From the Irish potato famine to years of invasion, colonization, exploitation and violent religious conflict, it would seem that the Irish have anything but good luck. Where then did the phrase “luck of the Irish” originate? – Perhaps with the hope of stumbling across a leprechaun at the end of a rainbow; Or in finding serendipity in the rarity of a four-leaf clover? Though the origin of the phrase is decidedly unresolved, the “Luck of the Irish” is surely varnished in dark green irony.
The phrase became popularized in America with immigration to the American West in the second half of the 19th century. Mining fortunes of Irish immigrants such as James Fair, James Flood, John Mackay and William O’Brien known as the “Silver Kings” led to the association of the Irish with good luck. However, the meaning of this luck is clearly pejorative with the implication that only by sheer luck, as apposed to intelligence, could these “Know-Nothings” succeed.