The name leprechaun is derived from the Irish word leipreachán, defined by Patrick Dinneen as "a pigmy, a sprite, or leprechaun". The further derivation is less certain; according to most sources, the word is thought to be a corruption of Middle Irish luchrupán, from the Old Irish luchorpán, a compound of the roots lú (small) and corp (body). The root corp, which was borrowed from the Latin corpus, attests to the early influence of Ecclesiastical Latin on the Irish language. The alternative spelling leithbrágan stems from a folk etymology deriving the word from leith (half) and bróg (brogue), because of the frequent portrayal of the leprechaun as working on a single shoe.
Alternative spellings in English have included lubrican, leprehaun, and lepreehawn. Some modern Irish books use the spelling lioprachán. The first recorded instance of the word in the English language was in Dekker's comedy The Honest Whore, Part 2 (1604): "As for your Irish lubrican, that spirit / Whom by preposterous charms thy lust hath rais'd / In a wrong circle."
The earliest known reference to the leprechaun appears in the medieval tale known as the Echtra Fergus mac Léti (English: Adventure of Fergus son of Léti). The text contains an episode in which Fergus mac Léti, King of Ulster, falls asleep on the beach and wakes to find himself being dragged into the sea by three lúchorpáin. He captures his abductors, who grant him three wishes in exchange for release.
The leprechaun is said to be a solitary creature, whose principal occupation is making and mending shoes, and who enjoys practical jokes. According to William Butler Yeats, the great wealth of these fairies comes from the "treasure-crocks, buried of old in war-time", which they have uncovered and appropriated. According to McAnally the leprechaun is the son of an "evil spirit" and a "degenerate fairy" and is "not wholly good nor wholly evil".
AppearanceEditThe leprechaun originally had a different appearance depending on where in Ireland he was found. Prior to the 20th century, it was generally held that the leprechaun wore red, not green. Samuel Lover, writing in 1831, describes the leprechaun as,
... 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. According to Yeats, the solitary fairies, like the leprechaun, wear red jackets, whereas the "trooping fairies" wear green. The leprechaun's jacket has seven rows of buttons with seven buttons to each row. On the western coast, he writes, the red jacket is covered by a frieze one, and in Ulster the creature wears a cocked hat, and when he is up to anything unusually mischievous, he leaps on to a wall and spins, balancing himself on the point of the hat with his heels in the air."
According to McAnally, "He is about three feet high, and is dressed in a little red jacket or roundabout, with red breeches buckled at the knee, gray or black stockings, and a hat, cocked in the style of a century ago, over a little, old, withered face. Round his neck is an Elizabethan ruff, and frills of lace are at his wrists. On the wild west coast, where the Atlantic winds bring almost constant rains, he dispenses with ruff and frills and wears a frieze overcoat over his pretty red suit, so that, unless on the lookout for the cocked hat, ye might pass a Leprechawn on the road and never know it's himself that's in it at all." This dress could vary by region, however. In McAnally's account there were differences between leprechauns or Logherymans from different regions:
- The Northern Leprechaun or Logheryman wore a "military red coat and white breeches, with a broad-brimmed, high, pointed hat, on which he would sometimes stand upside down".
- The Lurigadawne of Tipperary 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".
- The Luricawne of Kerry was a "fat, pursy little fellow whose jolly round face rivals in redness the cut-a-way jacket he wears, that always has seven rows of seven buttons in each row".
- The Cluricawne of Monaghan wore "a swallow-tailed evening coat of red with green vest, white breeches, black stockings," shiny shoes, and a "long cone hat without a brim," sometimes used as a weapon.
In a poem entitled The Lepracaun; or, Fairy Shoemaker, 18th century Irish poet William Allingham describes the appearance of the leprechaun as: ...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 image of the leprechaun sitting on a toadstool, red beard, green hat, etc., are clearly inventions or borrowed from European folklore.
