Quick – what’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say, ‘Ireland’? If you thought of a leprechaun, you’re certainly not alone. A wee man, the leprechaun is iconic and several happen to appear across the United States every March. Maybe you’ve seen one.
When it comes to Irish creatures, the leprechaun falls into the not particularly harmful category. We know they are bearded fairies dressed in green (red in older stories), are mischievous, love gold (which they keep hidden at the end of a rainbow), and are rather irreverent, yet loveable. Living alone in remote areas, Leprechauns were typically shoemakers in the tales of yore.
Where did they come from? According to etymonline.com/word/leprechaun, it was thought the word came from the Old Irish luchorpan, meaning “a very small body.” However, Simon Rodway, Michael Clarke, and Jocopo Bisagni (Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies) believe the root of the word comes from the Roman Luperci. Which is funny since they were young men who ran around naked at the festival of Lupercalia. Due to a couple hundred years and translation errors, these Luperci ended up at the leprechaun we know today. (Sounds like an Irish tale to me…)
The first time leprechauns appear is in a story about Fergus, a king of Ulster, in about the 7th century. Here, leprechauns can live under water and grant wishes.
After the English discouraged all things Irish, the wee folk were kept alive only in folklore. Yeats, the great Irish writer, and part of a revivalist movement to bring back Irish-ness to the world, reintroduced the leprechaun. (Late 19th century) It was a hit!
One of my favorite (new) traditions: Head to the Cooley mountains in County Louth to a placed called Slieve Foye, home to the last leprechauns, in April. Dress up as a leprechaun (or not) and see if you can find any hiding in the nooks of the mountains. If you do see a leprechaun, do not take your eyes from them for even a second as they will disappear. They have storytelling and activities along with the search for the wee folk. 236 leprechauns are known to live there. (I’m not making this up!) https://www.independent.ie/regionals/argus/localnotes/leprechaun-hunt-returns-to-slieve-foy-34541789.html and https://www.thelastleprechaunsofireland.com/
However, you are asked to not capture leprechauns. Slieve Foye has been granted, by the EU, protected sanctuary rights—meaning leprechauns are protected under European law. (Also protected are animals and flora.)
The Clurichaun is sometimes considered the bad-tempered cousin to the leprechaun. They’re also trickers, but rather than being a man, they take the shape of an old man. They also vanish if you take your eyes from them. Clurichauns are know to like alcohol even more than leprechauns.
If you’re looking for a movie to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day try the classic, Darby O’Gill and the Little People. Finian’s Rainbow is another one. I also enjoyed The Luck of the Irish. There is a horror movie titled Leprechaun, if you’re into that sort of thing. I think that’s just wrong. (Besides, what kind of Irish name is Lubdan Buttowski?)
Meanwhile, wishing you and yours “Leprechauns, castles, good luck and laughter…”