When it comes to luck, the Irish have a reputation that precedes them. From four-leaf clovers to leprechauns, the idea of the Irish as a lucky people has been perpetuated for generations.
But is there any truth to this stereotype? Do the Irish really have more luck than other cultures?
In this article, we’ll explore the history of the luck of the Irish and examine whether it’s based in fact or just a myth. So, whether you’re Irish or just curious about the culture, read on to discover the truth about the luck of the Irish.
Key points you will learn from this article:
The phrase’s origin is unclear, but one theory suggests it came from the US gold rush era.
The phrase is now used to describe someone who is experiencing an exceptional amount of luck, and is associated with traditional Irish lucky charms and sayings.
Today, the phrase is seen as a compliment and a source of pride for the Irish.
Where Did The Phrase ‘Luck of the Irish’ Come From?
A few theories are floating around that hint at where the saying ‘luck of the Irish’ came from, but the most popular theory does not even set Ireland as the birthplace of this famous quote.
Edward T. O’Donnell, an associate professor at Holy Cross College, is the very man who suggested the idea that this popular saying does not come from the shores of the emerald isle but rather from the U.S.A.
During the gold rush era, when men were making their fortunes mining for gold and silver all over North America, it turns out that many of these men just so happened to be Irish or Irish-American.
Was it the luck of the Irish or just a coincidence?
Either way, the saying was born. Although it may not have been used as a compliment at the time.
Instead, O’Donnell suggests the phrase ‘luck of the Irish’ may have been a thinly veiled insult. The jealousy of the other miners would have them thinking that only by some serious dumb luck could the Irish be mining their fortunes because it certainly could not have been because of their smarts. At least, that is what they thought.
Other origin theories include going as far back as Irish mythology.
Specifically the fables of the lucky Leprechaun. A mischievous creature that possessed crocks of gold. Some of the original stories spoke of the leprechaun and described him as malevolent, a trickster, and a sprite not to be messed with but over time the crafty fairy has become synonymous with luck.
Do you want to read more about Irish fairies and Celtic mythology?
What Does ‘Luck of the Irish’ Mean?
The Irish have weathered some serious storms throughout their colorful history, and although those events are not lucky, surviving them all as a nation has been.
Nowadays, the phrase ‘luck of the Irish’ is no longer an insult but a compliment many Irish people adore. We are, after all, the luckiest nation, if the rumor is to be believed.
But what does Luck of the Irish mean?
Put simply: anyone who is experiencing an exceptional amount of luck is said to have the luck of the Irish. You do not have to be Irish to use this phrase and it is just a way of saying how lucky someone is.
Although it used to insinuate a person’s dumb luck, the phrase is now something to be proud of. If someone tells you that you have the luck of the Irish, It means they think you are incredibly lucky right now and they may be just a tiny bit jealous.
Traditional Irish Lucky Charms And Symbols
Even though the phrase ‘luck of the Irish’ does not come from Ireland itself, we are still known for being a rather lucky nation and that includes all the different symbols for luck we have.
Many of these Irish lucky charms are still used today all over the world.
Four Leaf Clover
The four-leaf clover is almost impossible to find. Its rarity is what may have started its association with good luck because if you managed to find one of these four-leaf clovers, you must have been incredibly lucky.
It is thought that the odds of finding one are close to 1/10,000, so you would want to be pretty lucky before you even find this elusive plant.
Eventually, it was believed that those who discovered a four-leaf clover would be blessed with luck and good fortune.
For Christians, the four-leaf clover is also thought to represent the holy trinity and the grace of God.
If you have ever enjoyed a St. Patrick’s day festival, you will have seen many faces painted with shamrocks, bunches of this traditional shrub pinned to people’s jackets, and even a bouncy shamrock hat or two.
The shamrock is an Irish symbol that has become synonymous with the entire nation but it is also thought of as a symbol of luck and this may date back as far as the early Irish Celts.
The ancient Celts believed that all things important came in threes. The three stages of life, the dominions of our world, and many of their Celtic knots designs featured elements in threes.
So, the shamrock may have represented the power of mother nature to the ancient Celts and its ability to recover from every ailment. It comes as no surprise that the ancient Celts may have thought of the shamrock as a symbol of good fortune.
The lucky horseshoe is one of Ireland’s oldest symbols of luck, and also the most widespread. It is another lucky charm that finds its roots in early Celtic mythology and tales.
Much of the superstition of the horseshoe was thanks to the mischievous fairies and sprites that were believed to inhabit Ireland. These faeries were not always good and kind. Often they were evil, and destructive, and brought ill health and destruction with them.
However, they had one weakness. Faeries could not stand Iron. They couldn’t be near it or touch it. Perhaps it could kill them, we won’t ever know for sure, but tales spoke of how much faeries disliked iron.
As luck would have it, the dependable horses of the Irish Celts possessed iron shoes and so, these shoes would be hung from the doorways of people’s homes to ward off these mischievous entities and protect families from their naughty intentions.
Even today, people still hang horses above their doors to attract luck, good fortune, and even boost fertility.
