Throughout the years, cultures develop their own beliefs and mythological tales. Some of these tales keep on descending to the younger generations for years; for very long years.
The length of these years can actually result in losing the sources behind the myths and legends.
Above and beyond, there are times when the thin line between the truth and mythology become blurry. That’s when people tend to forget what wasn’t real and start having the impulse to believe unreal stories, including the leprechauns.
Ireland is one country that has been popular for having extraordinarily imaginative tales. Some of them are only popular in Ireland while others the world is quite familiar with.
One of these Irish tales is the Leprechauns. Lots of people know what the Leprechauns are, but very few do know the origin and the sources of those creatures. They managed to stand in the hall of fame by making appearances in Hollywood movies and stories of other cultures.
THE IRISH MYTHOLOGY
Mythology is a part of every culture. It makes up a lot of its traditions and beliefs. Even if lots of traditions and customs may change over time, the old ones keep coming back. They either come in the form of an unbreakable habit or laughter that people share.
The ancient history of Ireland involves a wide array of legends and myths. Some of them were quite tragic while others were interestingly exciting. The legend of leprechauns seems to be more interesting than tragic. Lots of cultures have come to terms with the existence of these creatures and included them in some of their movies and stories.
Going back to Ireland’s history and its popularity of fantastic legends, some stories have actually taken their toll on the country. For example, one of Ireland’s famous legends was the Children of Lir. It’s a tragic story of young kids who were transformed into swans by their evil stepmother. People who know this story would understand the special treatment that swans get in Ireland. Besides the legends, Ireland possesses many castles that are quite mesmerizing.
No matter how famous a legend is, it can definitely undergo several changes. The origin of the story will not be that different. However, the plot may include slight changes and the endings as well. The same goes for the legend of the Leprechauns. Shortly, you’ll realize that you may have seen a leprechaun at least for once.
WHAT IS THE LEPRECHAUN?
A Leprechaun is a specific kind of fairy that has always existed in the folklore of Ireland. The portrayal of these fairies usually involves men with heavy beards and tiny bodies. Also, they are usually wearing a coat, most often green coloured, and a hat.
Unfortunately, those tiny creatures aren’t the type of fairies that have pixie dust and good hearts. Conversely, they are the ones who get pleasure from engaging in damaging behaviours and harm.
According to the Irish folklore, Leprechauns are not sociable creatures. They prefer spending time on their own to mend and make shoes; the latter seem to be their greatest passion. One more thing that has evolved within the belief of those tiny-bodied creatures is that they hide a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Since they are fairies, they are capable of granting wishes. The folklore says that if a human happens to capture one of them, the leprechaun will have to grant him three wishes. Once these wishes came to reality, the leprechaun is free to go.
Although Irish history gets confusing sometimes, most of the tales seem to belong to the mythological cycle. This cycle is the one from which the Tuatha Dé Danann belonged. It is said that the leprechauns derive from the Tuatha De Danann, just like most of the other Irish fairies.
THE TUATHA DE DANANN
The Tuatha De Danann appears in so many legends in the Irish mythology. You may as well feel like they make an appearance in all of them, so who exactly are they?
Well, the Tuatha De Danann is a tribe according to the Irish mythology. They were an Irish race that existed during the ancient times of Ireland. They were supernatural people who lived in Ireland long before Christianity came to being. To this race, a lot of the most prominent characters in Irish mythology have belonged. That, includes the little fairy creature, the leprechaun.
The name “Tuatha De Danann” means the tribe of god. Those people used to firmly believe in God. More precisely, Danann wasn’t the Irish equivalent of the general word “God”. It actually refers to the name of the Goddess that those people used to believe in.
Her name was either said as Dana or Danu. The legends and stories behind Dana were not that clear; she had not made an appearance in my ancient myths and legends. Conversely, that does not change the fact that she was the Goddess of Tuatha De Danann.
The Origin of the Tuatha De Danann
The Tuatha De Danann was one of the leading races in the Irish folklore. It embraced a lot, if not all, of the well-known Irish characters. Definitely, that includes the Leprechaun creature. Despite being one of the most dominant races in ancient Ireland, the Tuatha De Danann descended from other prominent races.
