You may have used the phrase “Luck of the Irish” at some point, but have you ever wondered why it is that they are supposedly so lucky? Is it their monopoly on leprechauns and four-leaf clovers? Actually, the origin of the phrase might surprise you.
When St. Patrick’s Day rolls around, everyone becomes a little bit Irish, but such joy in the Irish tradition was not always so robust. When Irish immigrants first came to the U.S., they were shunned; the victims of prejudice and stereotypes. When a job opening was advertised, it was not uncommon to see the phrase “Irish need not apply.” While the origin of the phrase “Luck of the Irish” is not exactly known, it was born from the U.S. and indications are that it was meant derogatorily. If someone of Irish descent was successful, they couldn’t have been skilled enough to have made it happen, so it had to be luck, not skill; i.e. “the luck of the Irish.”
Of course, things have since changed dramatically, thank goodness. Interestingly enough, the same goes for lucky charms in general. We all know that a rabbit’s foot is supposed to bring good luck (not so much for the rabbit, of course), but there are specific rules for which rabbit’s feet are lucky. For a truly lucky rabbit’s foot, it is supposed to be the left hind foot of a rabbit shot or captured in a cemetery on the night of a full or new moon.
And why all these rules? Indications are that this is part of a belief that witches would shapeshift into rabbits during either the full or new moon, and would roam around cemeteries, as they tend to do. Some practices even go so far as to require the rabbit be killed with a silver bullet.
The folklore behind good luck charms often has a bit of a nefarious or dark story behind it. Take the horseshoe for example. Whether pointed up or pointed down, since traditions tend to differ, the horseshoe is a well known symbol for luck. But why? One possibility involves the story of Saint Dunstan, a blacksmith; as the story goes, he managed to shoe the Devil himself when asked to reshoe the Devil’s horse. The Devil was in tremendous pain, and Dunstan agreed to remove the shoe only after the Devil promised never to enter a place where a horseshoe hangs over the door. So what is now just a simple good-luck piece was once a way to turn away the ultimate evil!
Of course, not all lucky charms involve such dark origins or a sarcastic remark against the Irish. The four-leaf clover, for instance, is quite innocent. The first leaf represents faith, the second stands for hope, the third is love and the fourth is for luck. Nothing more troublesome than that.. Of course, there are some clovers with more than four leaves; one discovered in Japan in 2009 had 56. We think the 48th leaf stands for “We’re running out of good things, so let’s go with love a third time.”
Perhaps it’s just as well that the true origin of lucky phrases and items are lost in time. Life may be a little too complicated for things like that, and we’re wondering if it isn’t just as lucky to have a much simpler explanation. “This is my lucky bottlecap.” “Why is it lucky?” “Because it is.” “Fair enough.”