The Luck of the Irish (With 5 real life examples!)
Written by: Caitlin
Published: 6th February 2021, last updated: 20th May 2022
What is the luck of the Irish? Where does it come from? And how do we get a piece of it for ourselves? Read on to find out more.
Where did the Luck of the Irish originate?
The Luck of the Irish, is a phrase you’ve no doubt heard numerous times before. But have you ever stopped to think of where it came from?
Some people believe that ‘the luck of the Irish’ was originally a veiled insult. 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,” proposed this theory. According to him the term may not actually be Irish in origin.
“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.”
So the first use of ‘the luck of the Irish’ might have been the opposite of a compliment.
Luckily these days the association has completely turned around. Any notions of Irish luck are now considered to be positive ones, after the luck of the Irish became associated with having Irish blood, and therefore the strength, will and knowhow to make a success of yourself in the mines.
The more commonly held belief is that the luck of the Irish has it’s roots in the Celtic tradition for myths and fables. Of all the mythical creatures to star in the stories from the Emerald Isle, the leprechaun is the one which is most commonly thought of and which has become the unofficial mascot of Ireland.
There are an abundance of legends based on leprechauns: the typically green clad little people living in Ireland, protecting their pot of gold that lies at the end of a rainbow. These creatures successfully stored their gold in a place which is impossible to reach, making them very lucky – as well as rich!
What does the Luck of the Irish mean today?
So think what you will of the origins of the ‘luck of the Irish’, theres no disputing that it has now become one of the most bandied about phrases. So what context do you hear it used it today and do people mean when they say it?
The Irish have an enormous sense of national pride for their country, and the Irish people are loved worldwide. St Patricks day is celebrated on the 17th March in a multitude of countries and people who have to trace their ancestors back three generations or more still feel proud to wear green.
So when people talk about the luck of the Irish, it is no longer with a negative sneer. The perceived Irish luck is revered around the world and everybody wants a piece of it for themselves. Whilst ‘the luck of the Irish’ might have been born out of a stereotype, they do seem to have an exceeding about of good fortune as a nation. See the examples further down if you don’t believe me!
If you’d like to spread the luck of the Irish around a bit, why not try one of these traditional sayings. This first one is perfect if you are an Irish person yourself bestowing luck onto another:
“Wherever you go, whatever you do, may the luck of the Irish be there with you!”
Or if the person being wished the luck is the Irish one, then maybe this saying is more appropriate:
“If you’re enough lucky to be Irish… You’re lucky enough!”
The third wish on our list is my personal favourite:
“May your day be touched by a bit of Irish luck, brightened by a song in your heart and warmed by the smiles of the people you love.”
Beautiful isn’t it? One more stunning sentiment for the road?
“May the luck of the Irish lead to the happiest heights and the highway you travel be lined with green lights.”
These Irish really have a way with the words don’t they?!
Luck of the Irish Symbols
The worldwide desire to grab hold of some Irish luck has become a marketing dream. The following symbols can be found on souvenirs and gifts both inside and outside of the Emerald Isle as everyone attempts to share the good fortune.
- Leprechauns-According to Irish legends, people lucky enough to find a leprechaun and capture him can barter his freedom for his treasure. Leprechauns are usually said to be able to grant the person three wishes. So you’d be extremely lucky to run into one of these little guys indeed!
- Four-leaf Clovers/Shamrocks– According to superstition, the four-leaf clover, which is traditionally associated with Ireland, is thought to bring good luck to its finders. Although apparently the odds of discovering one are 1 in 10,000, so you’d better be feeling really lucky if you were hoping to stumble across one!
The Luck of the Irish in Popular Culture
John Lennon and Yoko Ono released a song called “The Luck of the Irish” in 1972 on their album Some Time in New York City. You can listen it here.
There are two films named The Luck of the Irish:
- The first in 1948 is a comedy/romance starring Tyrone Power and Anne Baxter.
- The second in 2001 is a Disney film about a teenage basketball player battling with an evil leprechaun named Seamus McTiernen.
You can find out more about both of these films here.
Real life examples of the Luck of the Irish
- The EuroMillions Lottery. The largest jackpot ever won on the EuroMillions was from Ireland: Dolores McNamara from Limerick won a staggering €115 million back in July 2005. On top of this there have been 15 jackpot winners from the emerald isle- not bad odds for such a tiny country!
- The EuroVision song contest. I mean, this one has arguably more to do with talent than luck, but it is still often help up as an example. Ireland holds the record for the most number of wins (7 if you were wondering) AND the record for the most years winning in a row (3!).
- Online slot machines. The biggest ever recorded win on an online slot machine was in Ireland. Sean Doyle from County Down had one lucky spin that returned him over €4.8 million! If that’s not luck then I really don’t know what is.
- Irish sport. Now, not disputing that each individual Sportsman from Ireland has worked hard to earn his or her place in the spotlight. But it does seem to be more than a stroke of luck that such a small country with a little population of fewer than 5 million people has such a high level of international sporting success, doesn’t it?
- The lost island of Atlantis. Seriously! A Swedish scientist Dr.Ulf Erlingsson has made claims that it is possible that Ireland is the lost island of Atlantis! It might sound unlikely, but check out his reasoning here. Long shot or not, if it was true it would go a long way to explaining the luck of the Irish, wouldn’t it?
Have you ever experienced some genuine Irish luck for yourself? We’d love to hear all about it if you have!