Kristin Kowalski Ferragut
Luck o’ the Irish
I do love these minor holidays — Valentine’s, Mardi Gras, St. Patrick’s — days in which a little festive goes a long way with no great expectations. This time of the year is rife with them. Green pancakes and eggs this morning and this holiday is already won! Lucky.
As a girl I kissed the Blarney Stone. Might be aside from my belief that I possess good luck. And maybe when I perceive my good luck, like an apparition flying above my head, I feel more of an American than Irish vibe — all brave, stubborn, and independent; although that might describe the Irish too.
This morning I sent a “Luck o’ the Irish” note out. Then hesitated; studying Irish immigrants to the U.S. in the 1830’s along with my 8th grade students these days, I thought, Are the Irish really so lucky? I Googled it and “Is 'luck of the Irish' offensive?” popped up.
Apparently the phrase “Luck o’ the Irish” began in America and as a veiled insult against the Irish and Irish-Americans who found gold during the California Gold Rush. It implied that the Irish could only be successful through simple luck, rather than skill or capabilities. And in the nineteenth century significant hardship befell the Irish people, making it sound ironic to refer to them as lucky. But nothing in my research indicated that wishing someone the Luck o’ the Irish would be taken in any spirit other than as a sincere wish and affirmation today.
I suspect that, given Ireland’s rich history of oral tradition and lore full of magical thinking, the association between luck and being Irish may have been posited before the 1800s, but not well-recorded for historians. Stories of leprechauns and pots of gold at the end of rainbows originated in Ireland in the 8th century. Magical protection and warding off of bad luck were qualities ascribed to four-leaf clovers by Druids in Ireland as early as the 3rd Century BCE. Luck seems a theme intrinsic to the History of the Irish in Ireland, as well as Irish in the U.S.
Happy St. Patrick’s day and May the Luck o’ the Irish be with you! And I close with a little ditty I drafted in 2018.
Magic Found in Old Jars
Quadrisyllabic claps leap
fiddle and flute, planted pre-
memory, ahead of “whack
fol the daddy-o”. Harkens back
to days mother hummed, father
smoked his pipe at home at night;
near-false memories, as might
be scents of whiskey, beer, sounds
of laughter, cries, bar’s ruckus
where I’d keep time with Irish
ditties, lyrics I forget
I know, “Whiskey in the Jar.”
Me sainted great grandfather
swam across the Atlantic,
stopped half way to eat a loaf
of bread on a rock. ‘Least
that’s how the story goes. My
little girl’s classmates tell her
she lies. Maybe I should’a
told it differently. Hard
to re-spin childhood
realities, with blood from
the land of leprechauns and
fairies; at times hard to tell
reality. I peer out
on my squirrel-speckled plot
of green; rain warps or old glass
sags. Low ceilings with cottage
feel, I think of “truths” to write
and wishes to cast out. Dream
of swimming to rocky shores,
as I drink from an old jar.
“A Brief History of Leprechauns, Ireland’s Trickster Fairies,” The Real World, 2020 https://www.trafalgar.com/real-word/history-of-leprechauns-trickster-fairies/
Callan, Paris Donnatella, “The Luck of the Irish: The Real Meaning and Origin,” IB4UD, 2022 https://www.irelandbeforeyoudie.com/the-luck-of-the-irish-the-real-meaning-and-origin/
"Druid," Encyclopedia Britannica, 2021 https://www.britannica.com/topic/priest-Christianity
Federow, Denise, “Not That You Asked, but… ‘Luck o’ the Irish’ Meant to be Deragatory,” The Goshen News, 2015 https://www.goshennews.com/news/lifestyles/not-that-you-asked-but-luck-o-the-irish-meant-to-be-deragotory/article_563a981e-e85e-5104-9f08-ca33ddb69707.html
“The History and Science Behind Pots of Gold and Rainbows,” Chandler Chevrolet, 2019 https://www.chandlerchevcad.com/blog/the-history-and-science-behind-pots-of-635300
“How the Vikings Forever Changed Ireland,” Irish Central, 2021 https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/genealogy/how-vikings-change-ireland
Norton, Rachel, "History Behind the Four-Leaf Clover; Why Are They Considered Lucky?" Woodlands Online, 2021 https://www.woodlandsonline.com/npps/story.cfm?nppage=69552
“The Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow,” U.S. Money Reserve, 2016 https://www.usmoneyreserve.com/blog/pot-of-gold-at-end-of-rainbow-origin/
Trueman, C. N., “Ireland in the Nineteenth Century,” History Learning Site, 2022 https://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/ireland-1845-to-1922/ireland-in-the-nineteenth-century/
“Where Does the Phrase ‘The Luck of the Irish’ Come From?” Irish Central, 2020 https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/where-did-luck-of-the-irish-come-from