Every mid-March, the world turns green and the mythical leprechaun is in the thick of it. Known the world round, a leprechaun is defined as a type of solitary fairy that hides in the hollows, caves and tree trunks of Ireland bestowing wishes and wealth upon those who are lucky enough to find and catch him. Don’t look away once you have him, though – he’ll vanish in a flash, leaving you empty handed and forlorn … or so the legends go.
Tales of the leprechaun emerged in the Celtic life of the 8th century with the earliest known reference being found in the medieval tale “Echtra Fergus mac Leti” or “Adventure of Fergus son of Leti.” In the story, Fergus falls asleep on a beach and wakes up while being dragged to the sea by three leprechauns. Fergus captures the trio and in exchange for their release, they grant him three wishes.
“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? He’s a span and a quarter in height. Get him in sight, hold him tight, and you’re made!”
– William Allingham (1824-1889)
The name for the tiny sprites is thought to come from the word luchorpan meaning “very small body.” That makes sense, as leprechauns are believed to be small in stature – say, two feet tall or so. They have the looks of an old bearded man and are typically dressed in a green suit and hat. Contrary to popular belief however, their attire wasn’t always green. Long ago, it was thought that leprechauns wore a suit of red and over the years it was changed to more reflect the land of their home, the Emerald Isle, Ireland. Cobblers by trade, leprechauns are adept at two things: making shoes and causing mischief – playing small tricks on those who pursue them. It is also believed that leprechauns hold their own pot o’ gold hidden at the end of a rainbow and only through the capture of one of the wily creatures will you find it.
If you ever find yourself in a bountiful green forest and hear a light, rhythmic hammering or clicking sound breaking the silence, keep your eyes peeled. If you’re lucky enough, you might get your hands on a little mischief-maker … and perhaps, your own pot of gold.
Happy St. Patty’s Day!