What is the Luck of the Irish?

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The term luck of the Irish is a peculiar phrase that likely has multiple meanings. We are not sure the true origins of idiom or how it came to be so popular in the U.S.; however, stories of its origin do exist.

Luck of the Irish -Theories

  • Some believe the phrase means that those who are Irish are inherently lucky and that the Irish tend to be able to land on their feet when unfortunate circumstances take place. The Irish in general are very strong willed and resilient due to their country’s struggles and tragic history.
  • At its roots, the luck of the Irish has an ironic twist in that it may not mean luck at all; rather, it refers to their bad luck.The Irish people are actually very unlucky as they had to leave their homeland in order to survive. That is, until they began to migrate into North America to redeem their good faith and good fortune. Unfortunately, the journey was not easy. Many fell ill, families were separated, and their presence was unwanted. This may have led many Irish settlers to drink. “Cheers to the luck of the Irish…”
  • Ireland has endured a tragic history. They were forced to emigrate to America in pursuit of a better life due to war, starvation, stripped land and famine. They were treated poorly and struggled to survive. The natives of the U.S. in particular despised the Irish settlers who were successful and felt their fortune was down to ‘luck’ and not due to their hard work. At the time, a rich Irish immigrant was considered as rare as a four-leaf clover and reason for ridicule.
  • You can trace the origins back to the gold and silver mines in the 19th century U.S. where a number of Irish minors found their “pot o’ gold.” This includes Edward T. O’Donnell, an Associate Professor of History at Holy Cross College and author of 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Irish American History. According to O’Donnell, the connotation does not have Irish origin at all. It was a term given to them by angry Americans who believed their good fortune was due to luck and not hard work, intelligence or talent.

“During the gold and silver rush years in the second half of the 19th century, a number of the most famous and successful miners were of Irish and Irish American birth. . . .Over time this association of the Irish with mining fortunes led to the expression ‘luck of the Irish.’ Of course, it carried with it a certain tone of derision, as if to say, only by sheer luck, as opposed to brains, could these fools succeed.”

  • Any luck is better than luck o’ the Irish, some might say.
  • The Irish often say that the green hills of the Emerald Isle (Ireland) contain more four-leaf clovers than anywhere else. Hence, the “luck o’ the Irish.”
  • Through the troubling times, the good fortune and good faith of the Irish have survived, and they continue to keep the “happy-go-lucky” attitude we associate with the term today.Those who count themselves and their stars as lucky lean toward optimism, a sign of mental health and happiness. The Irish have an amazing sense of humor and pride for their country. This gives the phrase a happier, if not altogether positive meaning.

Mary-“I was just wearing my new shoes today when I stepped in a HUGE cow shit”

Michael-“Well then, tis a LUCKY thing you were wearing shoes!”

Mary-“Yea, Luck of the Irish”

  • St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated around the world where masses of people are drawn to wear green and celebrate the patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade did not take place in Ireland, but rather in the United States, when Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City in 1762. The celebrations went global in 1995 when the Irish government began campaigning St. Patrick’s Day to gain tourism and showcase Ireland’s many charms.

Why is the Four Leaf Clover Lucky?

The four-leaf clover is thought to be lucky for many reasons:

  • It is so rare in nature. Your chances of finding a four-leaf clover are about one in 10,000.
  • Druid priests used shamrocks to heal the sick, during worship rituals and to ward off evil.
  • Prior to this, St. Patrick took a liking to the three-leaf clover, or shamrock. In Irish tradition the Shamrock or 3-leaf Clover represents the Holy Trinity: one leaf for theFather, one for the Son and one for the Holy Spirit. When a Shamrock is found with the fourth leaf, it represents God’s Grace.
  • In ancient Egypt, it was tradition to give a married couple a four-leaf clover as a blessing of their union.
  • Some origins of the four-leaf clover date back to Adam and Eve. According to legend, Eve carried a four leaf clover from the Garden of Eden to remind her of paradise. That means that anyone who has one can claim to hold a bit of Paradise.

The power of a four-leaf clover:

  • Each leaf on a four-leaf clover symbolizes something different and has a specific meaning- faith, hope, love and luck.
  • Hanging a four-leaf clover in your home will ward off bad omens and evil.
  • Those who find a four-leaf clover often put them in their shoes for good luck, especially luck in finding love.
  • Some believe you should keep your four-leaf clover out of site and warn you to not pass it on to someone else while other theories suggest passing it on will double your luck!
  • The Irish also believe that while finding a four-leaf clover will bring you good luck, finding a clover stem with 5 or more leaves is actually unlucky!

Luck-Related Words

1. Luck. The word luck is Middle Dutch in origin, originating from luc, a shortening of gheluc, “happiness, good fortune.”

Luck may have been borrowed into English in the 15th century as a gambling term.

2. Hap. Hap is older than luck. Originating in the 12th century, the word comes from the Old Norsehapp, meaning “chance, good luck.” Hap gives us happy, as well as haphazard, “chance; accidental; random”; hapless, “luckless, unfortunate”; and mishap, “misfortune.”

3. Lucky Penny. A lucky-penny is “a small sum given back ‘for luck’ to the purchaser or payer by the person who receives money in a bargain or other transaction,” as well as “a copper tossed overboard ‘for luck.’”

4. Mascot. A mascot, “a thing supposed to bring good luck to its possessor; a person whose presence is supposed to be a cause of good fortune.” The word mascot comes from the French mascotte, “sorcerer’s charm,” which ultimately comes from the Medieval Latin masca, “mask, specter, witch.”

What is the Luck of the Irish?

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