The Luck of the Irish

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

In the spirit of the holiday, I decided to learn a little more about legends of good luck connected to the Irish and Ireland. In the spirit of full disclosure, I admit thinking that this research would be quick and easy, and lead to simple definitions. I was out of luck there! But, it was fun in spite of the findings (and a good reminder about assumptions).

Shamrocks, four-leaf clovers, and the Luck of the Irish

For instance, many people believe that the saying “Luck of the Irish” refers to an abundance of fortune enjoyed by the peoples of Ireland. In fact, historians cannot agree on where the saying originated, much less what it means. The first of the two most common theories suggests the saying is a somewhat derogatory one, actually meaning bad luck. After 1,000 years of strife and famine in Ireland, I’m not surprised at this conclusion. However, it seems that the second of the most common theories is that the saying is an American one, originating during the gold and silver rushes of 19th century America. It turns out that a number of the most successful and/or famous miners were either Irish or Irish-American, and thus possessing high quantities of good luck. 

Are Shamrocks Irish? Yes. How many leaves do they have? If you said, three, congratulations! However, if you said four, your confusion would be understandable. Most reliable sources conclude that four-leaf clovers really have nothing to do with the Irish or Ireland, but agree that it is a symbol of good luck.  There are stories suggesting the Druids carried four-leaf clovers, and one version of the story of Adam and Eve suggests that Eve had a four-leaf clover with her when they left the Garden of Eden. Irish or not, the four-leaf clover is not a Shamrock. (If you love plants, there’s a lot of fascinating information regarding clover species and origins available.) Oddly, opinions on this issue are quite strong!  Image

Personally, I don’t have anything that I carry or keep “for luck,” but I love the idea of good luck charms. I definitely check my clover patches for the four-leafed ones! Do you have a lucky charm?

Have a wonderful, and good-luck filled St. Patrick’s Day!

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Author: Pamela A. Oberg

Pamela is a portfolio manager at an educational assessment company by day, writer by night. Founder of Writers on Words (a discussion and critique group), Pamela enjoys spinning tales of murder and mayhem, with an occasional foray into the world of the paranormal.

10 thoughts on “The Luck of the Irish”

  1. Another interesting tid-bit (at least to me) is that both the Irish and the Native Americans (especially Cherokees and Sioux…all of whom share blood with me) have very similar legends dealing with small men who are detailed almost identically, and who we would know most readily as Leprechauns.

    I have several gemstones and heirlooms that I will carry on occasions when I feel the need for extra luck, as well as a coin with a shamrock printed on it and my notebooks.

    Have a Happy and Safe Wearing O’ the Green!

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  2. Thanks, Estyree! That’s a fascinating tid-bit. It’s interesting how few truly unique legends and stories there seem to be. Humans interacted far more than history would sometimes suggest, I think. Speaking of heirlooms–I hadn’t thought of those as lucky charms, but I, too have a few that I keep close. What a lovely perspective!

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  3. Great post, Pam. I remember my group of friends laying in my front yard searching for four leaf clovers. We usually found one, but it took a good bit of looking.
    Love the various stories of the Little Men. Makes you wonder.

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  4. Mary–I wasn’t aware that there was a negative connotation until yesterday, but it never really made sense to me. It still doesn’t, but now I know I’m not alone in my confusion. We’re all in it together!

    Diane–I know! The pinching didn’t come up in my (very brief) research, and then someone mentioned it today. Wish I had found that info.

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