The luck of the Irish, an article exploring the meaning of this old saying and the Irish culture as well.
I think being a woman is like being Irish… Everyone says you’re important and nice, but you take second place all the time.
It is dangerous to be sincere unless you are also stupid.
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950, Irish-born British dramatist)
An Englishman is never happy but when he becomes miserable, a Scotchman never at home but when he is abroad, and an Irishman never at peace but when he is fighting.
The Englishman weeps, the Irishman sleeps, but the Scotchman gangs while he gets it.
There’s nothing so bad that it couldn’t be worse.
Irish Proverb (Sayings of Irish origin)
When the Irishman is found outside of Ireland in another environment, he very often becomes a respected man. The economic and intellectual conditions that prevail in his own country do not permit the development of individuality. No one who has any self-respect stays in Ireland, but flees afar as though from a country that has undergone the visitation of an angered Jove.
James Joyce (1882-1941, Irish author)
He is bad that will not take advice, but he is a thousand times worse that takes every advice.
Irish Proverb (Sayings of Irish origin)
When I told the people of Northern Ireland that I was an atheist, a woman in the audience stood up and said, yes, but is it the God of the Catholics or the God of the Protestants in whom you don’t believe?”
Quentin Crisp (1908-1999, British author)
The best doctors in the world are Doctor Diet, Doctor Quiet, and Doctor Merryman.
Jonathan Swift (1667-1745, Anglo-Irish satirist)
Twenty years a child; twenty years running wild; twenty years a mature man – and after that, praying.
Irish Proverb (Sayings of Irish origin)
The “The luck of the Irish” is an old idiom that has evolved to have many meanings over the years, not many people question what the phrase actually means. For the most part, people assume it just means the Irish are a very lucky bunch. However, it may surprise you to find that this is not the case.
“The Luck of the Irish” is also a song written by John Lennon and Yoko Ono that was first released on the couple’s 1972 album with Elephant’s Memory, Some Time in New York City. It was written in late 1971 and was performed by Lennon and Ono live at several protest rallies and television appearances before being released on the album.
“The Luck of the Irish” uses a folk-like melody, since at the time Lennon and Ono believed that the simplicity of a folk melody would encourage audience participation and help engage the audience in their protest. In the verses, Lennon sings of the difficult history between England and Ireland and of the contemporary political problems in Northern Ireland resulting from the history of British colonialism. The title of the song is ironic, as Lennon sings that the luck of the Irish has been bad, and “if you had the luck of the Irish” that “you’d wish you was (sic) English instead.” The pleasant melody also provides an ironic contrast to the Lennon accusations of British atrocities, including rape, torture and genocide.
Musicologist Walter Everett highlights a line about how the English “kill with God on their side” as being a reference to Bob Dylan, whose 1963 protest song “With God on Our Side” described the Americans going into all their wars “with God on our side.” Rogan takes the Dylan reference further, stating that the lines “…they kill with God on their side/Blame it all on the kids and the IRA/As the bastards commit genocide” combine the sentiments of “With God on Our Side” with those of Dylan’s earlier song “Masters of War.”
“The Luck of the Irish” is one of two songs on Some Time in New York City dealing with the troubled situation in Northern Ireland at the time. While the other Irish-themed song, “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” was written specifically in response to the Bloody Sunday on 30 January 1972, “The Luck of the Irish” had been written in November 1971, inspired by a protest march that Lennon had participated in the previous August.
But now let’s get deeper into the cultural matter starting with the Feast or Holy Day of St. Patrick, Patron Saint or Ireland, which is celebrated on 17th March in all parts of the world where there are people of Irish descent. There is a huge parade on that day in New York, where the number of Irish policemen is said in jest to exceed the present population of Ireland.
St. Patrick is, a somewhat shadowy figure, of whom there are legends that are hard to equate with historical or geological records. He is popularly credited with having killed alt the snakes in his adopted country, although there is no evidence that any had survived the ice Age or had spread to Ireland subsequently.
