Ah "The Luck of the Irish." Has a crueler phrase ever been coined? The sad truth is, the Irish are about as unlucky as a race can be while, you know, still being white.
While we may all be a little Irish on Saint Patrick's day, after this little history lesson you'll be grateful you no longer have to be Irish once your liver has filtered the green food dye out of your system (and if you actually are Irish, well, we're sorry).
Historically the best protection a civilization can have against invasion is to be located on an island. Just look at Japan. Until being occupied by America following World War II (USA! USA!) it had never been successfully invaded (although you could argue the high density of ninjas in the country had something to do with it).
At any rate Ireland is an island, they should have had it made, right?
But what if around the 8th century a civilization living not far from Ireland were to develop a culture based on seafaring warfare, piracy and sporty horned helmets? Oh shit ...
... here come the Vikings.
The Vikings' modus operandi was to attack exclusively from the sea, pillage, rape and burn then sail off while trading hearty high fives and congratulatory butt slaps. In other words Ireland being an island nation, something traditionally of great advantage, ended up being a first-night-sober-after-an-alcoholic-binge sized nightmare.
Today we have a fairly harmless image of Vikings (due to the poor research that goes into Hagar the Horrible) but trust us when we tell you that the real Vikings were grade-A dicks. They were basically the bullies of the middle ages, and like that poor red-headed kid that spent most of middle school stuffed in his locker, the Irish were the Vikings' favorite targets and spent over 200 years being metaphorically swirlied.
Speaking of red hair ...
In the Middle Ages, red hair was thought to mean you were a witch, werewolf or a vampire, so apparently there was a time in history other than our own where the sight of David Caruso would have been considered the ultimate horror. For other stretches in history, red hair was believed to mean one was surely a whore or had a wicked awful temper (later research has shown only around 60% of redheads are angry whores).
And even if you didn't fall victim to the superstitious associations with the world's rarest hair color, you certainly wouldn't enjoy some of the crappier consequences of having low levels of dark pigmentation. Like burning to a blistered, bubbly crisp when spending 15 minutes in the sun. Or ending a day at the beach with ungodly spots all over your face and ears and back and shoulders.
And if Al Gore knows what he's talking about at all, most of the world's redheads should be constructing a vast underground bunker for themselves as we speak, if they know what's good for them.
Of course this would only sort of suck if these creatures, most vulnerable to the rays of our otherwise life-giving sun, weren't also the most sensitive to pain. Seriously. By the way, which country has the world's highest concentration of redheads? Oh right, Ireland. We suppose it has a better ring to it than "God hates Irish people" but as far as appropriate national slogans go, "The luck of the Irish" isn't far behind "The easy and high paying jobs of the Mexicans."
Folks really seem to love the Tudors, the English dynasty that ruled England from 1485 to 1603 and included monarchs like King Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. You seemingly can't swing Anne Boleyn's decapitated head without hitting a new TV show or movie starring either Henry VIII or Elizabeth, most of which focus on what Henry's penis happened to be doing while he was king or how Elizabeth made it in a man's world baby. But what was arguably the Tudor's favorite pastime is almost always overlooked. What was that you ask? Why brutally suppressing Ireland and trying to wipe out Irish culture of course!
Yes, once again Lady Luck had pissed in the Irish's stew. The Tudor line came to power when Henry VII defeated Richard III in the War of the Roses (a war that was a lot longer, more bitter and bloody than it's fruity name implies) and true to form the Irish had supported the losing side. Whoops.
From that point on the Tudors saw Ireland as a possible threat and a geographically vulnerable location. So they spent the next 100-years or so violently beating on the Irish like Moe on Curly.
Elizabeth in particular, contrary to the heroic soft-lit portrayal of her you see in the two "Elizabeth" movies, was one supreme bitch when it came to Irish. While trying to subdue Ireland, Elizabeth ordered the English to use scorched-earth tactics, burning the land and slaughtering man, woman and child. This caused widespead famine and countless thousands died from starvation alone.
She also set up plantations across Ireland populated with Protestant English settlers, the idea being that these would be the seeds from which English Protestantism would spring forth and overtake traditional Irish Catholic culture. What could go wrong with that?
Wolfe Tone (1763 - 1798), besides being the proud owner of one of the most kick-ass names ever to grace a history book, was an Irish-born lawyer and the father of the Irish Republican independence movement. Some have even called him the Irish George Washington. Of course, since this is the Irish George Washington we're talking about, he didn't valiantly lead his forces to victory, founding an independent nation that would go on to become the most powerful in the world. Instead, Wolfe Tone stayed true to his roots and was repeatedly kneed in the testicles by ol' Lady Luck.
