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The Luck Of The Irish: The Strange Story Behind The Term

The Luck Of The Irish: The Strange Story Behind The Term

We get asked about the Luck of the Irish meaning on an almost weekly basis.

The Luck of the Irish saying began its life during the gold rush years in the USA, when some used it as a way of explaining the ‘luck’ hard working Irish miners experienced from putting in a solid day of graft.

Fast forward to 2024 and the Luck of the Irish meaning is pretty blurred, with some America websites describing it as ‘Irish slang‘ (it definitely isn’t).

Some quick need-to-knows about the Luck of the Irish saying

luck of the irish saying origin

Photos via Shutterstock

To get you up-to-speed on the Luck of the Irish meaning quickly, you’ll find some handy info in the bullet-points below:

1. Where the term originated

Irish miners discovering vast fortunes during the goldrush were the ‘inspiration’ for the Luck of the Irish saying. More on the origin of the term below.

2. Is Luck of the Irish offensive?

In theory, yes. It was used as a way of explaining away the spoils of hard work as good old fashioned ‘luck’. More on this below.

3. It’s use in modern days

In 2024 the term is almost exclusively used on memorabilia and wouldn’t be regarded as one of the Irish insults by most.

The Luck of the Irish meaning and origin

is luck of the irish offensive

Photos via Shutterstock

Now, if you’ve come here looking for tales of leprechauns and pots of gold, you’re going to be very disappointed, I’m afraid.

The Irish mythological creatures known as Leprechauns couldn’t be further from the story behind the Luck of the Irish saying.

The origin of the saying

The Luck of the Irish saying is believed to have originated in America at some time during the 19th century and it’s thought to have been used in a derogatory manner at first.

The story begins at a time when America was experiencing what is known as its ‘gold rush years’. A number of major gold rushes took place throughout the 19th century across the world, but most notably in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the US.

When poor immigrants from Ireland started to make their way across to America at a time when the Great Famine was ravaging our little island, many took up jobs in the bustling mining industry.

Gold Rush years in America

Now, put yourselves in the shoes of the Irish that would have arrived in the US at this point in time – they were leaving an Ireland that was crippled with food shortages, starvation and disease.

Many that travelled to the US were doing so for one of two reasons:

  • To find a job so that they could send money back home to feed their families
  • To start a new life

Those that worked in the mines were quickly recognised as hard workers and diligent labourers that sometimes delivered better results than their American colleagues.

The discovery of fortunes led to the creation of the term

The story goes that the Irish had a knack of digging up mining fortunes during the gold rush. Was this luck?!

Or was it pure determination to succeed?! After all, these people had just left a land rife with mass poverty and starvation and were surely just doing everything in their power to find, keep and excel at a job.

The chances are that they had people back in Ireland who’s lives relied on them. The miners that were working alongside Irish colleagues put their ability to source these mining fortunes down to sheer luck, rather than perseverance and diligence.

The Luck of the Irish saying is said to have followed successful miners from Ireland for the duration of the gold rush in America.

The history of the expression potentially verified

It would appear that the Luck of the Irish meaning and origin can be verified in a book by a Professor of History named Edward T. O’Donnell who wrote a book titled ‘1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Irish American History’.

In the book O’Donnell backs up the story mentioned above, saying ‘During the gold and silver rush years in the second half of the 19th century, a number of the most famous and successful miners were of Irish and Irish American birth’.

He goes on then to explain how their ability to locate mining fortunes led to the use of the term: ‘Over time this association of the Irish with mining fortunes led to the expression luck of the Irish.’

FAQs about what does the Luck of the Irish mean

the luck of the irish meaning

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘Is the Luck of the Irish offensive?’ to ‘Where did it originate?’.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

What is meant by The Luck of the Irish?

The term was used as a way of explaining away the positive results experienced by hard-working Irish miners during the Gold Rush years in America. In other words, they didn’t get those results from hard work – it was all luck.

Is it OK to say Luck of the Irish?

Is the Luck of the Irish offensive in 2024? No (in our opinion). It has no real meaning these days and it is generally only used on tacky memorabilia.

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Franny Gibson

Thursday 17th of March 2022

Thank ya, Keith! These things are good to know. I have to put together a Trivia game for Fridays, so I am going to check out more of your info, for the game. Blessings!

Aaron Holmes

Monday 28th of February 2022

My father always told me that “Luck of the Irish” should be taken in the same spirit as “Welcome to New York!” - that is, with a healthy dose of cynical sarcasm.

Vanessa Stevens

Friday 20th of November 2020

Hi, I really enjoyed reading all your entries. I'm writing about an Irish character from Cork. If you know of any more current phrases a young woman might say, I'd love to hear them. Keep up the good work xx

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