With St. Patrick’s Day fast upon us, it’s worth noting that no one has been the subject of greater disdain than the Irish. Verbally, they have been the brunt of many a joke. The English especially have enjoyed mocking them—primarily through the coining of derisive phrases. Examples include an Irish bouquet, a “pile of stones;” Irish caviar, a “meat stew;” an Irish chariot, a “wheelbarrow;” and an Irish clubhouse, a “jail or police station.”
Certainly, that’s enough to get your Irish up, an illusion to their reputedly hot-headed nature. They weren’t the only ones so described. The British also gave us “getting one’s Dutch up;” though early linguists distinguished it from the Irish, noting how Dutch wrath was “stubborn but more yielding to reason.” Both phrases, of course, were rooted in English disdain and enmity towards both countries.
“Get a life!” (c.1983), you might suggest to the British, also a somewhat derisive comment, urging one to start living a more gregarious, secure, or rewarding existence; a none too subtle way of encouraging one to improve his lot in some unspecified way, and stop obsessing about things the commentator considers petty or inconsequential.
When it comes to an ideal life, it’s the Irish carefree approach we tend to favor. It’s often associated with The Life of Riley (Reilly), “a prosperous or luxurious existence.” Many believe it to be the poet, James Whitcomb Riley who gave us idyllic images of the good life in form of barefoot boys, fishing holes, and lazy, hazy summer days.
The phrase, however, more likely derives from a comic song written in the 1880s by a vaudevillian, Pat Rooney, “Is that Mr. Riley?” describing what he would do if he suddenly came into money.
The Luck of the Irish speaks to extraordinary good fortune. It is based on superstition, but the Irish are indeed a special people. Ireland incidentally comes from er or yr, “noble.” added to” land.” It’s a sentiment we can all surely drink to.