The cluricaun is often confused with the leprechaun. The leprechaun is related to the clurichaun and the far darrig in that he is a solitary creature. Some writers even go as far as to substitute these second two less well-known spirits for the leprechaun in stories or tales to reach a wider audience. The cluricaun is considered by some to be merely a leprechaun on a spree.
Solitary dwarf male faery wearing an emerald green frock coat and green tri-cornered hats and bestowed with the knowledge of the location of buried treasure, often in a crock of gold. Infamous hoarders, they are loathe to spend a single penny, which probably explains their poor appearance in spite of their great wealth.
The leprechaun originally had a different appearance depending on where in Ireland he was found. Prior to the 20th century, it was generally agreed that the leprechaun wore red and not green. Samuel Lover, writing in the 1831 describes the leprechaun as,
- ... quite a beau in his dress, notwithstanding, for he wears a red square-cut coat, richly laced with gold, waistcoat and inexpressible of the same, cocked hat, shoes and buckles.
Yeats, in his 1888 book entitled Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry describes the leprechaun as follows:
He is something of a dandy, and dresses in a red coat with seven rows of buttons, seven buttons on each row, and wears a cocked-hat, upon whose pointed end he is wont in the north-eastern counties, according to McAnally, to spin like a top when the fit seizes him.
In a poem entitled The Lepracaun; or, Fairy Shoemaker, the 18th century Irish poet William Allingham describes the appearance of the leprechaun as:
- ...A wrinkled, wizen'd, and bearded Elf,
- Spectacles stuck on his pointed nose,
- Silver buckles to his hose,
- Leather apron - shoe in his lap...
Some commentators accuse Allingham of leaving the legacy of the modern image of the leprechaun described below.
Music, dancing, fox hunting, and drinking Irish whiskey are said to be the Leprechauns' favorite pastimes. Once a leprachaun begins dancing to a human's song, it is said that he cannot stop until the tune ceases. His exhausted state may cause him to make outlandish offers, including his crock of gold, if you will please only allow him to stop dancing. Other means of finding his gold include looking at the end of a rainbow, which may lead him offer 3 wishes in exchange for his treasure. His promises of gold alway proves hollow, as the Leprechaun always employs clever tricks in his granting of wishes, often resulting in the embarrassment or injury to the one who expected a bounteous reward.
According to legend, If caught by a mortal, he will promise great wealth if allowed to go free. He carries two leather pouches. In one there is a silver shilling, a magical coin that returns to the purse each time it is paid out. In the other he carries a gold coin which he uses to try and bribe his way out of difficult situations. This coin usually turns to leaves or ashes once the leprechaun has parted with it. However, you must never take your eye off him, for he can vanish in an instant.
According to legend, if anyone keeps an eye fixed upon one, he cannot escape, but the moment the eye is withdrawn he vanishes.
Leprechauns and other creatures of Irish mythology are often associated with "faerie forts" or "faerie rings", often the sites of ancient (Celtic or pre-Celtic) earthworks or drumlins. They are also said to dwell at springs in wild areas with large grassy hills, sometimes in cellars.
By nature, leprechauns are said to be ill-natured and mischievous, with a mind for cunning. Many tales present the leprechaun as outwitting a human. Although rarely seen in social situations, leprechauns are supposedly very well spoken and, if ever spoken to, could make good conversation.
They usually take the form of old men who enjoy partaking in mischief. Their trade is that of a cobbler or shoemaker but their clientele is limited to the faery world and they only work on one shoe. They are said to be very rich, having many treasure crocks buried during war-time.
Some folk traditions hold that the leprechauns are descended from the Tuatha de Danann. When the Milesians came to Ireland (according to the Book of Invasions) they conquered the Tuatha de Danann and forced them to live under ground (this connects them to the aes-sidhe).
When Christianity took religious precedence, this may have brought about the decline of importance (and thus, size) of the leprechauns.
