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The luck of the Irish. March 17, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , , , ,

Poor Richard’s Almanac continues its weeklong series of “lucky posts” with a post in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.

It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, back today with a quiz to test your knowledge of St. Patrick’s Day, Leprechauns, shamrocks, lucky charms, pots of gold, and more. See how much you really know about the luck of the Irish! As always, I’ll give the answers at the end. But no cheating, now!

1. Why would St. Patrick be associated with good luck, anyway?

a. He escaped from slavery and went on to become Primate of Ireland. (This means religious leader, not great ape, FYI.)

b. He drove the snakes out of Ireland.

c. He brought Christianity to Ireland.

d. He became Ireland’s Patron Saint. 

2. What are Leprechauns?

a. Little gnomelike men with pots of gold.

b. Little men who wear red.

c. Shoemakers to the elves.

d. Little men who wear green and receive kickbacks from appearing on cereal boxes.

3. Why do people wear green on St. Patrick’s Day?

a. Green is the color of the Emerald Isle.

b. Green is the color of lucky shamrocks.

c. If you wear green, the Leprechauns can’t see you; if they can see you, they’ll pinch you.

d. Green will bring prosperity since it’s the color of money.

4. What’s the significance of the shamrock?

a. The three leaflets in one leaf are symbolic of the Holy Trinity.

b. The shamrock’s green color is symbolic of Ireland.

c. Every so often, the shamrock produces the lucky four-leaf clover.

d. The word “shamrock” means “little clover” in Gaelic and is believed to refer to the white clover, Trifolium repens, which was held in high esteem by the Druids as a plant to ward off evil.

5. Why do people eat corned beef, cabbage, and Irish soda bread to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?

a. These are considered lucky foods: Corned beef because it’s rich and fatty, symbolizing abundance; cabbage because it resembles cash, symbolizing wealth (similarly, the sliced carrots often cooked with the corned beef symbolize coins); Irish soda bread because its round shape symbolizes eternity.

b. Foods like long-keeping cabbage, flour and currants, and corned beef kept well and were still good at the end of winter.

c. The peppercorns that give corned beef its name were considered the king of spices, since they both added flavor and kept food from spoiling long before canning and freezing were possible.

d. St. Patrick proclaimed corned beef and cabbage the national dish of Ireland and outlawed potatoes.

6. What do the Irish drink on St. Patrick’s Day?

a. green beer 

b. Bailey’s Irish Cream

c. Irish whiskey

d. Black and Tan

7. What is “the luck of the Irish”?

a. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

b. An ironic reference to the long spate of bad luck suffered by the Irish, beginning with English conquest and continuing through the Potato Famine.

c. The recent upsurge of prosperity in Ireland caused by technological advances.

d. The good luck brought to Irish people through the use of lucky charms like shamrocks.

8. What do the Irish consider their own luckiest charm?

a. the shamrock

b. the Blarney Stone

c. the Claddagh

d. the Celtic knot 

And now, the answers:

1. Though all these answers have validity, we suspect that it’s the snake connection that links St. Patrick to good luck. Even though this is just a legend, the mere thought of averting disaster by ridding the land of poisonous snakes sounds like good luck incarnate to us.

2. Believe it or not, the answers are a) through c) (Leprechauns originally wore red), though the best answer is that they were shoemakers to the elves. The pot of gold legend apparently arose because the thrify Leprechauns saved all the gold the elves paid them for the shoes in pots, and if you could catch a Leprechaun, his pot of gold was yours.

3. We’d have thought that the answer was a), but it’s actually c). Apparently Leprechauns have a penchant for pinching on St. Patrick’s Day.

4.  This time, the answer is “all of the above,” though the connection with the Trinity dates back to St. Patrick himself and is thus probably the most significant.

5. Answers a) through c) are true, but a) is the reason these dishes have gained popularity as lucky foods. Potatoes, a New World crop, were unknown in St. Patrick’s day.

6. The Irish drink Black and Tan, not green beer, on St. Patrick’s Day. Made from a combination of dark stout or porter (such as Guinness) and pale ale or lager (such as Bass or Harp), the Black and Tan divides in the glass into gold and brown layers. In America, you can buy Black and Tan premixed from breweries such as Yuengling’s.

