Saint Patrick’s Day is fast approaching and many websites and stores are filled with images of shamrocks and Leprechauns. Although mostly everyone knows that shamrocks are associated with Ireland because they grow rapidly there, few people are aware of the origin behind the tiny mythical beings known as Leprechauns.
In Irish folklore, a Leprechaun is a type of fairy. However, unlike the traditional winged fairies that are generally depicted as young women, Leprechauns look like old men and exist to cause mischief. They usually have beards, wear hats and are smaller than even young children. Prior to the 20th century they were generally depicted wearing red. However, noting Ireland’s long association with the color green, Leprechauns are presently nearly always featured wearing green and white with hints of gold (mirroring the flag colors of the Republic of Ireland).
According to legend, Leprechauns ceaselessly make shoes and keep all their coins in a pot of gold placed at the end of a rainbow. If a Leprechaun is captured by a human they will grant three wishes to secure their freedom. However, Leprechauns are extremely tricky so any wishes granted by one usually backfire and create havoc.
The story that is generally regarded as being the first to feature Leprechauns is called “Adventure of Fergus son of Leti” in which the King of Ulster is very nearly dragged into the ocean by three Leprechauns after falling asleep on a beach. Leprechauns can be described as neither good nor evil. They are said to be the sons of an evil spirit and a degenerate fairy and so most people are warned to steer clear of them to avoid their frequent practical jokes.
Leprechauns have become widely popular all over the world due in part to marketing, advertising, and stories and television programs featuring them. They are very popular characters in children’s books (especially around Saint Patrick’s Day) and growing up hearing stories about Leprechauns have made many people group them into the same category as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.
Modern day Ireland still treasures the legend of Leprechauns. In fact, there is currently a National Leprechaun Museum in Dublin. The museum is dedicated to educating visitors about Irish folklore and holds the Leprechaun in particularly high regard. To visit the website, click here: http://www.leprechaunmuseum.ie/
Furthermore, many towns and villages throughout Ireland readily embrace tales of Leprechauns in a fun, quirky, and community-oriented way. Specifically, in March 2012 (just in time for Saint Patrick’s Day) a “Battle of the Leprechauns” was held between two counties in the Irish Republic: Cork and Donegal. The goal of each county was to gather people together who were all dressed up as Leprechauns. Whichever area gathered more people in Leprechaun attire was awarded a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the achievement of “gathering the most people dressed as Leprechauns in one place.” According to the Irish Central newspaper, Cork ultimately won the battle, having gathered a total of 1,263 Leprechauns, exactly 163 more than Donegal. The full story can be read here: http://www.irishcentral.com/news/Bandon-went-leprechaun-crazyCork-town-wins-the-battle-of-the-Leprechauns-to-enter-Guinness-Book-of-Records-143294086.html
It is important for a well-rounded curriculum to include information about other places and people. Telling the stories and history of Leprechauns is a great way to prepare for Saint Patrick’s Day (March 17th) and also teach subjects like sociology, history and even literature. Younger children will especially enjoy the many children’s books featuring the characters and adults might find the tales just as amusing. Some examples can be viewed here:
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!