Belfast Telegraph

Luck of the Irish? I wouldn't have bet on it this St Patrick's Day

By Robert McNeill

Not being a betting man - with my luck, all the horses would die - I rarely step into a bookmaker's shop. I've seen chaps spend their days commuting from pub to bookie and back and I've said to girlfriends: "Well, despite all the other shortcomings you have helpfully enumerated, at least I'm not like that."

And they replied: "No, some of them are still sober. And they're probably not as ludicrously unlucky as you."

Fair points, well made. Funnily enough, a survey this week claims the famous 'luck of the Irish' is a myth.

Bookmakers Ladbrokes and website lovetheraces.com studied a year of bets and found more lucky Britishers than Irishers.

And this grim news was announced just before St Patrick's Day, too. Such ignominy.

I fear the old Irish blessing - "May good luck be your friend in whatever you do" - needs amending to add: "But forget putting money on the gee-gees."

Still, the world is lucky to have the Irish. A fifth of Britons claim Irish ancestry, and an online database this week highlighted similar lineage for famous world figures such as Chancellor George Osborne, US President Barack Obama, Oscar Wilde, Walt Disney, and John F Kennedy.

All right, regarding Osborne I take back the bit about the world being lucky.

George isn't so much of Irish stock as coming from folk that lorded it over the Irish. He's heir to the baronetcy of Ballentaylor, which must be a terrible burden. His great-great-great-grandfather, Sir Henry, is found in the Applotment Books, living in Co Tipperary in 1824.

Irritatingly, for a busy executive, I've had to Google 'applotment'. It didn't come up in my online dictionary, thesaurus or Wikipedia, leading me to suspect it was made up. But, no, here it is, defined in the Official Irish Lexicon of Old Stuff: "Applotment - Ye register of all folk who be bald or suffering from ye ague of syphilis." I see. So much for George.

Across yon pond, more than a quarter of US presidents have claimed Irish roots, not least the aforementioned JFK, whose great-great-grandfather Patrick lived in Wexford.

He's in Griffith's Valuation of Ireland, 1848-64, a list of all men in the parish who couldn't keep it in their trousers.

The records also show Barack Obama's great-great-great-great-grandfather was living in Ballygurleen, Tipperary, in 1829. How odd to think of him standing about picking his nose, with no inkling that a descendant of his would become the most important man in yonder world.

It wasn't all good, though. Press reports omitted the Irish ancestry of President Ronald Reagan whose comic facade disguised one of the world's most evil men.

But this is no time to dwell upon wicked goons. It's a time of celebration, to forget little rivalries that mean diddly-wibble in the largeness of the universe, to dine on shamrock salad and, above all, have a laugh.

For the more dissolute, it's also a time to quaff Guinness and whatnot. Well-founded fears have been expressed that revellers have overdone it in past years, going beyond pleasantly squiffy to rudely boisterous.

Having been off the booze myself for a couple of weeks, I recommend abstinence, and am sure an influential column like this will persuade many citizens to celebrate sensibly and soberly. I wouldn't bet on it, though.

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