Long before they existed, the Nemeds happened to take over. The Nemeds were the ancestors of the Tuatha De Danann. This analysis shone out, for they both seem to come for the very same cities. Every race in the Irish folklore has an origin and a hometown.
For the Tuatha De Danann, they were four different cities. Those cities were home to the two races. They all lied in the northern part of Ireland. These cities were including Falias, Gorias, Murias, and Finias.
ETYMOLOGY OF THE WORD LEPRECHAUNS
It is understandable that legends and myths always include unrealistic creatures, whether they are fairies, monsters, or any other form of inhumane creatures. Well, when the little fairies came into being.
They were imagined in a certain form, but what escorted whoever came up with the idea of them to name them as leprechauns? It doesn’t necessarily mean that the person who invented them was the same one giving them that term. The point is; there is definitely an etymology of this word and it explains why they were named so.
The word leprechauns is derived from an Irish word, leipreachán. According to Patrick Dinneen, this word means an elf or a fairy. The original derivation of this word seems to be missing.
However, lots of sources anticipated that this word may highly be derived from the Middle Irish word, luchrupán. The word is a compound of two words; lu, which means small, and corp, meaning body.
CREATURES RELATED TO THE LEPRECHAUNS
While some sources state that they belong to the Tuatha De Danann, others seem to have different opinions. Basically, they were not human beings, but they had the appearance of them.
Sources say that these fairies have something to do with two other creatures; the clurichauns and the far darrig. The two mentioned creatures are, sometimes, confused with leprechauns.
In some cases, the word leprechaun is more commonly used even when referring to the other related creatures, just because the word sounds more familiar to people. Moreover, the confusion of the appearance of the little fairies may be highly contributed to the mistake of the other creatures.
The clurichaun is another fairy creature that belongs to Ireland. It pretty much resembles the leprechaun that even in some folklore tales, the clurichaun is described as a nocturnal leprechaun.
The tales narrate the clurichaun is the creature that the leprechaun become at night after he drinks to call it a day. The confusion is mainly due to the fact that almost all of the tales depict the clurichauns as drunken creatures. On the other hand, there are fables that describe the clurichauns as skilful dogs and sheep riders; they enjoy riding these animals at night.
Tales have it that how the clurichauns treat your wine says a lot about their relationship with you. In other words, clurichauns are friendly whenever you treat them well; they will even protect your wine cellar. Conversely, mistreat them and chaos will be the destiny of your wine stock.
Earliest Appearance of the Clurichauns in the Irish Folklore
The first appearance of the clurichaun was in the book, Four Different Faces by C.J. Cala. The creature appeared in the first story of the book as a prominent character and its name was Kweequel.
Other references to the clurichaun creatures include being a regular character, under the name, Cluracan, in the comic series of Neil Gaiman. The appearances also include The Sandman and its derivative series, The Dreaming.
Their Outer Appearance
Despite their great resemblance to the leprechauns, the clurichauns are usually depicted as tall, rather than short fairies. Tales say that they are blond and elegant too although they are always drunk.
In 1855, Nicholas O’Kearney describes the fairies as follows: “The Clobhair-ceann was another being of the same class: he was a jolly, red-faced, drunken little fellow, and was ever found in the cellars of the debauchee, Bacchus-like, astride of the wine butt with brimful tankard in hand, drinking and singing away merrily. Any wine-cellar known to be haunted by this sprite was doomed to bring its owner to speedy ruin.”
A far darrig is another popular fairy in Irish mythology. In Old Irish, fear dearg is the common name of this creature. It literally means the Red Man. The reason behind the name is that the folklorist always portrayed the far darrig, or the fear dearg, wearing a red coat and a cap.
There is definitely a link between them and the leprechauns; however, all of those fairies creatures aren’t human beings. But, the leprechauns look more humane than the far darrig.
Besides being red men, they were also, in some cases, called the Rat Boys. These creatures had tails and were rather fat with hairy skin and a dark complexion. Just like their fellow creatures, they enjoy performing mischievous behaviour.