One tradition that has lasted for decades in Irish culture is the idea of the lucky penny. It is thought to originate from an old Irish tradition associated with the selling of farm animals.
A buyer and seller, once their sale had been agreed upon, would exchange a handshake and the funds. However, the seller would always hand back a lucky penny. Some say it is because people thought as long as you had a penny in your pocket, you would never be broke and others thought it was a way of giving the buyer some good luck.
Even today, when someone is exchanging money for goods – on a private basis, this does not happen in a corner store – the seller sometimes still hands a sum of cash back to the buyer.
For example, if you buy a second-hand car, the seller may hand you back a €50 for luck and to fill the tank.
Ah, the lucky leprechaun. Depicted nowadays as a jolly little fellow with a vivid orange beard, a tall green hat, and some pilgrim-esque shoes.
He has not always been such an inviting character but he has been considered lucky in one way or another for hundreds of years.
Some of the original leprechaun tales paint this entity as a mischievous fairy, intent on pulling pranks and tricks on human beings. He was also known as a hoarder of gold.
Anyone lucky enough to catch a leprechaun was warned to keep an eye on the sprite at all times and perhaps he would divulge the location of his wealth of gold but most of the time, the human would be tricked into looking away and the leprechaun would vanish without a trace.
But, if you were lucky enough, you could make your life’s fortune from him or be granted three wishes.
Lucky Irish Phrases And Sayings
The luck of the Irish is a phenomenon known worldwide. Thankfully there are a lot of popular Irish sayings that you can use to tell someone they are as lucky as an Irish man or speak of the luck of the Irish.
“Each petal on the Shamrock brings an Irish wish your way. Good health, good luck, and happiness each day”
“May your pockets be heavy and your heart be light, and may good luck pursue you each day and night”
“Wherever you go, whatever you do, may the luck of the Irish be there with you”
“A sunbeam to warm you, good luck to charm you. A sheltering angel, so nothing can harm you. Laughter to cheer you, faithful friends near you, and whenever you pray, Heaven to hear you”
“May the luck of the Irish lead to the happiest heights and the highway you travel be lined with green lights”
“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”
“Luck never gives, it only lends”
And one for the Irish themselves…
“If you’re lucky enough to be Irish… You’re lucky enough”
Real-Life Examples Of The Luck Of The Irish
After all that, is the luck of the Irish purely anecdotal? Is it a thing of rumor or mystery? Well, you can think that if you want to, but here are a few real-life stories that demonstrate just how lucky the Irish are.
1. In 2019, Northern Irish couple, Patrick and Frances Connolly joined the top 10 highest Euromillions jackpot winners with a ticket worth a staggering £114 million. Just like the true Irish people they are, they commented that they ‘celebrated with a cup of tea and a hug’.
However, in the very same year, an Irish family syndicate from Co. Dublin won a massive €175 million. This was the biggest jackpot to have ever been won in Ireland.
2. It would not be an article about Irish luck without mentioning the Eurovision song contest. For such a tiny island, the number of times they have one this competition is impressive. Not only does Ireland hold the record for the highest number of wins – 7 to be exact – they also hold the record for the number of consecutive wins, which was three in a row.
3. In 2019, County Down man, Sean Doyle, really showed the world what the luck of the Irish meant.
While playing his favourite online slot machine game, one spin scored this lucky Irishman over €4.8 million. That’s right! Not multiple spins, all it took was one.
These kinds of events are not just in Ireland, they are all over the world, but it’s hard to deny that the Irish are inherently very lucky people.
Is It OK To Say Luck Of The Irish?
Of course, it’s completely ok to use the phrase ‘luck of the Irish’ Even though it was once a phrase used with jealousy and derision in mind. These days it is light-hearted and the Irish have no issue with their nation being associated with good luck and fortune.
What Is The Most Popular Irish Luck Quote?
Funnily enough, one of the most famous quotes about the luck of the Irish is almost anti-luck. Jonathan Swift, an Irish satirist, and author of novels such as Gulliver’s Travels, from the 18th century, famously said “I don’t really like the term ‘luck of the Irish’ because the luck of the Irish, historically speaking, is f**king terrible”.
Just like a true Irishman, he was blunt, to the point, and threw in a curse word for good measure.
What Does It Mean To Have The Luck Of The Irish?
If someone says you have the luck of the Irish it usually means that they think you are unusually lucky or have experienced an incredible string of good luck recently.
How To Say Good Luck In Irish?
In Ireland, although most of us speak English, Irish or Gaeilge is the native language of Ireland. It can be a bit tricky for non-speakers to master and it takes a while to understand but if you want to impress your friends and family, this phrase will do just that.
Meaning “May luck rise with you” in English, the phrase Go n-eirí an t-ádh leat! Is one of the most common ways of wishing someone good luck in the Irish language.
I am a British-born copywriter who moved to Ireland over a decade ago and have been captivated by Irish culture, landscape and folklore. I enjoy sharing my passion for Ireland through my writing as a freelancer.