Irish Washington co-founded the Society of United Irishmen, whose goal was to get the Catholic and Protestant factions of Irish society to unite their powers Marvel Team-up style to defeat their Dr. Doom-esque English overlords. Unfortunately for the fate of a free Ireland, Wolfe decided to ally himself with ... the French.
Thus, they formed a true dream-team combining the rotten luck of the Irish with the military incompetence of the French. When Tone launched an invasion from France to free Ireland from the English, the luck of the Irish kicked in immediately, sending gales and fog to meet the French fleet whose ships of course all promptly sunk or turned sail and ran away.
Tone and the French made a few more attempts to invade Ireland with a similar lack of success until finally Wolfe Tone was taken prisoner when the English captured his ship. Tone's captors didn't even recognize him and he most likely would have gotten away if Lady Luck hadn't, in a last ditch effort, managed to deliver a flying dropkick to his nuts yet again. By sheer shit luck, while stepping off the prison boat he happened to be witnessed by a lawyer he had faced off against several times back when he was practicing law, who still held a grudge and ratted him out.
Tone was charged with treason and sentenced to death. All Tone requested was that he be given what he considered a more honorable death -- firing squad instead of hanging. The English, presumably just to be pricks, insisted that hanging was the only way to go. So Tone, in a ballsy but perhaps strategically ill-considered move, countered by cutting his own throat. English plans to get the last laugh by dressing Tone's corpse in women's clothes and shooting it out of a cannon were fortunately called off when they couldn't find a gown in his size.
Even by their standards the Irish were going through a bit of a rough patch in the mid-1800s. The people were dirt poor and almost all Irish land was owned by Englishmen (most of whom would never even set foot on Ireland lest their boots be sullied by inferior non-English soil). The English made sure the best land was used to graze cattle for British consumption, and only the leftover scraps were left to grow food for the apparently somewhat unimportant purpose of actually feeding the Irish.
But wait, not all is lost! Enter the potato, that most manly of vegetables. It can be grown nearly anywhere in large quantities, is full of energy and nutrients and is pretty freakin' tasty baked with a nice cheese sauce, bacon bits and chives. So to sum up, through a unique and twisted set of circumstances the survival of the Irish people was entirely dependent on these edible roots. What could possibly go wrong? What, haven't you been paying attention so far? This is Ireland we're talking about here.
Not only did the potato crop completely fail, but it failed for seven straight years, from 1845 to 1851. Before the famine Ireland had a population of around 8 million. After the famine it was less than 6 million (half of the 2 million died, the other half wisely got the hell out of Ireland). To this day Ireland's population has still not come close to regaining the number of people they had back in 1847.
Oh and if there are any Irish people reading this, in the interest of full disclosure we Americans should tell you that the potato blight that killed your crops was most likely sent over the Atlantic on American ships. Sorry. And when you immigrated to the United States in droves to avoid starvation caused by the blight we sent you, you were often discriminated against or beaten. Then we wrote this article making fun of you, so, sorry again.
Americans have nothing to brag about when it comes to the American Revolution. It's likely we would have lost if France didn't bankrupt and starve themselves to help us out (in order to spite England. What, you thought French pettiness was something new?) But the Irish, no doubt due to their impetuous and rash nature, didn't really plan this particular revolution very well.
The plan was to take over Dublin from Great Britain. It was the week of Easter in 1916 and English were busy with some "World War I" business or something, so perhaps we can only assume the Irish rebels imagined they would be too war-weary to bother with a few freckle-faced malcontents. On paper it sounds like not a bad plan.
What the Irish hadn't counted on was that the English are never too war-weary to put them back in their proper place. Stomping down the Irish is as well-loved a British pastime as watercress sandwiches over a ripping game of croquet.
The rebels didn't have enough men, a breakdown in law and order led to widespread looting, and, yeah, the British sent in the troops. Lots of troops. Like 16,000 of them to fight off the 1,200 or so Irish renegades.
The Irish did what they had already done in the Irish Rebellion of 1641, Irish Rebellion of 1798, United Irish Rebellions, The Nine Years War, Desmond Rebellions and a half dozen more we've no doubt missed, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The American Revolution might not have been perfect, but at least we only had to do it once.
So, is it all doom and gloom for the Irish? Actually no, it's not. The Irish would eventually gain their independence and in the last decade the Irish "Celtic Tiger" economy has been booming, with quality of life in Ireland among the best in the world. So this Saint Patrick's day raise a pint to Emerald Island and enjoy it while it lasts, because given the Irish people's unerring ability to get bitch-slapped by fate just as things are looking their brightest, it's probably only a matter of time before Godzilla rises from the ocean to devour the island whole.
If you liked that, you just might enjoy these St. Patrick Day Greeting Cards. Then go watch our video in which the bizarre origins of classic video games are explained.
Let us pitch you a sitcom ...
History is full of horribly depressing moments.
Behind every great man is a great mind they ripped off.