Where the Creature First Appeared
The rat-like creature made an appearance in more than a few books. These books include the Merry Gentry series, by Laurell K. Hamilton, where the far darrig appeared in the Divine Misdemeanors, in particular.
In this plot, he asked Merry to give him a suitable name. The red fairy also appeared in the book series, Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon as well as the book, Shattered, which is part of The Iron of Druid Chronicles.
In the latter tale, the far darrig attacks the main character and the plot involves a description of it as a creature with a face of a rat wearing a red coat. Aside from the books, this creature also appeared in a video game, Folklore.
It was a trending game for the PlayStation 3 game console. The creature appears with the name Fir Darrig and its role in the game is to give out missions.
THE DEPICTION OF THE LEPRECHAUNS
Well, when it comes to describing a leprechaun, there have been multiple descriptions. It has always differed according to each person; they get to decide how to portray them, but, in the end, there were a trait or two, or even more, that most of the portrayers shared in common.
On the other hand, the depiction here is not in terms of appearance, it is in terms of how they act, what they love, and what they were around for.
The common portrayal of leprechauns included them being solitary creatures who enjoy making and mending shoes throughout their lives. They also love practical jokes and, according to several tales, they were wealthy and they hid a treasure box at the end of the rainbow.
Conversely, some poets and authors have other perspectives regarding those tiny creatures. William Butler Yeats- an Irish poet- believed that those fairies were insanely wealthy for a reason. He believed that the reason lied in the “treasure-crocks, buried of old in war-time.”
When it comes to David Russell McAnally, the author of Irish Wonders, he tended to believe that those leprechauns were sons of an evil spirit and a wicked fairy and that made them neither wholly good nor the other way around.
Their Appearance in the Irish Folklore
Despite their fame in most cultures, leprechauns seem to appear in the Irish mythology the least frequently. They have been popular in folklore since ancient times.
However, their existence was not of any significance. It was only later that these creatures became prominent. Despite them being popular or not, they had a different appearance depending on the Irish city they came from.
Above and beyond, authors and poets seemed to have different opinions regarding the attires of the leprechauns, but they shared the similarity of the dominant colours of clothes that those creatures wore. These colours were mainly either green or red. During ancient times, red was a more common colour when it comes to the attires of the leprechauns. Later, green became more popular for some reason.
According to the Irish author, Samuel Lover, he included in one of his writings in 1831 that the leprechauns wore red. The following quote is an excerpt of his writings in which he described the appearance of the leprechauns.
“… quite a beau in his dress, notwithstanding, for he wears a red square-cut coat, richly laced with gold, and inexpressible of the same, cocked hat, shoes and buckles.”
William Butler Yeats
Yeats had a different opinion regarding the outfits of the little creatures. He believed that those solitary creatures, the leprechauns, wore red jackets while the Trooping Fairies- supposedly creatures that resembled them a bit- wore green and that was where the confusion came from. Yeats described their jackets as attires that had seven rows of buttons. Besides, he stated in one of his writings that, in Ulster, these creatures wear an elevated hat on which they jump to a wall and swirl. They do so and balance themselves on the point of the hat while letting their heels in the air; those gestures meant they were up to something wicked.
David Russell McAnally
McAnally’s opinion seemed to pretty much resemble that of Yeats. He stated that they wore little red jackets with grey or black stocking and a hat. Again, despite the tiny size of those creatures, their faces had wrinkles and they looked old and waned.
Since the leprechauns’ appearance differs according to the region they come from, McAnally depicted how each leprechaun from each region nearly looked like. The depictions included all of the following ones:
- Leprechauns that came from the Northern side of Ireland wore a military red coat that had white breeches. They also wore pointed hats on which they stand with their heels in the air.
- A Tipperary leprechaun wore “an antique slashed jacket of red, with peaks all round and a jockey cap, also sporting a sword, which he uses as a magic wand”.
- Monaghan’s leprechauns wore red coats along with a green vest with white breeches and black stockings. They also had shiny shoes on and long hats that they used as weapons.
