Ireland. It is a three-leafed old white clover. It is sometimes of the variety Trifolium repens (a white clover, known in Irish as seamair bhán) but today usually Trifolium dubium (a lesser clover, Irish: seamair bhuí).
The diminutive version of the Irish word for "clover" ("seamair") is "seamróg", which was anglicised as "shamrock", representing a close approximation of the original Irish pronunciation. However, other three-leafed plants — such as black medic (Medicago lupulina), red clover (Trifolium pratense), and common wood sorrel (genus Oxalis) — are sometimes designated as shamrocks. The shamrock was traditionally used for its medical properties and was a popular motif in Victorian times. It is also a common way to represent Saint Patrick's Day. Shamrocks are said to bring good luck.
a plant with leaves composed of three leaflets. According to legend it was used by St. Patrick in explaining the doctrine of the Trinity; it is now used as the emblem of Ireland. An artificial or real shamrock leaf is customarily worn on St. Patrick's Day.
(© Columbia University Press)
Getting On Yer Bike, French Style
Paris has just launched the biggest city bike scheme the world has ever seen. It's called Velib. And it means that, for a small fee, you can now borrow one of over ten thousand especially-designed bicycles to get around France's capital. There are seven hundred and fifty new bike stations around the city. And that number is going to double by the end of the year. Paris says its Velib scheme will revolutionise city transport.
Paris readies for Velib frenzy
By Emma-Jane Kirby
BBC News, Paris
Paris awaits to see whether the scheme will be as successful as in Lyon
Cycling in Paris is not a sport for the faint hearted.
The traffic runs as smoothly as a snail in treacle and drivers' tempers are about as sweet as bitter aloes.
The local authority in Paris has deposited 20,000 heavy-duty bicycles in 750 or so special racks around the city and anyone who wants one simply swipes his or her ordinary travel card and pedals off wherever they want to go.
The bike does not have to be returned to the same pick-up point - you can take a bike from a rack near the Eiffel Tower, cycle to the Pantheon and leave it in the nearest Velib stand there.
Mathieu Fierling, the deputy director of the scheme, believes it will suit Parisians and tourists alike.
Bicycles will just be very useful for those people going to do some shopping or visiting friends, not far from home, but most of the time when you use the car it's for a long trip so that's the reason why it will not solve at all the traffic problem in Paris
President of federation of auto clubs
The Velib scheme is aimed at people who are making short journeys.
The first half hour of pedalling time is absolutely free but, if you fail to return the bike after 30 minutes, you get charged an extra euro and the penalties go up the later you are.
From leaflets and TV and radio advertising to the appointment of a swine flu 'tsar', Britain insists it is among the best prepared countries in the world to deal with a flu pandemic. And the British people seem satisfied with the measures being taken.
Report: Olly Barrat
Car versus bike
While no-one can dispute that cycling is a one of the most eco-friendly forms of transport, Christian Gerondeau, the president of the French federation of auto clubs, says that while it is a fashionably green to use a bike, it is also green to imagine it will solve Paris's notorious traffic jams.
"It relies on a wrong idea, the idea that you can change a car for a bicycle. But it's not the case. These are two different problems. Bicycles will just be very useful for those people going to do some shopping or visiting friends, not far from home, but most of the time, when you use the car, it's for a long trip so that's the reason why it will not solve at all the traffic problem in Paris."
Paris city hall expects to have about 20,000 regular Velib users by the end of the year and plans to double the amount of Velib stations dotted around Paris.
A travel card will be used to hire the bikes
The bikes do not come with cycling helmets but Mathieu Fierling insists safety is a priority for the Paris authorities.
"The city council has launched a big campaign on bike safety. Every subscriber to the Velib scheme will receive a leaflet with safety advice. There have also been big efforts over the last few years to set up cycle routes around the city. We hope that all this means there will be as few accidents as possible."
But can the Parisians be persuaded by pedal power?
The Tour de France marks out the French as a cycling-loving nation but in Paris, a city of two million people - and nearly 12 million in the metropolitan area - only 150,000 own bikes.
The Velib scheme has already worked well in Lyon, but in the capital it may be harder to convince Parisians to give up their beloved cars.