The luck of the Irish: more than a four-leafed clover

Holly McCoach/Staff Writer

The Emerald Isle is a land rich in traditions and culture that range from Irish folklore, to the Irish Gaelic language, which is spoken almost as commonly as English itself. Around St. Patrick’s Day, however, old Irish traditions are emphasized in Ireland, unlike here in the United States, where dressing in green is considered a way of celebrating the day.

In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is recognized as a religious holiday that has been observed since Saint Patrick’s death in the fifth century, on March 17. Saint Patrick, a slave that was brought to Ireland at a young age, has been credited for bringing Christianity to Ireland, for introducing the Holy Trinity through the three leaves of the shamrock and legend has it that he banished all of Ireland’s serpents to the sea.

Aiveen Gallagher, who is known as Aoibhinn Ní Ghallchobhair in Gaelic, is a graduate student at the University studying music performance. A native of Cork, Gallagher highlights all that Ireland has to offer, including that of St. Patrick’s Day. “The strongest tradition is that you would always go to church, because it’s our patron saint’s day,” said Gallagher, “Afterwards, there [are] parades, like over here, but they are more traditional.”

In the parades, the traditional elements that are included are acknowledgments of ancient figures of Ireland, snakes, Saint Patrick, and fairies. Fairies stem from many ancient Irish legends and folklore, which have been kept alive through storytelling in school and with families.

On this day, signs in parades are usually in Gaelic, everyone wears their best green garb, and everyone also pins a real shamrock to their attire in honor of Saint Patrick. In the afternoons, families usually get together for dinner, and perhaps even sports. “We have Gaelic soccer and Hurling. Those are Gaelic sports. On St. Patrick’s Day, you will always have teams playing,” said Gallagher.

Unlike in the United States, St. Patrick’s Day is regarded as a national holiday, which means most places shut down, including most supermarkets and schools. The modern day leprechaun is an icon that is not so much Irish. “The leprechaun we know today are basically a media thing,” said Gallagher.

Leprechauns, along with fairies, also emerge from Irish folklore. Leprechauns, in Irish stories, are short, tiny people that bring you luck and have magical powers, but the leprechaun that is tossed about the media in the United States is the Americanized version. The “luck of the Irish” is not a complete fable either. It is brought by the Irish’s history of hard work and ancient legends.

“It’s not so much that we’re lucky; Irish people tend to be quite driven and focused on what [they] want to do, and mostly because we had a bad history,” said Gallagher.

This bad history includes the wars between England and Ireland and the Potato Famine, which allotted the Irish to work hard for their land, homes and religion. However, Irish folklore and tales also introduced the idea of the luck of the Irish. “The luck of the Irish comes from the Blarney Stone. Apparently, if you kiss the stone, you get the luck of the Irish, and the Gift of the Gab,” said Gallager.

According to legend, the Gift of the Gab allows anyone to talk readily and convincingly to any subject that is presented to the individual. Ireland is divided into four provinces, where four dialects of Gaelic are spoken. Gaelic is compulsory in schools, from the ages of 5 to 18, making Ireland a bilingual country.

More than half of Ireland is completely fluent in it, and the other half speak broken Gaelic. In Ireland, you will also find areas called Gaelacht regions. “There’s Gaelacht areas all over Ireland. In those towns, people only speak Gaelic,” said Gallagher.

So unless you are a foreigner, it is expected that you speak only Gaelic in these places. This is how the Irish keep the language from dying out. The Gaelic language continues to prevail, especially on St. Patrick’s Day, where you can see signs sending luck and good wishes on that day. On that note, Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Duit! Or, Happy St. Patrick’s Day!