cases, áfach, I think one would be more likely to say, “Tá péist ribíneach i bputóga Phádraig,” or “Tá boiteog i gcraiceann Phádraig.”  In either case, I’d add, “Feo!”

The first group has “Pádraig” as the subject, object, or object of certain prepositions.  The second group, showing lenition (séimhiú), includes direct address (Hello, Patrick!), possession (the coat of Patrick), and certain prepositional phrases (here, ‘on Patrick’ and ‘to Patrick’).  The third group, with eclipsis (urú) means “in Patrick,” here used with the idiom where “i” links two nouns (as in the pattern “Fear atá i Sean Connery ach bean atá i Sean Colvin).  I should add “an t-amhránaí,” in case there are any fir reading who are also named Sean Colvin.

These same changes would apply with the nickname forms and alternate spellings as well: “Bean Pháidín,” teach Pháid, “Dia dhuit, a Phádhraig,” “fear pósta atá i bPáidín” (agus sin é an fáth nach bhfuil an ban-aithriseoir san “Bean Pháidín” sásta nó leathshásta!).    

And how about with the name “St. Patrick”?  Well, for starters, in the phrase “Lá Fhéile Pádraig,” his name is generally left as is, not lenited (to “Phádraig“, which would normally be used for “Patrick’s”).  I’ve always been told that this is a sign of special respect.  If we were talking about an ordinary boy named Patrick, we’d say “breithlá Phádraig” (no”féile” possible since our hypothetical ordinary Patrick isn’t a saint).  Other usages of “Pádraig” the saint, though, often do show lenition (séimhiú), as in “Cruach Phádraig” (Croagh Patrick) and “Purgadóir Phádraig” (St. Patrick’s Purgatory).  But there are exceptions, such as the various schools named “Scoil Pádraig Naofa.” 

Cabáiste an Mhadra Rua aka St. Patrick's Cabbage, Fox Cabbage, and London Pride

Cabáiste an Mhadra Rua aka St. Patrick’s Cabbage, Fox Cabbage, and London Pride (nasc ag deireadh an ailt)

As for “Saxifraga spathularis,” it’s the Latin name for a plant called ‘St. Patrick’s Cabbage.”  But lo, and behold, the Irish name for this plant isn’t based on the name ‘Patrick’ at all.  It’s “cabáiste an mhadra rua.”  And lo (faoi dhó) agus behold (faoi dhó), this plant has (at least) two other names in English, “London Pride” and “fox cabbage.”  The latter is not surprising, since “madra rua” means “fox,” or more literally “coppery red-furred dog” (that “coppery” bit is so you don’t think we’re talking “Clifford red”).  A literal translation as “red dog” could lead us merrily up a garden path where we might end up among the dog roses, dog fennel, dog bane, or dogwoods. So we’ll stop with “fox cabbage,” and with me brushing up on my Noel Coward and Mary Elizabeth Braddon.  Erm, why Noel Coward?  1941 — “London Pride” is a flower that’s free.”  Why Mary Elizabeth Braddon?  Her 1896 novel, London Pride.  And why don’t we have a song or novel called “Fox Cabbage.”  Maybe that title just doesn’t have that special panache!

And actually, these plant name, as with other plant name in other blogs in this series, create a complex web of species, sub-species, and vernacular terms, but I’ll simply accept that “London Pride” is another name for “St. Patrick’s Cabbage,” at least for present purposes.  I wonder if it’s edible, but the accounts I’ve found of it online give no indication of edibility.

