Our girl Ger meets men who supply world leaders with Paddy's Day symbol

Geraldine with Peter Martin
Geraldine with Peter Martin

This is the moment I got my hands – and everything else – on President Obama’s shamrock.

The Sunday World went undercover to track down the special sprigs which are, right now, in the White House and Irish embassies worldwide.

These genuine Shamrock Rovers will even decorate the uniforms of Irish soldiers on Paddy’s Day peacekeeping duties in some of the world’s worst warzones. 

They’ve also been sent to áras an Uachtarain, shops all over Ireland and charity fundraising groups.

And there was more than enough for my buttonhole when I found the secret location – a warehouse in Athlone – where Ireland’s biggest shamrock supplier was storing the precious plants this week.

Amazingly, all 190,000 of these little pots of shamrock came from the same patch of land, in remote Ballinskelligs, Co. Kerry, where it was planted back in September.

“That patch of soil in Kerry is the best anywhere in the world for growing shamrock,” said Peter Martin, sales manager of Living Shamrock. 

Just to prove there’s nothing ‘sham’ about this shamrock, he invited me to lie down in a huge carpet of the stuff.

Some of us will even be eating shamrock this Paddy’s Day, as Living Shamrock supplies the main ingredient in Keogh’s shamrock-flavoured crisps. 

“We’re the only commercial shamrock growers in Ireland – if it’s shamrock, it’s ours,” said Peter.

Ger takes a break on a bed of shamrock

It’s a crock of gold for shops and charities, who will sell sprigs for about a fiver each and pots for up to a tenner.

Unlike the shamrock St Pat picked in a wild meadow, these pampered plants were grown in polytunnels.  

“There is such a huge demand for it, we can’t afford to lose any of them to the frost,” Peter explained.

With 140 million people around the globe celebrating Paddy’s Day, it’s no longer just for the Irish – for one day, everyone will be Irish at heart.

At home we are spoilt for choice this year, with every town and village in the land putting on a great day’s entertainment, and organisers have cleverly staggered the starting times so people in neighbouring villages can attend each other’s parades.

Dublin’s parade will be fabulous as usual, with a stunning range of floats and entertainers. 

This year’s Grand Marshall will be more familiar to most of us as a Gran Marshall, as Brendan O’Carroll − aka Mrs Brown − will be leading the parade.

We’re keeping our fingers crossed that he will change his mind about wearing a sober suit and dress up as his wacky alter ego instead.

Of course, tradition is the main point of the parade, and visitors wil be delighted to see majorettes and marching bands from the USA, Mexico and Germany, as well as our own homegrown bands.

And the people of Navan are holding a Shamrock Festival to honour the plant. They are even claiming St Patrick was a local man, as the nearby Hill of Tara was his main preaching ground. This was where he converted some of the High Kings to Christianity – using the shamrock as a teaching tool.

Meanwhile, the people of Waterford can claim to have made Paddy’s Day what it is – this is where the very first St Patrick’s Day was held! Back in the 17th century, local man Luke Wadding secured St Patrick’s Day as a holy day of obligation.

If you fancy travelling across the Atlantic to join in a parade, you don’t have to go as far as America. Achill Island is handier to get to – you can even drive across the causeway from the mainland. 

Another remote place to enjoy Paddy’s Day is the Beara Peninsula in west Cork. The parade will start and finish in Castletownbere, stopping off at scenic points around the peninsula. 

Galway’s parade is always especially beautiful and entertaining, thanks to a thriving artistic community. This year their theme is the city’s diverse range of cultures and they promise a carnival atmosphere.

But the ultimate parade will be another one in the capital – a 16-mile Paddy’s Day walkathon from Dun Laoghaire to Howth. Starting at 10.30am at the Harbour Plaza behind Dun Laoghaire train station, it will end at the Bloody Stream pub.

More than 850 walkers took part last year and they’re expecting more this time. It’s all in aid of the charity Aware and as a bonus you’ll have a real spring in your step.

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