Monday, 10 March 2014 17:05

(P)Luck O' The Irish

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  Most of those millions of emigrants were desperate people heading into the unknown searching for better luck, and more food. They knew life could be tough, but they knew how to persevere. They were plucky - you can’t keep a good Irishman down.

“Luck O’ The Irish”, they say, but what does it mean? Did you know the phrase has its roots in sarcasm?

 

The phrase evolved during the darkest of times: sudden life ending cold snaps, completely decimated crops, broad sweeping famines, massive death tolls, and unprecedented migrations. Delve into Irish folktales and you’ll discover the storied luck is an illusion. Fairies love to bring misfortune or bad luck. Leprechauns are tricksters who do their best to keep treasure from humans. The fish get away. It wasn’t until the gold rush days in America, when many Irishmen truly found their ‘pot’s of gold,’ that the meaning started to change. Quite frankly, the majority of Irishmen living when the phrase originally took hold, were anything but lucky. Most of those millions of emigrants were desperate people heading into the unknown searching for better luck, and more food. They knew life could be tough, but they knew how to persevere. They weren't afraid to change their luck. They were plucky - you can’t keep a good Irishman down. With that in mind, let me tell you a bit more about my great, great, Aunt Mary.

 

Mary Branagan wasn’t one of the downtrodden. She described herself as having been "raised in a home of privilege with servants to attend to my every need." She wasn’t downtrodden but she was plucky. Endowed with Irish tenacity and fully intending to arrive in America well dressed and comfortable, she snuck clothes and money out of her house for weeks preparing for her journey. When she arrived in Boston in 1856, she dressed in her finest clothes before she left the ship. When she reached Iowa City, she hired a “good strong man” to pull her handcart full of fine clothes to Utah. The next day, her handcart, the man, and all her possessions were gone. Her luck had turned and misfortune was upon her.

 

Suddenly, the feisty and pampered little lass had some decisions to make: turn back, quit, or start walking to Utah with just the clothes on her back? Many in her company judged her too fair to continue. But Mary, squared her shoulders, conjured up all her Irish pluck and announced if someone would loan her some bedding and a handcart she’d pull it all the way to Utah by herself, thank you very much, and return the bedding, if she lived. Her company leader responded, “Why you plucky little thing, I believe you will.”

 

By the time Mary and her company reached Fort Bridger, Wyoming, they’d walked nearly a thousand miles and crossed many rivers. Most of them were walking barefoot because their shoes had worn out. Assuming Mary was in such a position her company leader bought her a pair of moccasins. When he presented them to her she declared, “Why whatever will I do with these? I’ve got no money to pay for them and I won’t be going into the Valley of Salt Lake in debt!”

 

“Why Mary, surely your shoes are wore out like the rest?”

 

“Perhaps, sir, the others did not pray every night over their shoes like I did.” With that, Mary lifted her skirts a respectable height to show her shoes were still intact and soled. Those shoes lasted her to the Valley and through her first winter besides. 

 

Now that you know more about Mary, it may surprise you to be reminded that her memories of crossing the plans contained a great deal of story and laughter. She changed her luck by choosing hope and joy. It seems Mary had plenty of pluck, the pluck O’ the Irish. 

 

Have you ever had to choose to change your luck? What hardship were you facing and how did you overcome it? Do you know such stories about your ancestors? When was they last time you shared their success stories with someone you love?

 

Last modified on Monday, 14 April 2014 11:34
Teresa Clark

A national award-winning storyteller, historian and author, she is best known for her original works and recollections of life's experiences blended with history. Teresa has presented and performed throughout the United States. Of her, it has been said, "Charming, witty, soulful, and wise, her performances are filled with a compelling sense of wonder and an irresistable zest for life." Her story work involves performance, education, production, and advocacy. From the main stage to individual consultations in living rooms across America, she delights in the excavation and sharing of family story. Most importantly, she is a wife, mother, and grandmother to her favorite playmates and best friends.

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