First Word: The Good Luck of Bad Luck

Patricia Harty, Editor-in-Chief
December / January 2003

“Lady Luck generally woos those who earnestly, enthusiastically, unremittingly woo her.”

— B.C. Forbes


Much is said of the Luck of the Irish. What luck? you might ask. A look at our long history of trials and tribulations would surely say we were dogged by bad luck. As John Lennon wrote in a song entitled “The Luck of the Irish,” “If you had the luck of the Irish, you’d be sorry and wish you were dead. You should have the luck of the Irish and you’d wish you were English instead.”

The words of Lennon rang true for me when I was a kid in school in Ireland. I was tormented by Irish history. I couldn’t bear to read about another battle. I knew that even if the Irish appeared to be winning, a turn of the page would bring another traitor or some trickery by the English — a broken treaty and/or banishment. And on top of that was all the nasty things that the English said about us — see Jim Mullin’s letter on Thomas Carlyle — which, of course, no one told us about and you had to come to America to find out about.

And here now, dear reader, having been firmly slapped on the wrist by Mr. Mullin, your editor must confess another short-coming. I don’t know exactly where the phrase “The Luck of the Irish” came from, but I recently heard something that seems more apropos, given our history, and that’s “The good luck of bad luck.”

Now, we’ve had a lot of that.

It was bad luck that brought many of us here and it was good luck that there was a here to come to. It was the misfortune on which future fortune was built. For we are a fortunate race in that in the midst of our bad luck America took us in.

And every year at this time, coming up to Christmas, I think of the ties that bind our two countries. When I was a kid it was the money from America, the airmail envelopes that we looked for. The $50 from my father’s Aunt Nell in the Bronx that came every year, and although Santa could be depended on to bring the dolls and cap guns and cowboy hats and Meccano sets, that extra cash was a great blessing to my mother who always made sure that Christmas was the absolute best time of the year, with Christmas cake (see recipe page 120) and plum pudding and turkey or goose with all the trimmings.

We thought all Americans were rich. Certainly when the relatives came home for visits they always seemed to have plenty of money to throw around. It wasn’t until I emigrated to New York that I found out that Aunt Nell’s husband, Uncle Brian, supported his family on a bus driver’s salary.

Nowadays, while there are still those in Ireland that the Celtic Tiger doesn’t touch — those who still depend on money from relatives in America — it’s much less so. These days, it’s corporate dollars, Irish and American, that flow back and forth across the Atlantic. And increasingly, it is not the “poor, tired, weary, hungry” Irish immigrant coming to these shores but business people who are traveling here or making a living in the U.S., as more and more Irish-born make it into the ranks of corporate America — almost nine percent of this year’s Business 100 honorees are Irish-born.

It is extraordinary to monitor the growth of the Irish economy in the last seventeen years from when we first published Irish America in 1985. And in a large way American investment in Ireland provided the boost that the Irish economy needed. There are, as Ambassador Richard Egan reminds us (see interview page 70), some 585 American companies doing business in Ireland today.

It’s a tradition that I believe was started by Henry Ford, who put his first foreign automobile plant in County Cork where his father was born. (William Clay Ford, Henry’s great-grandson, is on our list of Business 100 honorees). While I’m sure Ford’s decision, and indeed the decisions made by American CEOs to do business there today, wasn’t based purely on sentiment, perhaps that “Irish” connection did provide the impetus for those corporate heads to at least consider the “old sod” as a base for operation. For one thing I do know from my years as editor of this magazine, is the strong love and goodwill that Irish Americans feel towards Ireland.

And dollars aside, surely some of the American confidence and gung-ho attitude that Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland, talked about when I interviewed her years ago, can be said to have rubbed off on today’s young Irish entrepreneurs. Certainly they are encouraged and helped by the likes of Tom Moran, president and CEO of Mutual of America, who also serves as chairman of the North American Board of the University College Dublin Graduate School of Business.

Robinson credited the time she spent at university in the States as being a seminal influence. And a glance at our honoree list shows that while many of our Business 100 went to Harvard for post graduate studies, colleges and universities with a strong Irish tradition such as Notre Dame, Fordham and Boston College are still producing American Irish leaders.

We must have a care to remember the debt that is owed those Irish nuns and brothers who devoted themselves to education in this country when the Irish were on the sidelines of society. They taught us as the B.C. Forbes quote above alludes to (and yes, Jim Mullin, I know he’s not Irish but I don’t think he ever said a bad word about us), the formula from which to make our luck. Hard work and determination, and keeping one’s eye on the prize can win out against the odds of poverty and discrimination.

For it is beating the odds that is truly the miracle or luck of the Irish.

Happy Thanksgiving. Merry Christmas and have a wonderful New Year. ♦

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