It’s Saint Patrick’s Day, and in the pubs of Ireland (and in pubs all over the world, for that matter), people of Irish ancestry will no doubt be celebrating this occasion with full force. There will be parades, people proudly wearing their lucky green outfits, handing out shamrocks, and much toasting to the “luck of the Irish.” But wait a minute–have we ever stopped to really consider this popular phrase? Are the Irish really that lucky? Luckier than the rest of us?
As it turns out, the phrase had its origins as an ethnic slur. It was a sarcastic quip, basically implying that the Irish had no luck at all, or that any Irish man or woman who did well had to be lucky rather than smart, hardworking, or talented. In an article by Tara Dooley from the Houston Chronicle, the Irish-American historian Edward T. O’Donnell says, “It is a phrase of derision, a put-down phrase. More than 900 years of domination, oppression, starvation? I’m kind of hard pressed to understand where it comes from.” (Read the full story, with more dissections of the phrase HERE.)
Nevertheless, it’s interesting to note that what apparently began as a negative remark has been transformed on this side of the Atlantic into something much more positive. Here, Irish immigrants prospered, and for most Irish-Americans who are celebrating St. Patrick’s Day today, the world is a luckier place than it was for their ancestors. As another Irish saying goes, “If you are lucky enough to be Irish, you are lucky enough.”
(Photo of Carmen and Liam Gray, two lucky kids indeed, by Michael Gray.)