Leprechauns rarely appear in what would be classed as a folk tale; in almost all cases the interest of these stories centres round a human hero. Stories about leprechauns are generally very brief and generally have local names and scenery attached to them. The tales are usually told conversationally as any other occurrence might be told, whereas there is a certain solemnity about the repetition of a folk-tale proper.
Examples of tales involving leprechaunsEdit
A farmer or young lad captures a leprechaun and forces him to reveal the location of his buried treasure. The leprechaun assures him that the treasure is buried in an open field beneath a particular ragwort plant. The farmer ties a red ribbon to the plant, first extracting a promise from the leprechaun not to remove the ribbon. Releasing the leprechaun, he leaves to get a shovel. Upon his return he finds that every weed in the field has been tied with an identical red ribbon, thus making it impossible to find the treasure.
In another story, a young girl finds a leprechaun and bids him show her the location of his buried money. She takes him up in her hand and sets out to find the treasure, but all of a sudden she hears a loud buzzing behind her. The leprechaun shouts at her that she is being chased by a swarm of bees, but when she looks around there are no bees and the leprechaun has vanished.
In other stories they are told of riding shepherds' dogs through the night, leaving the dogs exhausted and dirty in the morning.
The Field of BoliaunsEdit
NE fine day in harvest--it was indeed Lady-day in harvest, that everybody knows to be one of the greatest holidays in the year--Tom Fitzpatrick was taking a ramble through the ground, and went along the sunny side of a hedge; when all of a sudden he heard a clacking sort of noise a little before him in the hedge.
"Dear me," said Tom, "but isn't it surprising to hear the stonechatters singing so late in the season?" So Tom stole on, going on the tops of his toes to try if he could get a sight of what was making the noise, to see if he was right in his guess. The noise stopped; but as Tom looked sharply through the bushes, what should he see in a nook of the hedge but a brown pitcher, that might hold about a gallon and a half of liquor; and by-and-by a little wee teeny tiny bit of an old man, with a little motty of a cocked hat stuck upon the top of his head, a deeshy daushy leather apron hanging before him, pulled out a little wooden stool, and stood up upon it, and dipped a little piggin into the pitcher, and took out the full of it, and put it beside the stool, and then sat down under the pitcher, and began to work at putting a heel-piece on a bit of a brogue just fit for himself.
"Well, by the powers," said Tom to himself, "I often heard tell of the Lepracauns, and, to tell God's truth, I never rightly believed in them--but here's one of them in real earnest. If I go knowingly to work, I'm a made man. They say a body must never take their eyes off them, or they'll escape.Tom now stole on a little further, with his eye fixed on the little man just as a cat does with a mouse. So when he got up quite close to him, "God bless your work, neighbour," said Tom.The little man raised up his head, and "Thank you kindly," said he.
"I wonder you'd be working on the holiday!" said Tom.
"That's my own business, not yours," was the reply.
"Well, may be you'd be civil enough to tell us what you've got in the pitcher there?" said Tom.
"That I will, with pleasure, said he; it's good beer."
"Beer!" said Tom. "Thunder and fire! where did you get it?"
"Where did I get it, is it? Why, I made it. And what do you think I made it of?"
"Devil a one of me knows, said Tom; but of malt, I suppose, what else?"
"There you're out. I made it of heath."
"Of heath!" said Tom, bursting out laughing; "sure you don't think me to be such a fool as to believe that?"
"Do as you please," said he, "but what I tell you is the truth. Did you never hear tell of the Danes."
"Well, what about them?" said Tom.
"Why, all the about them there is, is that when they were here they taught us to make beer out of the heath, and the secret's in my family ever since."
"Will you give a body a taste of your beer?" said Tom.
"I'll tell you what it is, young man, it would be fitter for you to be looking after your father's property than to be bothering decent quiet people with your foolish questions. There now, while you're idling away your time here, there's the cows have broke into the oats, and are knocking the corn all about."
