As a little bit of west Kerry makes its way to White House, Living Shamrock can breathe a sigh of relief - another St Patrick’s Day has passed, and its team has earned a well deserved rest.
As millions raise a pint in celebration of all things Irish, they, likely, will be doing so with a little clump of the company’s “green gold”, the humble shamrock.
By the time the first glass of stout is served, as much as 190,000 of the little sprouts will be have been grown, packed and dispatched across the globe by the company.
“It's a bit like selling Christmas trees on Stephen’s Day - no one is interested in the shamrock come 18 March,” says Peter Martin, sales manager at Living Shamrock.
“We’re under a lot of pressured this time of the year. It takes a long time to get it right – we start planting in September – and we’ve a very narrow window to harvest and ship the product out."
The company is unusual, in that its entire focus is on selling and marketing shamrock for just one day of the year.
It is also the only company in Ireland to grow shamrocks in hydro gel rather than soil.
Due to this unique process, the company’s shamrocks’ arrive with their roots intact and last for up to 12 days – making them particularly well suited for exporting,
And while the shamrock is no more unique to Ireland than stout, red hair or rain, the Athlone-based company enjoys a slightly higher profile than the typical grower.
Despite sending out some 200,000 shamrocks worldwide every March, it is the small batch of “green gold” handed to the US President by the Taoiseach every St Patrick’s Day that they are proudest of.
“We’ve been doing it since Bill Clinton’s term, after the Government decided to switch to use because our crop lasts that bit much longer, and we’re always proud to see it,” said Peter.
Five years ago, seeds from the company’s fields in Ballinskelligs in Kerry were presented to Michelle Obama so that the First Lady could sow her own shamrock crop on the White House lawns.
Former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds first presented the company’s shamrock to then President Bill Clinton in the early 1990s, carrying on a tradition first begun back in 1952 when Irish Ambassador to Washington, John Joseph Hearne, went to the White House to present President Harry Truman with a bowl of Ireland's most famous crop.
“It has done wonders for us as we’ve got businesses from across the US wanting the same as the President gets.”
“And that’s what we deliver – any shamrock we provide comes from the same seed, grown with the same technology, and harvested from the same crop as the ones that go to the President.”
Although such high profile publicity cannot be bought, Living Shamrock said they had witnessed an increase globally in people wanting a real Irish shamrock in recent years.
“Every iconic building in the world wants a bit of green come St Patrick’s Day, and the shamrock has piggy backed on this.”
“Green is word this time of the year across the world.”
This global ‘greening’ is not just confined to landmarks says Peter as a lot of Irish companies abroad are keen to show off their “Celtic credentials” when 17 March rolls around.
“There’s this big engineering firm in (County) Tipperary who’ve had a team of workers based in Somalia now for a couple of years.”
“Every St Patrick’s Day they send out a big batch of shamrocks to the team to remind them of home and to add a little bit of colour to the desert.”