phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Phrases, Sayings and Idioms Home > Discussion Forum

Re: "Living The Life of Riley"

Posted by Joseph McEvoy on November 22, 2002

In Reply to: "Living The Life of Riley" posted by David S. Riley on November 18, 2002

: Subject: The life of Riley

: Dave Riley
The same story of the severed hand being thrown to gain possession of the land is told of the O'Neills, hence the red hand on their coat of arms and on the arms of the province of Ulster, of which they were the dominant ruling family for a millenium. A similar tale is to be found in what is now Belgium, giving rise to the name of the town of Antwerp, (Hand werfen) the throwing of the hand.
: +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

: *Living on my Reillys, Rileys,etc

: Back when the Rileys were top of the pile, a family coat of arms used
: to mean something --like a logo supposedly for genetic material. It
: can be viewed as an abstract representation of a double helix. But
: when yours is a severed orange hand dripping blood the impression
: sure wasn't romantic. In Ireland severed hands were an emblematic
: dime a dozen. Them Celts knew the shock value of body parts.

: However, ours, if I can claim such lineage, had a great story
: attached to it. The Riley bros were told by their da that the one who
: touched Irish land first got their choice of the countryside. So in
: rowing to shore -- as some sort of boat race was involved -- one of
: the lads saw that he was slipping behind his sibling(s). Rather than
: miss out on the chance of a lifetime, junior hacked off his own hand
: and threw it ahead onto the beach. And the winner, by a bloodied fist
: is... So the Rileys grasped County Cavan in the open palm of a
: severed hand thereby learning a lesson or two about sibling rivalry.
: I live on to tell the story at some time and distance from its
: occurrence.

: This quaint episode of family life doesn't enlighten us about the
: most perplexing aspect of Riley folklore: the origin of the phrase
: "living the life of Riley". Every now and then someone is sure to
: write to me with just such a query. Until now, I haven't been able to
: help them. Fortunately, an American who takes his Rileyness more
: seriously than I has supplied me with the following explanation.

: After the incident with the hand the Rileys consolidated their "hold"
: (sic) on County Cavan. As befits such clannishness they minted their
: own money. This money was widely recognised for its value, even in
: England it was accepted as Legal Tender.* The coins became known as
: "O'Reillys, or Reilly's", and as such, became synonymous with a
: monied person. A gentleman freely spending his cash was said to be
: "Living on his Reillys" or "Living the life of Reilly".

: So if I had 15 Rileys, spent four at the market and gave three away,
: how many Rileys would I have left? [R15-R4 = R11. R11-R3=R8.] And if
: I bought a pint of Guinness for myself then shouted the whole bar, I
: truly would be "a gentleman freely spending his cash" . And no doubt,
: there would be very few Rileys left.

: This no doubt explains why I am stuck with the name and am always out
: of cash. It is in the nature of us Rileys to spend like a man without
: any hands.

: Dave Riley