But it isn’t the exploits of St. Patrick so much as those of the Irish people that are celebrated on 17th March. The Irish are renowned as a friendly and easy-goings bunch and yet the history of Ireland is one of suffering. Ever since the end of the eleventh century there has been a strange and often bloody relationship between the inhabitants of England and Ireland, and an even more remarkable one between the different sections of the Irish population.
The province of Ulster appears to have been a particular source or friction since before the Reformation. Its isolation was accentuated by the importation of largely protestant settlers from Scotland. There is still today a majority of Protestants in the six (out of nine) counties of Ulster that formed Northern Ireland alter the partition of 1922. In the other three counties that were not included, and in the rest of what is now Eire (or the Republic of Ireland), some 80 per cent of the population is Catholic, much of it fiercely so.
Some 140 years ago tragedy struck Ireland when the potato crops failed, with much famine and hardship. There followed a huge exodus, mainly across the Atlantic. In 1841 the population of the whole of Ireland was over 8 million: today It is not much than more half that number.
The result or the exodus is that today in the United States there is a large and influential Irish community and “the Irish vote” has attained great political importance. This is shown by the eagerness with which American presidential candidates try to prove their Irish origins at election time. Presidents Nixon and Reagan both made well-publicised visits to obscure villages of lreland where they paid homage to their even more obscure ancestors.
The present inhabitants of the different countries of the British Isles retain strongly nationalistic attitudes, bedevilled in Ireland by the rift between North and South. The various attitudes and characteristics are the basis or popular jokes. The Englishman is depicted as a formal, hard individual. lacking in both flexibility and intelligence. He is also steeped in social tradition: “The Englishman is a self-made man and worships his creator.”
The Scotsman is considered to be careful in money matters to the extent of downright meanness and to be “canny”: “You can always tell (i.e. distinguish) a Scotsman but you can’t tell (i.e. advise) him much.” The Welshman is held to be cunning and deceitful, the true descendant of cattle and sheep thieves, with a heavy veneer of religious observance: “The Welshman prays on his knees and preys on his neighbours.”
The Irishman is thought of as a confused mixture of charm, “blarney” (misleading but often endearing exaggeration), devotion, lawlessness, alcoholism, joy, fecklessness, kindness and aggression, capable of extreme daring in no good cause: “The Irishman doesn’t know what he believes in, but he’s prepared to die for it.”
Life in Ireland is different and a holiday there is delightfully refreshing if only because the clock seems to go round more slowly and most people are friendly and helpful unless provoked. Some years ago a writer was being driven across the south west corner of “The Emerald Isle” at about 10.30 one sunny morning. In less than a kilometre the car passed the ends of three farm lanes, from each of which was emerging a float containing two men and two milk churns. He enquired of his driver if there had not been any attempt to collect milk by lorry, thinking that it was somewhat uneconomical for six men and three horses to take only six churns to the local dairy. “Sure there has not replied the driver. “Now what would they be after doing, Sir, if they weren’t taking the milk into town?”
Anecdotes about the Irish outnumber those about Belgians or Poles and usually portray a stupid irrationality. Thus when Eire joined the E.E.C., so the story goes, the members of the Dail decided that the country should change from left-hand side to right-hand side driving of road vehicles. They knew from the experience of Sweden that this would be a costly affair, too great to be borne out by one annual budget. So the decision was taken to complete the task in two stages: during the first year only lorries would drive on the right-hand side, while in the second year private cars would change over also.
St. Patrick might be intrigued by what he could see in Ireland today. He would be proud of the way in which that small country helped significantly to preserve Christianity. Certainly he would approve of the many Irish missionaries who have spent so much time and effort in the Third World. Perhaps he would chuckle over Irish jokes and wonder – as we all do – what is really meant by the expression “The luck of the Irish.”
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Saint’s Patrick Day legend and celebrations