Sunday 4 December 2016

Irish shamrock growers proud to present Obama’s green gift

Meadhbh McGrath

Published 16/03/2016 | 18:10

President Barack Obama, left, with Vice President Joe Biden, and Enda Kenny, right, with his wife Fionnuala Kenny, hold up a bowl of shamrocks during a reception in honor of St. Patrick's Day in the East Room of the White House in Washington
President Barack Obama, left, with Vice President Joe Biden, and Enda Kenny, right, with his wife Fionnuala Kenny, hold up a bowl of shamrocks during a reception in honor of St. Patrick's Day in the East Room of the White House in Washington

As the Taoiseach delighted President Barack Obama with cries of “bejaysus!” and a healthy bowl of shamrocks yesterday afternoon, Peter Martin and his team of growers at Living Shamrocks were enjoying some well-deserved rest.

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With another St Patrick’s Day over, it’s finally time to sit back and relax.

“We grew just short of 100,000 pieces this year, and we’re cleaned out since lunchtime yesterday.

“We start planting in September and harvest in February, then we deliver from the end of February up until today. So yes, you better believe we’ll be taking a break!” Mr Martin said with a laugh.

Living Shamrocks have been providing the traditional gift presented to the US President for over 20 years, but Mr Martin observed it wasn’t such a high-profile event in years past.

“It wasn’t always as prominent as it is at the moment. Years and years ago, it used to be a presentation between an Irish ambassador and some dignitary in the States. It’s moved up.”

Due to the volume of shamrocks the company export every year, they employ a unique process for growing their plants in Ballinskelligs, Co Kerry.

“There’s no soil. We plant the seed in what’s called hydroponic gel, and then we put the gel in a plastic vial that we suspend above water.

“We don’t actually have the root in soil. It develops a root, reaching for water as opposed to soil, and we can clip that off at the end when we export it. If there was soil, you couldn’t export it.”

This process gives the plants a longer shelf life of between eight and 12 days when kept in cool conditions.

Living Shamrocks cater mostly to army units and embassies around the world.

Mr Martin said that the Athlone-based company supplied 17 embassies this year, and described their panic this morning when their delivery to Kosovo was delayed.

He noted the company’s pride at seeing photos of army units around the world wearing their shamrocks, but says the presentation to the US President is the most significant event each year.

“As a small country, we box above our weight. There aren’t too many countries in the world, if any, who get the president of the United States to make himself available no matter what around St Patrick’s Day.

“The fact that he did it yesterday proves the point that he was prepared to fit it in as close as possible so it wouldn’t be missed.”

He also reflected on the impact of the shamrock for Irish people abroad, and its ability to bring communities together across the world.

“There is a huge sense of excitement with the diaspora when the shamrocks arrive. At home, we wear the shamrocks when we’re out, but when you’re abroad, it means a lot more in lots of ways.

“We see the greening of iconic buildings all around the world, I don’t there there’s any other country in the world that commands that kind of respect.”

Of course, next year Mr Martin and his team will be providing a bowl of shamrocks for a brand new US President.

As to whether he’s entertained the possibility of creating a shower of shamrocks for Donald Trump, Mr Martin remained coy.

“I will be preparing a corsage for a lady!”

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