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The Luck of the Irish?

Author: Skyla Burrell

As Saint Patrick’s Day has just passed by, I’m sure most of us encountered popular images and phrases commonly associated with life in Ireland, like four-leaf clovers, pots of gold, Leprechauns, and of course the luck of the Irish. But, have the Irish really been that lucky as to have earned their very own catchphrase? Let’s do a little digging and find out. We will be sure to keep an eye out for the rainbow on our journey, as who could not use a pot of gold, right?

Let’s start right off with the phrase ‘the luck of the Irish’ since we hear that a lot outside of the St. Patrick’s Day festivities. The Irish are not credited with this phrase interestingly enough! The phrase became common during the great gold and silver rush in the late 1800s in the United States. It turns out that a number of the most successful miners were of Irish and Irish American heritage. Over time this led to the expression 'luck of the Irish.' Of course, it was intended as a tone of derision, as if to say, only by luck, as opposed to brains, could the Irish succeed. On a side note, the word ‘luck’ is Middle Dutch in its origin and stems from the word 'gheluc,’ meaning happiness and good fortune.

Most of us are only familiar with the cute Leprechaun version we see today but actually, the original Leprechaun’s found in Irish folklore were nasty, unstable creatures whose magic might delight you one day and kill you the next if you upset them. The original Leprechauns did not even wear green, they wore red. According to Irish legend, people lucky enough to find a Leprechaun and capture him could barter his freedom for his treasure, AKA the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow we’ve all been looking for.

As time tends to do, the image and origins of the Leprechaun morphed into a more palatable and homogenized version of the original. You need to look no further than that box of Lucky Charms cereal in your cupboard for proof. On another side note, Leprechaunism is a very real disease stemming from a rare type of insulin resistance.

The four-leaf cloveris one of the most commonly associated images with luck in Western culture. The four leaves are said to represent hope, faith, love, and luck. Your chances of finding a four-leaf clover are 1 in 10,000. Though usually associated with Irish mythology, there is an old Christian legend that claims Eve brought a four-leaf clover with her when she was expelled from Paradise and anyone lucky enough to find a four-leaf clover has consequently a piece of blessed Paradise. May the ‘luck of the Irish’ be with you, and cheers to finding your four-leaf clover.