Tom was taken so by surprise with this that he was just on the very point of turning round when he recollected himself; so, afraid that the like might happen again, he made a grab at the Lepracaun, and caught him up in his hand; but in his hurry he overset the pitcher, and spilt all the beer, so that he could not get a taste of it to tell what sort it was. He then swore that he would kill him if he did not show him where his money was. Tom looked so wicked and so bloody-minded that the little man was quite frightened; so says he, "Come along with me a couple of fields off, and I'll show you a crock of gold."
So they went, and Tom held the Lepracaun fast in his hand, and never took his eyes from off him, though they had to cross hedges and ditches, and a crooked bit of bog, till at last they came to a great field all full of boliauns, and the Lepracaun pointed to a big boliaun, and says he, "Dig under that boliaun, and you'll get the great crock all full of guineas."
Tom in his hurry had never thought of bringing a spade with him, so he made up his mind to run home and fetch one; and that he might know the place again he took off one of his red garters, and tied it round the boliaun.
Then he said to the Lepracaun, "Swear ye'll not take that garter away from that boliaun." And the Lepracaun swore right away not to touch it.
"I suppose," said the Lepracaun, very civilly, "you have no further occasion for me?"
"No," says Tom; "you may go away now, if you please, and God speed you, and may good luck attend you wherever you go."
"Well, good-bye to you, Tom Fitzpatrick," said the Lepracaun; "and much good may it do you when you get it."
So Tom ran for dear life, till he came home and got a spade, and then away with him, as hard as he could go, back to the field of boliauns; but when he got there, lo and behold! not a boliaun in the field but had a red garter, the very model of his own, tied about it; and as to digging up the whole field, that was all nonsense, for there were more than forty good Irish acres in it. So Tom came home again with his spade on his shoulder, a little cooler than he went, and many's the hearty curse he gave the Lepracaun every time he thought of the neat turn he had served him.
The three wishesEdit
- I caught me a Leprechaun,
- and you know what that means!
- I got me three big wishes,
- and I wanted so many things.
- I wanted silver and I wanted gold,
- and riches beyong my place,
- And castles all in clover,
- and love a beautious face.
- "So what it be, your wish number one?"
- asked the Leprechaun all in green.
- "I wish I might have beauty,
- the most bewitching ever seen."
- "Done!" said the green little Leprechaun,
- with a wave of his hand.
- "And I wish," I said, "to have riches,
- the greatest in this land."
- With a flourish and a flutter they did appear,
- great beauty and my gold,
- And then I wished for a lover fair,
- all that my heart could hold.
- Bedazzled I was when I saw him there,
- my knight in armored bob.
- "Thank you, Leprechaun," I gushed with glee,
- "You've done a most splendid job."
- But the Leprechaun stood near me, seeming unanxious to leave.
- "I'm glad you know your mind, lass.
- So many waste wishes, you see."
- So enraptured I was with my bounty
- that I hardly noticed when
- That wee little, green little Leprechaun
- began chattering away again.
- "Tis a bonnie day, is it not, my lass?
- Don't you wish, lass, it would bid
- To stay like this all year long?"
- And I replied ... I did.
- The little Trickster laughed with mirth,
- and then my face did fall.
- "The rules be, lass, if a fourth wish you make,
- then you lose them all!"
"The Three Wishes" by Mark Shapiro
In 2006, there have been alleged sightings of the Crichton Leprechaun in a tree in the Crichton neighborhood of Mobile, Alabama, although according to one local man filmed for a news report on the alleged sightings, it is just a shadow. Supposedly the leprechaun only comes out at night and disappears if one shines a light on it. The local news story about the supposed sightings has circulated on the Internet as a subject of humor. Most recently, the Crichton Leprechaun has created a stir in the United States, although his garb is presently undetermined.
The leprechaun is related to the clurichaun and the far darrig in that he is a solitary creature. Some writers even go as far as to substitute these second two less well-known spirits for the leprechaun in stories or tales to reach a wider audience. The clurichaun is considered by some to be merely a leprechaun on a drinking spree.