A Brief Early History for St. Patrick’s Day

Do You Want the Luck of the Irish?

The luck of the Irish – Good Or Bad?

It’s St. Patrick’s day again, when thoughts turn to green! Whether it’s green grass, green beer or green shirts, you can’t help but notice green on St. Patty’s Day.  And everyone could use a little of that Irish luck, yes? But how good is the luck of the Irish? Looking back at their history, I doubt if anyone would want to have their “luck” at all!

shamrockA Brief Early History for St. Patrick’s Day

The first settlers arrived in Ireland about 10,000 years ago, which is fairly recent in European terms. Next to arrive were farmers, who showed up around 4,000 B.C., which also marked the beginning of the Stone Age.  Almost 3,000 years later, Iron Age warriors came from mainland Europe to Ireland. These people were known as the Celts and had a huge influence on the Irish people and their history. In fact, the first official language of the Republic of Ireland stems from the Celtic language. Many famous myths and legends from Irish folklore come from stories about Celtic warriors.

After the arrival of the most famous Saint Patrick and some other Christian missionaries in the early to mid-5th century, Christianity took over pagan religion.

Some brief influences came from Viking invasions (from Scandinavia), as well as from the Normans. The Normans not only increased commerce and agriculture, they also built walled towns, castles, and churches.

The Real Hardship Begins

In 1541, King Henry VIII was declared king of Ireland. From then until well into the 17th century, thousands of Protestant English and Scottish plantation settlers arrived and sectarian conflict became a common theme. Many laws were passed that took power away from Catholics, which resulted in the Irish Catholics owning only about 5% of the land in Ireland.

In 1791, an organization was formed with the hope of bringing Irish people of all religions together. They wanted to reform and reduce Britain’s power in Ireland. This organization, called the United Irishmen, ultimately failed, and in 1801 Ireland and Britain were politically united in the Act of Union. Other uprisings attempted to separate Ireland from Britain; but, before this could be accomplished, the great famine overshadowed them all.

The Great Famine

When blight struck the main staple of food nationwide three years in a row, it was a disaster of unimaginable proportion. In 1845, 1846, and 1847 people starved to death because their potatoes were inedible. The worst part is that while hundreds of thousands of people were suffering and dying, London forced the Irish to export abundant harvests of wheat and dairy products to Britain and overseas. Two million people either died or emigrated from Ireland between 1845 and 1851. Ireland has not achieved its pre-famine population of 8 million since this devastation.

Emigration to America

The majority of Irish emigrants came to America, where the “Promised Land” awaited. Instead of finding the idyllic life they had envisioned, the Irish found that they were treated with disdain.  In the 1850s, no group in America was considered lower than an Irishman. Many Americans referred to them as the “Shanty Irish” and job postings often specifically excluded them. The Irish took offense and united instead of apologizing for themselves. They helped each other survive through solidarity. They prayed and drank together, and it was their faith and dogged determination that led one newspaper to print, “The Irish have become more Americanized than the Americans.”

Hard Work and Will

The Irish showed America and the world that they would work hard, fight wars and do whatever was necessary to become accepted as true Americans. They took the jobs that no one else wanted — the dirty, dangerous jobs like bridge building and mining; and, they eventually integrated into their new world. They fiercely loved America but never gave up their allegiance to Ireland.

Not only did the Irish win acceptance in America, but they have also persuaded people all over the world to become Irish — at least for St. Patrick’s Day!

Not luck at all

Maybe the “luck of the Irish” isn’t luck at all, but more of an attitude. The origin of the word may be “luc” —  a shortened version of the word “gheluc” which means “happiness, good fortune”.

Show everyone you’re Irish, too,  with a genuine Ireland flag

Ireland flag

Or have fun with one of our St. Patrick’s Day flags…

Shamrock Flag
St. Patrick's Day
St. Patrick’s Day flag


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