Fortunately, a number of these are ones with very positive associations and a good example is “the luck of the Irish”.
Within these five words, there are a huge number of assumptions, and they have also given birth to a whole mythology that has sprung up around them. Or, perhaps, it’s the mythology that has led to the expression.
Over the next few hundred words, we’ll take a closer look to see if either, or both might be the case, as well as examine a few examples of genuinely lucky Irish people.
The legend of the lucky leprechaun
Perhaps the strongest manifestation of the supposed luck of the Irish comes in the form of the so-called lucky leprechaun. This magical fellow has long been featured in Irish folklore. The very first mention of these mythical, mystical creatures is believed to have been in medieval times in a story called The Adventure of Fergus, son of Léti in which three of the tiny characters are captured by the Prince of Ulster and who grant him three wishes in exchange for releasing him.
Over the centuries, much of the detail about these little fellows has been filled in including their appearance – dressed in green with a broad-brimmed hat, profession – they are traditionally cobblers and nature – mischievous, cheeky, and lucky.
They are also always chasing the legendary pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and it’s this connection with riches has also made them very popular characters somewhere where luck plays an important part. That’s why you’ll find that many games that use leprechaun themes, often with them chasing riches that always seem to be well within their reach.
Over in America, a leprechaun’s even used to advertise the breakfast cereal Lucky Charms with the “they’re magically delicious” strapline that he says at the end of every TV ad.
A miner’s tale?
In fact, it’s to America that we may have to look for the origins of the expression “the luck of the Irish”. It’s well known that in the 19th century wave after wave of Irish immigrants headed over the Atlantic to seek their fortunes. Many chose to take part in the search for gold and silver and there is some evidence to suggest that many of the most successful finds were made by Irish miners.
Given that this was a phrase used by other, more jealous, seekers of instant fortunes there’s also the subtext that successful Irish people are in some way undeserving of such good fortune. This is certainly the interpretation of an American professor of history called Edward T. O’Donnell and the author of 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Irish-American History.
Of course, we also can’t ignore the other famous expression that is the polar opposite of “the luck of the Irish” – “Murphy’s Law”. In its fullest meaning, this suggests that if anything can go wrong it will, and the use of the typically Irish surname means that bad luck is also inevitable for many Irish people.
There are also two other elements that may, incorrectly, have been behind the supposition that luck and the Irish are inseparable. The first is the shamrock, the traditional symbol of the country just as the thistle is for Scotland, the daffodil is for Wales and the rose is for England. It seems like, over time, this has become confused with the lucky four-leaf clover.
These are considered lucky to find as they are a genetic mutation that only occurs once in every 10,000 clover plants. But the shamrock is always shown with the less lucky three leaves.
The second example comes from the famous Blarney Stone. Kissing it is said to give the kisser a silver-tongued way with words. While, if it were true, this could help someone to create their own luck it’s not lucky in itself but may well have added to the myth.
Irish luck does exist
However, there have certainly been some remarkable examples of Irish luck in recent years and these have come in the form of some truly life-changing lottery wins. Examples include:
A 22-strong group of Dublin bus drivers shared in a €23.8 million jackpot in 2016. The drivers even traveled to the lottery headquarters in a convoy of buses to pick up the money.
-Then, more recently, Pat and Frances Connolly from County Down started 2019 in style by winning €115 million in EuroMillions New Year’s Day draw. The couple were left almost speechless by the win but did say that they hoped to transform the lives of 50 other, very lucky, friends and relatives by sharing out some of the cash.
But, despite these admittedly huge wins, it really can’t be claimed that the Irish are really any luckier than any other nation on Earth – although that doesn’t mean that we can’t all go on hoping!
* Updated August 2021, updated in Apr 2023.