The shamrock marks Irish ancestry. In Australia it is estimated that 7.5% of Australians have Irish ancestry, so this is a fairly common symbol to be found in Australian cemeteries. It is an iconic symbol of Ireland, with a long history in artistic representation that is linked to the Ireland’s deeply religious history.
In Irish legend, the druids believed the shamrock had mystical properties because it had three leaves, a sacred number. The number three is significant in Celtic art and many Celtic symbols incorporate this number.
The shamrock was later adapted into Christianity. It was believed that St Patrick used the shamrock to demonstrate the Holy Trinity in introducing Ireland to Christianity.
It later became a symbol of Irish identity in the face of rebellion against the British. The shamrock was the symbol of the Irish Volunteers, a republican militia, which lead to Queen Victoria banishing its display. To wear a shamrock during the 19th century was to risk punishment by the British.
The artistic basis of the symbol is debated. The exact plant species the shamrock is unknown. The plants most believed to be the shamrock are the White (Dutch) Clover, the Red Clover, Lesser Yellow Trefoil, Black Medic and Wood Sorrell. All of these share similar features as small, three-leaved green plants.
In contemporary society, the shamrock a popular symbol used to associate with Irish cultural identity and is thus popular symbol used in advertising and branding, particularly aimed at tourism.