7. Unfortunately, the traditional answer is b). However, with the recent upsurge in prosperity in Ireland thanks to the computer industry, the internet, and technology in general, at this point the literal meaning rather than the ironic one would be more correct. Erin go bragh!

8. Yikes, all of these have valid claims on Irish luck, hearts, and history. But we’re still going for the shamrock as the ultimate symbol of Irish luck.

So, how’d you do? All of us here at Poor Richard’s Almanac wish you a very lucky St. Paddy’s Day. Stay tuned for a post from Silence Dogood on lucky (and unlucky) foods tomorrow, as our week of “lucky posts” continues!



1. Lzyjo - March 17, 2010

LOL! I’m glad no one’s keeping score becuase I just did horribly. My Irish grandmother is probably rolling over in her grave as I’m typing. Happy St. Patrick’s Day. I’m think I’m going to look for a lucky clover. BTW, thanks for wishing me good luck the other day I think it’s working!

We doubt we’d have done any better, Lzyjo, despite also having part-Irish ancestry, if we hadn’t had access to the answers! And hooray, good luck on the job front!!!

2. Edith Hope - March 17, 2010

Dear Trinity, As Lzyjo remarks above, I too have an Anglo Irish grandmother who would undoubedly have frowned on anything like your Irish quiz which would have gone very much against her strong Catholic principles. Indeed, she would have thought it, “Quite beyond the pale” – an expression which you may or may not know the origins of. If you have Anglo Irish connections, and are familiar with Dublin, then I expect you know where it came from.

Happily I do not share her prejudices, or at least I hope that I do not, but have to confess to probably scoring nil points if we are counting.

Oh, my, Edith! Several of us here at PRA also have very strong Catholic backgrounds, both English and Irish, not to mention some Presbyterian and Methodist roots via Scotland. But we’re hoping all our ancestors would find the quiz as interesting as we did! By the way, it’s been our understanding that “beyond the pale” referred to the Jewish ghettos of Mediaeval Europe, so now we have some definite research to do concerning Dublin!

3. Gail - March 17, 2010

Same here Lzyjo, our grandmothers are no doubt shaking their heads in despair over our ignorance! Loved the test RS! Silence~Lucky foods! I hope some are my favorite comfort foods! gail

Thanks, Gail! Check out the foods tomorrow and let me know if I’ve managed to miss some of your faves!!!

4. steve - March 19, 2010

Oh Richard…our first disagreement… I believe your answer to #8 is incorrect. I believe the luckiest, far and away luckiest charm of the Irish is the Notre Dame Leprechaun. However, I do consider your other answers acceptable…sort of…

Ha!!! I’m sure many folks would agree with you, Steve!

5. M - August 1, 2010

I know I’m coming to this late, but as I understand it St. Patrick didn’t drive any actual snakes from Ireland, mostly since there weren’t snakes in Ireland. What he actually did was drive out the various groups of pagans. Snakes was a symbolic name used in the legends to imply the inherent evil of the pagans.

I’m also not sure St. Patrick himself is connected to good luck, he’s connected to Irish people and they have saying “The Luck of the Irish”. That saying is as you said meant to be ironic, the luck of the Irish is bad luck. Many people misunderstand the saying to mean the Irish are actually lucky though. St. Patrick being lucky would be an extension of a misunderstanding.

The color green has it’s own tie-ins to the day, but St Patrick used to be associated with blue, the transition to green has multiple reasons, the shamrock was green, the Irish Rebellion of 1798, etc.

Thanks so much for your hugely informative comments, M! I knew there were no snakes in Ireland, but had never heard the metaphorical use. Fascinating! Hopefully, the luck of the Irish has turned in these newly prosperous times in Ireland. And I have to say, I think St. Patrick was extremely lucky not to be slaughtered by the “pagans” he had come to convert! I didn’t know about the blue-to-green transition, either, but it certainly makes sense; many other saints have undergone similar color transitions, most notably St. Nicholas from his bishop’s robes to his red Santa outfit, and the Virgin Mary, often depicted wearing blue and red in early paintings, but later garbed in the presumably more pure blue and white.

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