Speaking of edibility, and always harboring in the back of my mind a recollection of Leopold Bloom’s breakfast in Joyce’s Ulysses, I was struck by the name of another member of the Saxifraga genus, the “Kidney Saxifrage,” with “Saxifraga hirsuta” as its Latin moniker (“hirsuta” – hairy, wow!).  Hmm, curiouser and curiouser but no evidence that “Kidney Saxifrage” is edible either.  All the more “curiouser” when one considers that “saxifrage” itself means “rock-breaker.”  Useful for kidney stones, I wonder?  Actually I doubt it.  I believe the plant grows a lot on stone walls and finds cracks and crevices in which to root, ultimately, perhaps, compromising the stone walls’ durability.  In Irish this one is “mórán giobach,” lit. “shaggy saxifrage,” with no reference to kidneys.  Most types of saxifrage are referred to in Irish as “mórán,” which appears to have no relationship to the more well known word “mórán” meaning “much” or “many.”

A little online research tells me that Pliny the Elder believed that Kidney Saxifrage could cure gallstones (why not kidney stones?).  So I guess I’m jumping into the saxifrage applications game about 2000 years after the fact, but, bhuel, “Is fearr déanach ná riamh.”  And even if we can’t consume “St. Patrick’s Cabbage,” with the “mairteoil shaillte,” at least in the US, it adds a new dimension to St. Patrick-related vocabulary.  Bain sult as an bhféile – Róislín


a) Pádraig: Tá Pádraig anseo. Patrick is here; Cloisim Pádraig ag caint. I hear Patrick speaking; Is le Pádraig é seo; This is Patrick’s; Tá rothar ag Pádraig. Patrick has a bicycle.

b) Phádraig: “Dia dhuit, a Phádraig!”, “Hello, Patrick!”; Seo cóta Phádraig.  This is Patrick’s coat; Tá caipín ar Phádraig. Patrick is wearing a cap, lit. there is a cap on Patrick; Tabhair do Phádraig é. Give it to Patrick.

c) bPádraig: Fear deas atá i bPádraig.  Patrick is a nice man; Naomh a bhí i bPádraig Naofa ach saighdiúir agus iarla a bhí i bPádraig Sáirséal.  Holy (Saint) Patrick was a saint but Patrick Sarsfield was a soldier and an earl; Tá péist ribíneach i bPádraig.  There is a tape-worm in Patrick; Tá boiteog i bPádraig. There is a bot-fly in Patrick.  Like I said above, “Feo!” (Ugh!)

10 Ways to Describe “Seamróga” (Shamrocks) in Irish

Posted on 08. Mar, 2014 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

As we approach Lá Fhéile Pádraig (aka “Lá ‘le Pádraig” and “St. Patrick’s Day”), our thoughts naturally turn to “seamróga” (shamrocks).  How many ways can we think of to describe them?  We’ll try for at least ten in this blog.  Maybe some readers will have some more suggestions.

seamróg agus an gnáthdhath (.i. glas) uirthi (pictiúr le supportstorm ag,_2010.jpg)

seamróg agus an gnáthdhath (.i. glas) uirthi (pictiúr le supportstorm ag,_2010.jpg)

A key thing to remember about using the word “seamróg” (a shamrock) in a sentence or phrase in Irish is that it becomes “an tseamróg” if you want to say “the shamrock.”  The sound of the “t” and the initial “s” sort of blend together, forming an Irish “t caol” (slender “t”).   It’s pronounced somewhat like the “tch” combination in English “match”(but not quite so “chuh-ish”) or like the “t” in the Irish-English pronunciation of “choons” (i.e. “tunes,” especially to be played in a seisiún ceol Gaelach).  Here’s a quick review of the forms of “seamróg,” which you might remember from a previous blog ( of 10 Márta 2012):

an tseamróg [un TCHAM-rohgg], the shamrock

na seamróige [nuh SHAM-roh-igg-yuh], of the shamrock

na seamróga [nuh SHAM-roh-guh], the shamrocks

na seamróg [nuh SHAM-rohgg], of the shamrocks

And now here are ten phrases describing shamrocks, mostly quite straightforward, but with a few from off the beaten track.  We’ll start with some basics and work our way up to some less typical phrases.  The list will include both singular and plural examples.  The singular examples will include lenition (séimhiú) of the adjective, if it begins with the usual round-up of lenitable consonants ( b, c, d, f, g, m, p, s, t).  The plural examples will include a plural ending for the adjective, if it has one.  How do you know whether an adjective has a plural ending?  A full account would take at least another full blog, but here are some of the basics:

