Celtic Pathways – Shamrocks and Clover

In this episode we’re looking into words for shamrock, clover and related things in Celtic languages.


A shamrock is the trefoil leaf of any small clover, especially Trifolium repens, commonly used as a symbol of Ireland. The word comes from the Irish seamróg (shamrock), from the Old Irish semróc, a diminutive of semar (clover, shamrock), from Proto-Celtic *semarā, possibly from Proto-Indo-European *semh₁r-/*smeh₁r- [source].

Related words in the modern Celtic language include:

  • seamróg [ˈʃamˠɾˠoːɡ] = shamrok and semair = clover in Irish.
  • siumrag [ʃumərag] = clover, shamrock, wood sorel, and semair [ʃɛmɪrʲ] = shamrock, clover in Scottish Gaelic
  • shamrag = clover, shamrock, wood sorel in Manx
  • siamroc/samrog = shamrock in Welsh (borrowed from English)

Shamrock in Cornish teyrdelen (“three leaves”). In Breton it’s trefle, which was borrowed from the French trèfle (clover, shamrock); or melchonenn, which is cognate with the Cornish mellyon (clover), and the Welsh meillion (clover, trefoil, clubs (a suit in cards)). The origin of these words is not known.

You can be find more information about connections between Celtic languages on the Celtiadur blog. I also write about words, etymology and other language-related topics on the Omniglot Blog.

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