St.Patrick's Day: Leprechauns Facts Myths and Legends
The Irish leprechaun plays several roles in Ireland's folklore; he is a type of mischievous and comical fairy. There are a few facts about this mystical character and where the legends originated from that may surprise you.
The modern-day depiction of a St Patricks day Leprechaun is often described as a bearded, little old man about three feet tall, dressed in green, with shiny buckled shoes, a hat and maybe smoking a pipe.
However, early Irish folklore surprisingly describes Leprechauns as men who wore red outfits and tri-cornered hats.
Irish novelist Samuel Lover describes Leprechauns as such in his 1831 work ‘Legends and Stories of Ireland’.
In the "The Element Encyclopaedia of Magical Creatures," by John and Caitlin Matthews, the legend of the leprechauns can be traced back to the eighth-century with tales of water spirits called "luchorpán," meaning small body.
Some researchers claim that the name leprechaun derived from the Gaelic 'leath bhrogan,' meaning shoemaker, which is said to be a Leprechaun’s main vocation.
Leprechauns have been associated with the tap-tap-tapping of a tiny cobblers hammer, driving nails into shoes, that announces they are near.
In his collection of Irish fairy and folk tales, W.B. Yeats offered an 18th-century poem by William Allingham titled "The Leprechaun; Or, Fairy Shoemaker" which describes the sound:
"Lay your ear close to the hill. Do you not catch the tiny clamour, Busy click of an elfin hammer, Voice of the Leprechaun singing shrill, As he merrily plies his trade?"
This designation also fits in well with the traditional folkloric division of labor among fairies.
3. The Pot of Gold
Shoemaking must be a lucrative business in the fairy world since each leprechaun is said to have a pot of gold hidden at the end of a rainbow and there are still people who go looking for this hidden treasure!
4. Catching a Leprechaun
According to Irish legends, if you happen to capture a Leprechaun, you can barter his freedom for his treasure and he will grant you three wishes provided you let him go.
Dealing with leprechauns can be a very tricky proposition.
Folklorist Carol Rose offers a prime example of leprechaun trickery in her encyclopedia "Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns, and Goblins”. It concerns "a man who managed to get a leprechaun to show him the bush in the field where his treasure was located. Having no spade, the man marked the tree with one of his red garters, then kindly released the sprite and went for a spade. Returning almost instantly he found that every one of the numerous trees in the field sported a red garter!"
6. Leprechauns in popular culture
Lucky the Leprechaun has been the mascot of the breakfast cereal Lucky Charms since 1964, is probably the best-known fairy of his type. Originally he was named L.C. Leprechaun and was also known as Sir Charms.
The 1959 Disney movie "Darby O'Gill and the Little People" starring Sean Connery also influenced how many people think of the little people.
Though the legend of the Leprechaun is well over a thousand years old, there was a ‘sighting’ as recently as 1989 by a pub landlord called P.J O’Hare in Carlingford, County Louth. O’Hare claims that he heard screams from a well and found the remains and clothing of a Leprechaun which is on display in his pub! The town now has an annual Leprechaun hunt though the object of the game is to find plastic versions of the fabled creature.
Did you know that Leprechauns are actually a protected species under EU law? Carlingford’s Sliabh Foy Loop trail is officially protected land for the 236 Leprechauns that apparently live in Ireland. A local lobbyist group in Carlingford, managed to convince the EU that the area should be protected and now it is under the European Habitats Directive.
6. Moral of the story
Leprechauns stand out as a figure of morality whose fables warn against the folly of trying to get rich quick, take what's not rightfully yours or interfere with wee folk and other magical creatures.
In tales where humans catch a Leprechaun, they are easily outsmarted by the magical creature that often uses a person’s greed against him.
Belief in leprechauns and other fairies was once widespread on the Emerald Isle, and real or not they will arouse a constant source of interest and delight us for centuries more.