There are many reasons to feel lucky if you live in Ireland. It’s a famously beautiful country full of dramatic cliffs and coastlines, sweeping green fields, friendly people and rich culture and history. That alone isn’t the reason that people say that the Irish are lucky, though, and there’s some confusion about where the phrase “the luck of the Irish” comes from. You may even have heard or used it yourself without giving any consideration as to why the Irish are particularly blessed with luck. Can we trace this strange idea back to its origin? Let’s find out.
Lucky Heather and Pots of Gold
Some of the symbols we most associate with luck – four-leafed clovers and blessed horseshoes, for example – are drawn from Irish culture. Over the years, the connection between luck and the Irish has developed to the point where it’s become a phenomenon in internet casinos and online slots websites such as Rose Slots. One of the most popular online slots in the whole world is called “Rainbow Riches,” which is chock full of happy, smiling green leprechauns, foaming ales, emerald green hills, and Irish charms. Indeed, the Irish theme in general is one of the most popular genres of all online slots. All of this symbolism is a symptom of the connection between Ireland and luck, though – it’s not the cause of it.
If we can take anything at all away from the cartoonish world of the Irish online slots that we described above, perhaps it’s the fact that they feature leprechauns. We all think we know what a leprechaun looks like. Stereotypically, they’re happy, smiling little people with red hair and red beards, clad in green tunics. They’ll play you a song or dance a dance for you, and they might even be inclined to share the gold they invariably carry with them.
This is a total distortion of the original tales of leprechauns, which come from ancient Celtic mythology. Leprechauns weren’t necessarily considered evil by the Celts, but perhaps it would be more accurate to describe them as tricksters. They spent their time making shoes or fixing tools and enjoyed tormenting humans as much as they enjoyed rewarding them. A leprechaun was a slightly sinister character, and encountering one of them wouldn’t necessarily be considered ‘lucky.’ More to the point, they’re mythical creatures. Nobody Irish has ever legitimately met one, so they can’t be the truth behind the tale!
The California Gold Rush
Of all the suggestions about where the phrase might come from, the one that’s most likely to be accurate actually happened thousands of miles from Ireland, and a long time ago. We’re going back in time to the California Gold Rush, which occurred during the 19th century. It was a uniquely American pursuit when it began, but word soon spread around the world that there was gold in California’s hills and that anybody could make their fortune by turning up to dig for it. The mining companies helped to circulate that message; they needed as much human labor as possible, and so nobody who turned up willing to work was turned away again.
Not everybody who came to California (or any of the country’s other smaller ‘gold rush’ towns, cities, and states) walked away rich, but for a time it did appear that a disproportionate number of the most successful miners were either Irish by birth or Americans with Irish parents. This quickly led to resentment from miners of other backgrounds, who didn’t feel that the Irish miners were working any harder than they were. If their success wasn’t down to hard work, then it must surely have been down to luck, and so that’s how “the luck of the Irish” came to be a common expression.
Most people are convinced by the mining theory, and this has become the most commonly accepted origin story for the term, but there may yet be another explanation. Some scholars believe that what’s meant when someone refers to “the luck of the Irish” has changed over time, and it initially used to be an observation made when someone was suffering from bad luck.
As anyone Irish would be able to tell you, there’s plenty of historical facts that would back up the idea that the Irish have had more than their fair share of bad luck as a race. The Irish potato famine would be a good starting point, as would the long history of conflict between the north and south of the tiny island. Even the Irish folk who emigrated to America did so to escape poverty at home, and not all of them survived the journey. Even when they did arrive safely, they were viewed with suspicion. That goes for England as well as America; as recently as the 1950s, it wasn’t uncommon to see “no dogs, no Irish” written on signs hanging in the windows of hotels.
A Lasting Mystery?
Whether it arrived through sarcasm or it arrived through the success of Irish miners, we’ll probably never know for sure how the “luck of the Irish” idea began. We do, however, know that it’s turned into a cultural phenomenon and an industry. Without “the luck of Irish,” we probably wouldn’t have St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. The silly green hats and over-the-top characters that sometimes come out to play during those celebrations may sometimes border on the ‘offensive’ side of ‘stereotypical,’ but today we think of the Irish as happy, smiling people who are blessed by good fortune and always pleased to see you. There are far worse ways for a nationality of people to be thought of!
If you’re Irish and you’ve ever been asked where this common expression comes from, we hope we’ve provided enough information in this article to help you answer the question in the future. We might not be able to direct you to a single definitive truth, but at least there are a couple of likely options – and you didn’t have to head into the darkness of a Californian mine with an ax slung over your shoulder to earn yourself the reputation!