William Allingham was an Irish poet that had multiple poems during the 18th century. He had a poem called The Lepracaun, which literally meant the fairy shoemaker. The latter sometimes referred to the poem as well. In this poem, he described the little fairies as follows:
“A wrinkled, wizen’d, and bearded Elf,
Spectacles stuck on his pointed nose, Silver buckles to his hose,
Leather apron — shoe in his lap”
The Modern Portrayal
Apparently, red was the common attire associated with the little fairies in the ancient tales. However, the modern image had changed a bit, portraying them as creatures that have red beards and wear green hats. We can say that the modern version is a mixture of the beliefs of different regions.
THE EARLIEST REFERENCE TO THE LEPRECHAUNS IN THE IRISH LEGEND
The tiny fairy creatures appeared for the very first time in a medieval tale that was quite popular in Ireland.
This tale was the Echtra Fergus Mac Leti; it means the Adventure of Fergus, Son of Leti. We’ll get into more details later regarding the meaning of this word in Irish mythology and all about the story.
Briefly, the leprechauns came to life after this particular tale; it was a story about the King of Ulster, Fergus, who fell asleep while he was on the beach. Upon waking up, he realized that three of those creatures were dragging his body into the sea.
Abruptly breaking free, he captured the three of them and they had to offer him to grant three of his wishes, so he could let them go.
Meaning of the Word, Echtra
In Old Irish literature, the word Echtra was a category. This category was about the adventures of a hero that existed in the otherworld. Echtra was actually one of the genres that were quite popular in the literature of old Ireland.
The plot of the Echtra always involves a hero that a beautiful maiden invites to the otherworld. In some cases, a great warrior is the one who gets to invite the hero. Once the invitation gets to the hero, he must cross the western ocean or a mystically fogged plain.
The end of the Echtra story and the fate of the hero depend on the tale; it actually differs from one to another.
The hero’s fate in every version is different. Some versions have the hero stay among the sidhe and Tuatha De Dannan and others have him return to his hometown with gifts and the new knowledge he acquired.
Moreover, there were times when the hero thought the time stopped when actually centuries have passed. In the tale Voyage of Bran, the hero tells his tales to folks on a shore before he sails off while in another popular tale, the hero touches the ground and finds himself ageing rapidly. He tells Saint Patrick his story and converts to Christianity before his death.
Fergus Mac Leti
After learning about the meaning of the word Echtra, it is about time to go back to the source that led to mentioning all of those talks, the leprechauns. The little fairies first appeared in the eEhtra Fergus Mac Leti.
The latter was the king of Ulster, according to the Irish legend. He ruled only the southern part of the city, Ulster. At some point throughout the plot, Fergus mac Leti meets one of the little bodied creatures. They try to drag him to the sea while he fell asleep on the shore, but they failed.
Fergus would not let the three little creatures go unless they grant him his three wishes. His first wish was to be capable of breathing underwater. He had what he asked for. On one fine day, he encountered a sea monster that he couldn’t get away from. Fergus didn’t die, but his face was deformed and that would take away the kingship from him.
However, the Ulsterman did not want Fergus overthrown, so they took away all of the mirrors to preclude him from learning about his deformity. Eventually, he learnt the truth from a serving girl who he whipped and she had to burst out the truth out of anger.
THE ORIGINAL STORY OF THE FAIRY CREATURES
Well, it may be confusing; the fact that the leprechauns have appeared in more than a few tales yet they don’t have their own. Whether they have their own story or not, they possess special traits that no one else possesses.
Besides, they were not very popular until modern times. You may find yourself hearing a lot about them in the middle of March. Why? Because it is the month on which Saint Patrick Day falls; the day where everyone seems Irish.
What is Saint Patrick Day?
It is an Irish public and national holiday that is held on the 17th of March. It is also the day on which St. Patrick died, so the day has to be a memorable one, for Saint Patrick was the prime patron saint of Ireland. Some people also refer to that day by the Feast of Saint Patrick. They celebrate the cultural and religious norms of the country on that day.
Saint Patrick was the one who allowed the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. However, the celebration is not limited to religious purposes. It also includes celebrating the heritage and culture of Ireland in general.
