Leprechauns: The Little People of Irish Folklore

Leprechauns: The Little People of Irish Folklore

The Leprechaun is a much-loved and sometimes feared magical creature of Irish folk legend. Short in stature and with a long-beard and pot of gold, leprechauns were once believed to pervade the Irish countryside.

Those little men all dressed in green, obsessed with rainbows and treasure, trickery, and of course shoe-making. These are all common perceptions today regarding the famous characters from Irish folklore: Leprechauns. The characteristics of these mythical creatures has transformed over the years and much of what made the little people special in the original tales has been forgotten.

Etymology for the Word Leprechaun

Many scholars believe that the origin of the word leprechaun is the old Irish Lú Chorpain meaning small body. Another definition has linked the modern name to luchorpán ( a word from the 8th century AD ) which is defined as sprite or pygmy. Finally, the word leprechaun has been connected to leath bhrógan (shoe maker). This definition is also a possibility as many stories about leprechauns have shown their profession to be the cobblers of the fairy world.

The word lubrican, another word associated with leprechaun, first was written in English in 1604 in the play The Honest Whore by Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker. The line from the play states: "as for your Irish lubrican, that spirit whom by preposterous charms thy lust hath rais'd in a wrong circle…"

The Ancient Leprechauns

Leprechauns are thought to have been one of the many types of inhabitants of the fairy forts or fairy rings in ancient Ireland. It has been suggested that the merry tricksters of today may even be a modern incarnation of the Euro-Celtic god Lugh (pronounced “Luck”). Lugh was said to be the sun god, patron of arts and crafts and leader of the Tuatha Dé Danann ("peoples of the goddess Danu").

Altar depicting a tricephalic god identified as Lugus (Lugh), discovered in Reims. ( Wikipedia)

Medieval Irish manuscripts (12th -15th Centuries) believed to be associated with leprechauns suggest that leprechauns were originally beings that lived underwater and, contrary to today’s depiction, they weren’t all male. They were depicted as warriors with voracious appetites and the female leprechauns were especially engrossed with luring away human men for secret adventures. These characteristics seemed to continue at least until the aforementioned writing in 1604.

Early leprechauns were described as sly old men that wore red suits and were often found working on a solitary shoe. The word solitary was also applied to the social preferences of leprechauns who seemed to prefer time alone to interacting with other faerie creatures, or even other leprechauns. There friendless nature perhaps was also partly due to others avoiding them – early leprechauns were also thought to be particularly mischievous house-haunting drunkards. These characteristics were later passed on to the leprechaun “cousins” the clobhair-ceann or clurichaun, an Irish fairy that is always drunk and rude. The clurichaun got the blame for noisy nights and messy homes (especially wine cellars).

An illustration of a clurichaun, cousin of the leprechauns. (1862) T.C. