The shamrock and il-qarsu

Both Ireland and Malta have weathered struggles for independence and sovereignty, forging resilient national identities rooted in determination and fortitude.

Being of Maltese-Irish heritage, I’ve always been drawn to the symbols that connect my two cultures. Among the most visible among these is the trifoliate leaf. In Ireland, it’s the iconic shamrock, while in Malta, it takes the form of the widespread Oxalis pes-caprae (known as Bermuda buttercup, African wood-sorrel, Bermuda sorrel, buttercup oxalis, Cape sorrel, English weed, goat’s-foot, sourgrass, soursob and soursop; referred to in Maltese as “ħaxixa Ingliża” or “qarsu”).

At first glance, the shamrock may appear as a humble plant, but its significance runs deep in Irish culture. In Ireland, it is synonymous with the vibrant celebration of St Patrick’s Day, observed annually on the 17th of March. Legend has it that St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, used the shamrock’s three small, heart-shaped leaflets radiating from a single stem to elucidate the concept of the Holy Trinity to the Irish people.

In Malta, although an invasive species, the “ħaxixa Ingliża” is appreciated by many for the visual appeal of its bright yellow flowers, while children enjoy chewing and sucking its stems for the tart, lemony taste of their oxalic acid.

But the links between Ireland and Malta go much deeper than that. Both countries have weathered struggles for independence and sovereignty, forging resilient national identities rooted in determination and fortitude.

Today, St Patrick’s Day, as I adorn myself in verdant hues and raise a glass to the Emerald Isle, I also celebrate a unity that transcends boundaries and unites people in spirit, irrespective of distance or disparities.

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