Consequently, you get to hear about the leprechauns on that day, for they are part of the heritage and legends. The celebration of that day also includes appreciating the shamrock leaves.
The latter was a three-leave plant that Saint Patrick used to explain the trinity to the Irish pagans during ancient times. Besides, wearing green on that day is a traditional norm, too. Leprechauns were believed to have worn green attires along with a green pointed hat.
The Leprechauns’ Story
More than a few sources have linked the leprechauns to the Tuatha De Danann, but looking back at the very beginning of their existence, you’ll find different tales.
There were lands on which the dwarfs, hobbits, and elves peacefully resided together. They intermarried and, as a result, a new race came into being. This race is what we now call the leprechauns.
Again, they were solitary creatures, but in spite of all the tales about them, their message was to help the poor. Their kindness does not change the fact that they were highly skilled at betrayal and deception.
Collaborating with Santa Claus
Santa Claus learnt about the little creatures’ friendliness and their exceptional skills at crafts work. He invited them to work at his massive workshop.
As a result, a great number of the leprechauns and elves left to the North Pole and they remained Santa’s working crew for years and years.
Alas, the leprechauns’ troublemaking nature took over on one of the Christmas seasons. A few days before it was the high time of Christmas Eve, while their elves fellows fell asleep, they stole the toys that Santa stored away for Christmas and hid them.
The next day while they were loudly laughing, they confessed to Bon-Tilith, the Chief, what they did. The place which they hid the toys turned into ashes due to a terrible storm that hit the place and none of the toys remained.
Definitely, there was not enough time to get more toys and deliver them on time. Christmas was destroyed and that was a very sad and rare incident. Santa was upset and overwhelmed. He had to banish the leprechauns from the North Pole for good.
Leprechauns’ Lives after the Banishment
They left the North Pole to Greenland then to Iceland. Word had rapidly travelled; it was, in fact, faster than they thought, so no one actually wanted to have them work or stay around.
Above and beyond, leprechauns were not very abundant, so they looked very strange to other folks around the world. Eventually, they resided in the Northern parts and mourned their bad luck.
After a while, they decided to co-operate together and dedicate their lives to doing good deeds and helping others. That way, they thought they would make up for the horrible mistake they have done.
They decided to steal only to help the poor, so they came up with a ridiculous story about the existence of a gold pot at the end of the rainbow.
To do that, they told this story to the wealthy and rich people who were willing to listen. However, they always gave promises of guiding these rich people to the place of the pot of the gold, convincing them that they can have it, but they asked for payment for their services.
The payment was usually gold, expensive materials, or toys. However, it was one of their scams and silly tricks. In no time, they became the richest and most wealthy creatures all around the globe.
Interestingly, there has been a disease that is linked to the traits of the leprechauns. It is rare, but it exists. Afar from its scientific name, some people refer to it as leprechaunism.
The scientific term for this disease is Donohue syndrome. It is an extremely rare disorder in which the body starts resisting insulin insanely. This resistance may result in peculiar features, including delays in the body growth and dysfunction of the endocrine system. Babies who get this disorder may experience extremely low weight, a relatively larger head or face in comparison to the body, and enlargement of the genital organs.
OTHER FUN AND INTERESTING FACTS
The whole thing about leprechauns is quite interesting. They are thought-provoking creatures. Learning about them is fun and learning about the fact that there is a disease linked to them in the real world is even more fun. If you are still up to knowing more and more fun facts about them, check the following list.
- THEY ARE ONLY ONE-GENDERED
- Leprechauns have always been males. There is not a tale where the leprechaun was a female. The reason behind this fact is unknown; however, there are some sources that state that leprechauns are unwanted fairies. Their community tossed them away and only kept the other regular fairies.
- THEY ARE ACTUALLY FAIRIES
- We have already mentioned this fact before. They are fairy creature, except that they do not match the standard descriptions of fairies. Their difference won’t change the fact that they descend from the fairies family.
- Maybe that is why some sources claim that their community tossed away for being different fairies. Other legends state that these mythical fairies descend from the race of the Tuatha De Danann and they used to inhabit Ireland long before the humans did.
