It’s March and we are all eager to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, wear a bit of green and talk about the luck of the Irish. The exact origin of the term “Luck of the Irish” isn’t known. Those who know the history of Ireland realize that Irish luck was often not good luck at all. This tends to be forgotten by most of us as we wear our smiling leprechauns, shamrocks or four leaf clovers.
At this time of year, it seems like everyone is Irish. My own affinity for being Irish was shattered years ago. I was named after William Kelly, my grandfather, a first generation immigrant. There are lots of great Irish names but Kelly is certainly one of the best. I wore it proudly; celebrating my Irish heritage. This illusion was shattered later in my life, when at my mother’s funeral I discovered that Kelly was only a cover they adopted to mask their real name of Kulovic. This name change allowed them to adapt more easily to American society. After my Irish identity was destroyed, I paid much less attention to the St. Patrick’s Day holiday and focused more interest on Lithuanian independence.
But it’s March and that is when we celebrate the Irish. I don’t have a choice since there is no such month of celebration for Lithuanians. Back in the 1840s when the potato famine and Irish immigration began was not a lucky time or a time of celebration for the Irish either in Ireland or the USA. When they arrived here they were very disliked, treated badly and hated. When the Irish had any kind of success, most Americans at the time didn't think the Irish were capable such successes, so they called it luck. This may be the origin of the term “Luck of the Irish.”
Things are a lot different now in modern-day Ireland. The Irish have succeeded in turning their country into a haven for technology and advanced manufacturing. All this began back in the 1960s when Ireland developed policies to actively promote export growth and attract foreign investment by making available capital grants and tax concessions. They realized that there was a lack of sustained growth in Irish industry, a rising trade deficit, and high unemployment. They wanted to promote exports, create an export surplus and overcome this. By setting up grant programs, establishing low tax rates and creating tax holidays, they were able to attract a lot of foreign investment. Many multinational firms set up shop in Ireland to take advantage of these opportunities.
This industrial policy has been the major tool used by the Irish government to encourage IT development and establish advanced manufacturing in Ireland. A 2005 study found Ireland to have the best quality of life in the world. From 1995 to 2007, Ireland had the highest growth rate in Europe. After a few years of recession that growth has returned. The country is major high-tech manufacturer and one of the world’s biggest exporters of pharmaceuticals and software. Ireland’s economy emerged from its brief recession earlier this decade and grew by 7.8 percent in 2015. This was the fastest growth rate in all of Europe. This may sound pretty lucky to some. But for those of us who believe more in results for hard work and wise planning it might be more correct to call it the “Wisdom of the Irish.” The majority of individuals who own a pot of gold didn’t find it at the end of a rainbow. They planned well and worked hard to earn it.
Being Irish is something to celebrate and although I have no Irish genes, I am happy to celebrate their national successes with them.