Luck of the Irish

Posted by R. Berg on June 15, 2001

In Reply to: Phrases posted by ESC on June 15, 2001

: : Irish as Paddy's pig. I saw the term listed here, but no discussion. My Mother would use it to mean that you're Irish. When I asked her about the origin she said, her mother used the expression to her to mean she was Irish. (Both her Mother and Father were from County Galway.)

: : The luck of the Irish. Does that mean good or bad luck?

: : Shir tail relations. I've always gathered from my mothers use that it was fro people that may be married to distant cousins.

: : Ham handed or ham fisted. Obviously not very dexterous, does anybody know what that means or can put it into context for me?

: : There are other phrases that I couldn't find here, but I've drawn a blank on recalling them.

: I've never been able to find anything about the origin of "luck of the Irish." Is it used ironically? What with the potato famine and all?

: SHIRTTAIL -- "Whistlin' Dixie" by Robert Hendrickson (Pocket Books, New York, 1993) has several meanings for "shirttail." "Shirttail" means a small piece ("This little shirttail of a farm.") But "shirt-tail" also means a distant cousin. Similar to "kissing cousins...a relative far enough removed to permit marriage, an 'eighth cousin' in the North..." "Shirt-tail lads" are young boys. "Shirt-tail run" is running so fast your shirttail flutters behind you.

: HAM-FISTED or HAM-HANDED -- Clumsy, lacking dexterity or grace. It has a literal meaning. But can also be used figuratively when a person doesn't handle a social situation gracefully. Ham-fisted approach, ham-fisted apology.

"The luck of the Irish" means good luck. People use it when a person of Irish descent inexplicably beats the odds. (Beating the odds isn't inexplicable, it just looks that way, but it surprises observers.) My guess about its origin: the idea that the Irish people have suffered so many misfortunes that it's a miracle whenever something comes out right for them, and it can only be explained by being blessed with an inherited form of good luck.