a) most adjectives ending in broad consonants add another “-a” at the end (mór / móra, bradach / bradacha); if the adjective ends in a slender consonant, it adds an “-e” at the end (maith / maithe)

b) adjectives ending in “-úil” change to “-úla” at the end: misniúil / misniúla, laethúil / laethúla

c) most adjectives that end in a vowel don’t change: fada / fada, corcra / corcra

Translations will appear below.

1. an tseamróg mhór

2. seamróg bheag

3. seamróg ghlas

4. an tseamróg fhliuch

5. seamróga áille

seamróg chorcra (, Osaka-fu Japan, grianghraf le "kenpei" in Osaka-fu, an tSeapáin)

seamróg chorcra (, grianghraf le “kenpei” in Osaka-fu, an tSeapáin)

6. seamróga corcra (admittedly, not the most typical color, but there is such a plant, though it’s not technically a shamrock, féach an nóta thíos)

7. seamróga cáiliúla

8. seamróg éaduilleach (improbable, I know, since what is a “seamróg” without its “duilleoga“?)

9. seamróg thrídhuilleach (beagán athluaiteachais ansin, ach cén dochar?)

10. seamróg smaragaide (an-chostasach!)

Bhuel, sin é, deich bhfrása faoi sheamróga.  Ar mhaith leat ceann nó dhó a sheoladh isteach chuig an mblag?  SGF — Róislín

Nóta faoi sheamróga corcra: The more I read about this plant, the more complex it becomes to pinpoint its botanical name.  But, as I understand it, it’s either Oxalis triangularis or O. regnelli.  If any botanist or shamrock fancier on the list can untangle the Latin names, it would be great if you could write in and let us all know.   Either way, you might be interested in this very short video of an Oxalis plant (False Shamrock) in Stop Motion, at, posted by “alfredolouro.”  The plant is responding to a solar spectrum lamp.


1. an tseamróg mhór, the large shamrock

2. seamróg bheag, a small shamrock

3. seamróg ghlas, a green shamrock

4. an tseamróg fhliuch [… lyukh, note the silent “f”], the wet shamrock (perhaps the whiskey-saturated one from the “Pota Pádraig,” or, well, I guess it could just be growing outside on an ordinary rainy day)

5. seamróga áille, beautiful shamrocks (“áille” is the plural of “álainn,” one of the irregular adjectives, which, by definition, wouldn’t fit the adjective system outlined above)

6. seamróga corcra, purple shamrocks (admittedly, not the most typical color, but there is such a plant, though it’s not technically a shamrock, féach an nóta thíos)

7. seamróga cáiliúla, famous shamrocks.  It’s actually not so easy to find a “-úil” adjective that would typically modify a shamrock.   A representative list of “-úil” adjectives for practice includes “flaithiúil,” “suimiúil,” and “misniúil,” the latter used, among other places, to describe “Bob an Garraíodóir” in the Irish version of “Muzzy,” which, btw, is now out of print and rather hard to come by.  Another widely used “-úil” adjective is “áitiúil,” but how often do we really talk about “áitiúlacht na seamróg“?

8. seamróg éaduilleach, a leafless shamrock (improbable, I know, since what is a “seamróg” without its “duilleoga“?).  Gotta love the technical translation of “éaduilleach,” which is “aphyllous.”

9. seamróg thrídhuilleach, a three-leaved shamrock (from trí + duilleach, which becomes “dhuilleach” in this compound word)

10. seamróg smaragaide (an-chostasach!), an emerald shamrock, i.e. a shamrock made of “smaragaid“(emerald) — very costly!  But it could be an attractive piece of jewelry!