It is nearly St. Patrick’s Day, the one day when all the world is Irish. It is also a time for leprechauns, those sneaky little pranksters of Hibernian legend. Where did they come from, and who are they?
Most of us have formed our perception of leprechauns from TV, the big screen, and a cereal box; The smiling imp on a box of Lucky Charms was likely the first leprechaun you encountered. Maybe you are a fan of the Boston Celtics or the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame and their mascots. Or perhaps, you envision the leprechaun from the horror movie franchise of the same name.
These modern leprechauns are spokesmen for commercial enterprises, not the cobblers and bankers of ballad and legend.
Origins of Leprechauns and Their Name
Anyone who tells you they know exactly where leprechauns came from or even the source of their name is either older than dirt or sorely mistaken. Just do an online search, and you will find several lengthy explanations for both.
Between the 12th and 15th centuries, leprechauns were believed to have lived initially underwater. Some say they descend from the ancient race Tuatha De Danann that inhabited Ireland before humans. Most mythological Irish figures like leprechauns and other fairies are believed to have descended from this ancient race.
There are other theories, to be sure. However, by all accounts, leprechauns are fairies, and there are no female leprechauns.
The origin of their name, leprechaun, is equally vague and varied. One possibility is the eighth-century word luchorpán, meaning pygmy or sprite. Other options include Lú Chorpain, an old Irish word for small body, and leath bhrógan, or Shoemaker, is another obvious contender.
There are many more possibilities for both, but you get the point.
Shoemakers and Bankers
Leprechauns are said to be the best cobblers of all time. You can hear the constant tapping of their hammer as they toil away. They are paid handsomely for their fine craftsmanship, which explains their great wealth hidden at the end of a rainbow.
Leprechauns are fine craftsmen and manage great wealth, making them the ideal banker for the fairy world. They watch over the wealth of the realm to protect the treasure of frivolous fairies and other nymphs.
The Santa Claus Connection
Long ago, Santa Claus heard tell of the leprechauns’ incredible skill and craftsmanship and invited them to help in his workshop. A lot of leprechauns did go, spending many years assisting Santa and his elves.
One year, shortly before Christmas, these sneaky little tricksters decided to prank the big guy and hid all of the presents set to be delivered on Christmas Eve. In the morning, Santa found them laughing hilariously about their joke, but the laughter stopped when it was discovered that all the presents were destroyed by a storm overnight.
There was no time to replace the gifts, and, as a result, Santa Claus was forced to banish the leprechauns from the North Pole forever.
To Catch a Trickster
Leprechauns are as accomplished at tricks and pranks as they are making shoes. This trait is especially evident when they are captured.
It is said that if you catch a leprechaun, he will grant you three wishes for his release. Many a story tells of these wee-folk tricking their human captors into confounding wishes, like Seamus of County Mayo.
Seamus wished to be the richest man on a warm and sunny tropical island, only to find himself alone, on a lovely tropical island with nowhere to spend his wealth. This is the moral of the leprechauns’ story; trying to get rich quick is a fallacy, stealing and greed are wrong and destructive, and most of all, never mess with a leprechaun.
But, for those of you brave enough to risk the encounter, a quick online search will produce numerous concepts for leprechaun traps. These usually involve a shoebox and something shiny like gold to attract the little pranksters.
Alternately, you can travel to Ireland’s Carlingford Mountain, where the only physical remains of a leprechaun are said to have been found, and join the annual leprechaun hunt. People from around the world travel there each year to search for the 100 ceramic leprechauns hidden on the mountain for the event.
Your St. Patrick’s Day
It’s time to prepare for this year’s celebration. Make sure you have all the necessary equipment at the ready. Take a look at these new arrivals at Patriots Cave, and get everything you need for your Black & Tans and your Jamison to guarantee a genuinely great St. Patrick’s Day.
No matter how you plan on celebrating St. Patrick’s Day 2021, make sure to keep an eye out for those little bearded men in their green suits with gold buttons. You never know where one might be, so keep your wits about you and don’t be deceived by their guile.