- THE EUROPEAN LAW PROTECTS THEM
- In the Caverns of Carlington Mountain, around 236 leprechauns reside there. There is a law that state that they are protected and kept in a sanctuary that exists in the mountain. They exist along with other biodiverse nature, including several types of animals and flora.
- LEPRECHAUNS ARE ORIGINALLY GODS
- Again, the origin of the leprechauns keeps getting complicated. Some sources claim that these fairy creatures derive from an Irish deity, Lugh, who was the god of Sun, Arts, and Crafts. Lugh kept on being a divine figure until Christianity rose in Ireland. That was when his importance started to fade away and be downgraded to a less-end status by becoming a shoe-maker.
- THEY AREN’T ALWAYS THE BAD GUYS
- Leprechauns are famous for being sneaky and tricky. In every tale you read about them, you’ll find the characters whining about those little scammers. However, they can be kind at other times, too. This takes place in very rare incidents, but it still happens. When a person is kind to them, they spontaneously reveal their generous side. There was a tale where a nobleman offered a leprechaun a ride. In return, the leprechaun painted the man’s place’s ceiling with gold.
- PORTLAND, OREGAN HAS A LEPRECHAUN COLONY
- A journalist once noticed a small hole in which he made use of. He added flowers and miniature signs that state that the little place is the smallest park around the world. He started writing stories in a newspaper about this little spot. All of his stories were a collection of a leprechaun’s adventure. One day, the real place became a public city park where people celebrate the St. Patrick Day.
- ENCOURAGEMENT OF THE LEPRECHAUN COSTUMES
- On Saint Patrick Day, you get to wear green attires and recall of the Irish heritage and legends. Since the modern portrayal of leprechauns involves green attires, marathons on March the 17th encourage people to dress like a leprechaun. They do it for a good cause; they help raise money for charity while celebrating the festive day and keeping the Irish legends live. After all, being a leprechaun is not always about tricks and scams; it could be all for the good deeds as well.
- THE BEST IN THE COBBLING BUSINESS
- A leprechaun loves spending most of the time on his own. Besides, those little creatures are famous for their insane wealth. Some sources claim that their wealth goes back to their exceptional skills in crafting shoes or their brilliance in performing tricks and scams. However, other sources claimed that the reason behind the wealth of every leprechaun is the fact that they are the creatures that protect the treasures of the fairy world.
- MAKING A LEPRECHAUN TRAP IS AN ACTIVITY
- On Saint Patrick’s Day, there are definitely a lot of activities to participate in and enjoy your time. However, this March, bear in mind trying to set a trap for a leprechaun and do it with your little kids for extra fun. Well, after all, you have learnt about a leprechaun, it must be quite guessable how to lure them. Exactly, a shoebox or something shiny that looks like real gold will do the trick. You will find a bunch of little men gathering around your genius trap. But, just for your information; they are sneaky creatures and capturing them is not as easy as it sounds. In all tales, no one has ever captured a leprechaun easily. Anyways, it does not hurt to try your luck and use different methods to do so.
- THE ANNUAL LEPRECHAUN HUNT
- As we previously stated, the Carlingford Mountain in Ireland embraces a reasonable number of real leprechauns, as people claim. One day, a businessman found traces of a real leprechaun; they included bones, little suit, and gold coins. The mountain authorities kept the evidence behind a glass for visitors to behold. This has led to a new tradition where 100 ceramic leprechauns get hidden in the mountain as a ritual of an annual hunt. Tourists come and pay every year, trying to hunt down those little creatures for fun.
It seems that there is a pool of tales about those fun little creatures. There are also a bunch of movies that feature the leprechauns, so indulge in watching some, or even all, of them for spending some fun time. On a final note – we have seen the spellings of these creatures change depending on region or country, some call them leperchauns, some leprachauns, others leprechsuns, leperchans or even lepercons 🙂 No matter what they are called – they are all the same.
Check out some of our other blog posts that you might find interesting: Toasts of Ireland | Children of Lir | Fairy Glen | The Banshee | Irish Legends and Tales | Legendary Irish Castles | Gaelic Ireland.