Luck of the Irish

Posted: Sunday, March 17, 2024 at 4:51PM

So for a good post on Saint Patricks day, I decided to write why the saying “Luck of the Irish” may not mean what you think it means.

I’ll go over a recap of Irish history at first, but to reveal the whole point of it early on, is that as an ethnic group, the Irish have not been very lucky.

Potato Dependency and Famines

As the soil is rocky in Ireland, one of the few things that grows on it are rooted plants like potatoes. So naturally that’s what the Irish grew and got really good at growing. But what happens when something strikes one of your only food sources? A lot of people starve and die. Crime breaks out from the desperation such an event causes, which kills even more people.

Even as the famine slowed down into the early 20th century, many Irish families were saving every last dime they had since famines seemed to be happening at least once a century, and using that money to send their kids over to a more affluent and culinarily diverse country such as America. So they wouldn’t have to see the level of destitution which they had.

We toil and work so that one day our children may live better lives than we had.


Ellis Island and Bad Contracts

One of the bad things which had started happening during the mass immigration from Ireland, was that the industries at the time saw the opportunity. Even though indentured servitude was mostly illegal by the time this immigration started happening, the next best thing was able to happen.

So these large industries looking for people to do the “crap jobs” took advantage of the situation, with the drying up work markets in the United States, decided to funnel the Irish and the Chinese into these crap jobs.

Irish need not apply

Picture credit to Irish Central. Even though historians are debating that these signs existed, I’m sure there was at least some sort of prejudice which happened to them at the time. Many probably tried to hide their accents in hopes to blend in with the settled folks at the time. It seems to be of human nature to hate people for having different backgrounds. Maybe many Irish immigrants felt that signs like that might as well be hanging.

Some of the corruption started happening in the orphanages, to where they had industry workers come in to pitch contractual obligations to the immigrants which were staying with them. Even though these contracts were illegal at the time, the immigrants didn’t know that and they likely didn’t have the money to hire lawyers to challenge it either, a problem the vast majority of Americans have when treated in an illegal way. We’ve made great progress.

Many looked to escaping orphanages to become skilled electricians or plumbers, others looked to joining the military to get out of said bad contracts.

World Wars

Especially for those coming to America in the early 20th century, unbeknownst to them, the world was on the cusp of not just one, but two World Wars. So yes, many Irish immigrants joined the military just to be sent over to one of the most violent eras of the US military, WWII. Even though the USA was largely not involved in WWI, there was probably a sigh of relief when it ended, only to find out that 20 years later, they’d be sending their kids to fight in WWII.

Knowing from hearing it myself, the kinds of stories Irish families tell about their ancestors is how one of their great Uncle’s brothers had to be shovelled out of a tailgun pod of a bomber. Not the best ones to tell over the dinner table.

Truth of the saying

So saying all of this brief recap of history, it clears up the fact to me that generally the Irish are unlucky. So when the term was coined, it was used either one of two ways:

  1. To sarcastically laugh off a streak of bad luck.
  2. To sarcastically applaud good luck after a streak of bad luck. Like winning a scratch off after you got a flat tire on the back of having to do a ton of other repairs on your car.

Even with that noted, this sort of generational bad luck built the Irish up to be a strong and intelligent ethnic group, as it was a function of their own survival. And for that I’m thankful, and I’m proud to be Irish on this Saint Patrick’s Day. Happy St Patty’s day everyone!

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