Definition: Fortuitous blessings, extremely good fortune.
This is a common phrase to describe someone who is experiencing good luck, be it a pattern of good luck or a singular event.
Phrases with similar meanings are luck of the devil and luck of the draw. These phrases find their origin in the early 1900s, with the luck of the Irish finding its beginning slightly earlier in the late 1800s.
Origin of The Luck of the Irish
The phrase The Luck of the Irish is used to describe someone who is extremely lucky and has good fortune. While it is not precisely known why such luck has been attributed to the Irish, there are a few different origin stories that attempt to explain why.
The most widely sourced origin story dates the phrase to the American Gold and Silver rushes in the latter half of the 19th century, making it an American phrase, not an Irish one.
The Irish Potato Famine wreaked havoc on Ireland for the better part of a decade, killing approximately one million people and driving over one million to leave the country for elsewhere in the world. Many of those leaving Ireland settled in the United States, with the populations of large U.S. cities such as Baltimore, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia being one-quarter Irish by 1850.
The Great Famine (1845-1852) also coincided with the California Gold Rush (1848-1855), and as opportunity presented itself upon their arrival in the United States, many Irish immigrants found work in the American mining industry.
During the Gold Rush, many of the most prominent and successful miners were of Irish descent, and over time, an association was formed between Irish and Irish-Americans and the fortunes of the mining industry. This gave birth to the phrase the Luck of the Irish.
Other Origin Stories
As with many idiomatic phrases that enter the common parlance, there are a few different origin stories for this phrase.
One is that the phrase is actually meant to be used ironically, as the Irish people have actually had a very tragic past (more on that below). If you are down on your luck and nothing seems to be going your way, it might be said of you that you have the luck of the Irish, which is to say you have no luck at all.
Another theory is that the phrase stems from Irish folklore or possibly Celtic mythology. Ireland is a country full of popular folklore and ancient tales. Additionally, good luck has long been regarded superstitiously, so perhaps the mythical creatures of yore bestowed a special kind of luck on the Irish people.
Is the Luck of the Irish Good Luck or Bad Luck—or Dumb Luck?
The phrase itself is used to express good luck and good fortune, but it’s easy to see why one might think it is used ironically to express actual bad luck.
In some sense, the history of the Irish people is anything but lucky. Over the centuries, Ireland has been wrought with famine, civil wars, foreign invasion, and the oppression of its people. It seems, however, that none of this was taken into account during the coining of the phrase, and, instead, simply refers to the good fortune of many Irish miners in the American Southwest.
And while the phrase is now accepted as a good-natured comment, its origins did have a slight connotation of dumb luck rather than simple good fortune, as if to say the only way an Irishman could be successful is due to luck and not through hard work, skills, or intellect.
Examples of the Luck of the Irish
The dialogue below shows two university students discussing an upcoming test.
Maria: Did you hear about our biology test?
Tony: No! I completely forgot about that! I haven’t studied at all.
Maria: Well, you’re off the hook. Our teacher called in sick today, so the test has been cancelled. I stayed up all night last night studying for nothing!
Tony: Really? That is great news! Well, not that he is sick, but that our test got postponed.
Maria: Yup, you must have the luck of the Irish.
The second dialogue shows a father and son choosing where to go for dinner.
Father: Steve, get your jacket. We’re heading out to dinner.
Son: Where are we going?
Father: We are meeting mom at Olive Garden.
Son: No, not Olive Garden! I hate their salad dressing. It ruins the whole meal.
Father: Since when? You’ve never said anything about it before this. Besides that, who doesn’t love their salad dressing? Everyone loves it!
Son: I’ve never liked it. I just didn’t want to say anything.
Father: Well, it looks as if you have the luck of the Irish. Mom just called and said they closed early today. Where should we go instead?
The phrase the luck of the Irish is used to describe someone with extreme luck and good fortune. The exact origin is unknown, but it appears to derive from the American mining industry in the second-half of the 19th century.