Looking back at Irish history, the luck of the Irish hardly seems like luck at all. The island faced repeated invasions from the Vikings followed by the Normans with resistance to offshore domination a centuries old fact of life. The English Crown had the longest run at dominating the Irish but the terrain of the countryside and tenacity of the Celtic inhabitants made it a difficult and bloody task. Ireland was also central to attempts by the English to impose the Protestant faith on others. It was one of several battlegrounds during the Protestant-Catholic wars that raged across Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries. In Ireland, conflict between Protestants and Catholics continued to modern times.
As if political unrest was not enough, Ireland experienced the Great Famine from 1845 to 1849. Although not native to Ireland, the potato had become an important food to sustain poor Irish tenant farmers through the spare winter months. As potatoes are propagated by sprouting plants from leftover spuds from the previous crop, the species had little genetic diversity and when the potato blight disease came to Ireland, it decimated the crop. British landowners had pushed the Irish tenant farmers off the best pasture land which was used to raise beef for English consumption. Indifference from the British to the plight of their tenant farmers when the blight struck resulted in the loss of over a million lives with an additional million Irish leaving the country, mostly to America.
The famine fueled nationalism which led to the 20th century being a turbulent time in Ireland with civil war and eventual division of Ireland into the independent Republic of Ireland and the British governed Northern Ireland. Trouble persisted in the north and spilled into England as the Irish Republican Army carried out a violent campaign to unite Ireland. Some of the financial support for the IRA was thought to have come from Irish immigrants and their descendants who had found success in America. An uneasy peace was realized with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. The violence killed nearly two percent of the population of Northern Ireland during the later half of the 20th century.
The luck of the Irish has not been so lucky. The phrase itself is believed to have originated in America during the gold and silver rush years when Irish miners were thought to have had a disproportionate amount of success. It certainly doesn't describe the challenges the Irish faced in their home country.
Just something to think about as you sip your pint of Guinness - Happy St. Patrick's Day!