The gambling industry is as diverse as Irish culture and the country’s tourism sector. Both offer visitors a myriad of options and the intense stimulus that comes with trying something new and going on an adventure. Gamblers can play an online casino game one day and then go to a land-based establishment the following day. In Ireland, travelers can explore the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin one day and the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare the next. Options are visible in both the gambling industry and the Irish culture and tourism sector.
Of course, the connection between the two is much more than just the options each presents the world with. After all, “the luck of the Irish” is not a saying for nothing. Ireland has long-standing ties to gambling. The history books tell us that English settlers introduced Ireland to playing cards in the 15th and 16th centuries. Irish folklore stories published about gambling provide further evidence of these ties.
Some of these folklore stories, however, stand out more than others. To save you the trouble of finding them — or translating them — we have compiled a list of the most popular Irish folklore stories about gambling.
The Two Gamblers and the Fairies
In 1895, American folklorist and translator Jeremiah Curtin wrote his book ‘Irish Tales of Fairies and the Ghost World’. The book featured a story called ‘The Two Gamblers and the Fairies’. The tale tells the story of two gamblers who, after running into each other one night, decide to team up on their gambling adventures. Along the way, the men encounter everything from fairies to pots of gold.
While there is a dark side to Irish folklore, Curtin used many of the happier tropes we are familiar with in the 21st-century in his story. In entertainment today, we regularly see Irish symbols used, for instance, leprechauns, gold, and four-leaf clovers. People are more receptive to these concepts than Ireland’s darker tales, which we will see in the next couple of stories on this list. For example, there is a reason why American food company General Mills used a friendly leprechaun as its mascot and not a man with a cloven hoof. It is also why online casino games, like the Rainbow Riches slots, utilize Irish tropes like pots of gold, four-leaf clovers, blarney stones, and talking leprechauns.
In Curtin’s tale, one of the men dreams that there is a pot of gold to be found. They abandon their gambling plans to search for it. It is later revealed that they find it, but first, they come across a group of fairies that lead them to a young woman in a coffin. She is alive, and the men return her to her family. The woman decides she wants to marry one of the gamblers, as thanks for saving her from the fairies and, subsequently, her life.
After some resistance by the young woman’s family — her Dad, in particular, was against the idea — she returns to the gamblers. The two men divide the bags of gold they found, and one of the gamblers gets the woman while the other packs his bags. He returns home to the north of Ireland with his winnings.
The Hellfire Club’s Cloven Hoof
Of course, not all Irish folklore stories about gambling utilize the Irish tropes we see in different kinds of entertainment today. In fact, some are on the darker side. The Irish folklore tale of the Hellfire Club’s Cloven Hoof is among those.
This folklore tale is set in the eerie and notorious Hellfire Club located in the Dublin Mountains. The site was originally a passage tomb that dates from the Neolithic Period (4500 – 2000 BC). It is the location of many troubling tales (allegedly, a black cat the size of a Dalmatian haunts it), and the club is the last place you would want to be on a cold and rainy night — as one gambler discovered.
As the story goes, a group of men was gambling and playing a card game with a stranger one night at the club. Distracted, perhaps feeling doubt over his hand, one man looked away from the game and down at the ground. He then saw something that turned his blood cold: the stranger’s foot was not one of a man. He had a cloven hoof.
In all types of folklore, a cloven hoof is associated with Satan. In Irish folklore, the Hellfire Club is also associated with the Devil. There is thought to be proof of the association between the devil and cloven hoofs when, in 1855, cloven hoof tracks appeared in a woman’s backyard. The incident took place in England on February 8 and 9.
The Devil and the Gambler
This tale has ties to Galway and tells the story of a woman and her son. The son liked to gamble, and one night while he was out, he met a man, and they sat down to play a game of cards. As they played, the son saw his mother, and she motioned for him to look down at the man’s feet. Much like the story of the cloven hoof in the Hellfire Club, the son discovered that the man had cloven feet. Soon after returning home, the boy finds that his mother had died while he was out.
Gambling is etched into many countries, such as England, Spain, Finland, and the United States. Ireland is no different. The European island is not only filled with land-based establishments and online casino platforms, but many of its beloved folklore tales involve gambling and card games.
Some indeed have dark roots, but there are also those tales like Jeremiah Curtin’s ‘The Two Gamblers and the Fairies’ that tell stories of not just gambling but love, adventure, and, of course, pots of gold and magic. Stories like Curtin’s combine many of the Irish tropes we are used to seeing in the media today, including blarney stone and pot of gold-themed online casino slots to the decorations we see in party stores before St. Patrick’s Day.