She’s so lucky, she’s an Irishwoman. But she cry, cry, cries in her lonely heart, thinkin’, “If there’s nothing missing in my life, then why do these tears come at night?” Possibly because she had settled for less. For a life spent in what amounted to total isolation while her husband, a miner, went out every day in search of gold. Like most in this town, he hadn’t always been a miner, but only recently became one after news of the gold rush spread like the potato famine in Ireland.
Cillian, at first, told Clodagh that things would be different here, out West, as opposed to the intense bigotry they had experienced in that drab and dreary New York. While certainly, California had its infinite advantages in comparison to the gray and ghoulish NYC (and Tammany Hall didn’t lend a sense of “community” so much as constant fear), it was apparent that the anti-Irish sentiment hadn’t vanished entirely with a simple change in geography. That was why the term “luck of the Irish” made her feel flushed with anger and bitterness whenever Cillian told her about it. How that’s what they would say when he struck gold, to “explain away” inherent Irish adroitness as “dumb luck.”
But they were not dumb. They had been shrewd every step of the way, and Cillian was gifted in matters of all skilled labor–his steadily accruing fortune had nothing to do with luck, but hard work and determination. It made her want to go right down to the river and give them all a piece of her mind. Even the Californios were making fun of the Irish when they ought to have been the ones to bear the brunt of the racism. At least that’s what Clodagh felt. Irish people, after all, still spoke the same language as these Americans. They weren’t muttering in Spanish and trying to cordon themselves off from the gringos. Oh the cruel inhumanity of it all.
Worse still, Clodagh couldn’t help but notice an escalation in Cillian’s crudeness the more time he spent among these miners prospecting for gold. It was as though their coarse, unmarried manner was starting to infect him entirely. He was becoming the most dreaded thing of all: an American. Not even an Irish American, for they were still wont to hold onto their traditions. In contrast, it seemed Cillian was, by and by, increasingly averse to partaking in any of their once beloved customs.
This came to light most clearly when he arrived home late one evening to find corn beef and cabbage waiting for him on the table. Not only was it cold, but it was… corn beef and cabbage. All at once, Cillian flew into a fit of rage the likes of which Clodagh had never seen before. Not even when they reached one of their peak periods of hunger back in Ireland (for nothing made him moodier than being hungry). He swiped the plate off the table and let it clatter to the floor. “I don’t ever want to eat this again, ya hear Clodagh?!”
She regarded him solemnly and nodded. It seemed their luck was changing. That things between them had long ago veered away from the “honeymoon period.” She knew their love had cooled into something like an ice shelf in the Arctic, but she hadn’t fully seen the extent of what that cooling amounted to until he showcased his hot rage. Perhaps he was starting to resent her; maybe he even saw her as dead weight while watching the other miners live a life of bachelorhood that he probably now coveted, wanting to keep all the gold for himself. After all, he was a bachelor in every way except for when he was once a day briefly reminded of his marital status upon seeing Clodagh back in their small shack, pathetically waiting for him with a cold plate of corn beef and cabbage.
As the weeks wore on, Cillian kept striking more and more gold. It was as though he had a sixth sense that could instinctually unearth wherever it was hiding, no matter how deep inside the recesses of the silts. Watching him work, no one could understand his “arcane” abilities, never imagining that it wasn’t luck, so much as patience and intuition. Of the variety that led him this far across the globe from his homeland in the first place, continuing and continuing, persisting and persisting–until finally, something was going right. Alas, not even Saint Patrick could just leave the Irish alone…why would anyone else?
And so, it wasn’t long before all the other miners followed him wherever he went, if nothing else, just so they could jeer that he had the “luck of the Irish” every time he finagled a cluster of new nuggets in that pan of his. But one day, finally, he wasn’t so “lucky,” as a freshly arrived miner that no one had ever seen on the settlement before did not take kindly to a “mick” ending up with so much bounty. Although they all could have done something to stop it, instead they either looked on in silence or simply walked away. Some said he was an Englishman, others a Southerner. No one ever knew for sure because the offender in question fled town with all of Cillian’s gold after bludgeoning him to death in the river, the blood running senselessly like so many Irishmen before him.
On that day, for both Cillian and Clodagh, luck had run out. Even though Clodagh believed she had been unlucky before, this was the final blow to her wherewithal. And some say you can still see her roaming up and down the American River shouting Cillian’s name, as though it will bring him–and their once great love–back.
To put none too fine a point on the tragedy, it seems fitting to note that Jonathan Swift has often been quoted as saying, “I don’t really like the term ‘luck of the Irish’ because the luck of the Irish is, historically speaking, fucking terrible.”