The Luck of the Irish: the true meaning and origin

The Irish are almost always associated with the phrase “The Luck of the Irish”. But have you ever wondered where this phrase came from, and are we really the source of all things lucky?

If you’ve never heard the phrase “the Luck of the Irish”, then you’ve most likely been living under a rock, because this is probably one of the most well-known phrases in the history of phrases… ever!

Anyone who has been abroad has probably had this said to them at some point, and if not, they’ve definitely seen it written somewhere – whether on a gimmicky t-shirt in Boston or an Irish themed pub in Sydney.

Everyone loves the phrase and, considering the Irish are known to be a happy-go-lucky bunch, the expression in itself has tons of positivity and hope. Everyone wants to be Irish, don’t they?

Well, they definitely want the luck we’re so famously known for. There may be some surprises, however, when it comes to getting beneath the surface of this oh-so-popular Irish phrase, so let’s break it down.

The true meaning – different meanings across time and location

The Irish are known to be very lucky.
Credit: / @Wokandapix

As you can imagine, the phrase is said to represent excellent fortune, like winning the lotto and finding the man/woman of your dreams on the same day – but would you believe that this is actually an old mining expression dating back to the 1800s?

We’ll have you know that it is, in fact, an American expression, rather than an old Irish one as you’d initially assume, but what does it all mean?

As one element of the story goes, it was used to explain how the Irish, being the fools they were thought to be, could only have had such good fortune in the mines.

It was believed that it was down to their sheer luck as there was no other way could they have succeeded. Lovely compliment there, don’t you think?

Saying that, there are many theories about what the phrase really means, and the truth is, it can have a different meaning depending on where you are in the world.

Some say it comes from the fact that the Irish seem to be able to land on their feet no matter what happens – and this could certainly be the case given the history of Irish emigration and their continued success over the years.

The use of luck in the phrase can also mean fortune, which can be good or bad. So perhaps it refers to the bad fortune the Irish have had over the years including colonialism, famine, war, and prejudice, which turns the whole phrase on its head.

Today this phrase has come to be used in a positive light, and the Irish, their fictional leprechaun mates, and their beloved pots of gold are all thought to be very lucky.

Origin – not actually an Irish phrase

May the luck of the Irish be always with you.

So of course, being a typical Irish phrase that everyone associates with Ireland and the Irish people, it naturally hails from America, makes sense, doesn’t it?

Well this is one of the theories anyway. It is said that the phrase came about during the gold and silver era of America when most of the successful miners were Irish, or at least of Irish-American origin.

There are certainly some undertones of mockery when it appears that this phrase originated in America, were they just jealous of the Irish success? Or were they genuinely happy for them and all their new-found fortune? Hmm, that’s a pickle!

The phrase, "the Luck of the Irish", originates in America.
Credit: / @Free-Photos

In America at the time, the Irish who had emigrated were poorly treated, despised, and frankly speaking, seen as incapable of having any success. So when they did, the phrase, “the luck of the Irish”, naturally came about.

Given the fact that the Irish are known for four-leaf clovers and leprechauns, the phrase is thought to be associated with these other lucky Irish symbols.

To have a famous Irish phrase with undertones of fairytale Irish folklore and Celtic mythology sounds so enchanting, and no matter which story is true, it doesn’t change the fact that this is such a beloved phrase.

In general, we do count ourselves lucky as a nation since we live in the most beautiful land of all and are one of the most welcomed groups of people all around the world, despite what history depicts.

“The luck of the Irish” is a phrase not going away any time soon, and why would it, it radiates hope, positivity, and a little bit of luck all over the world.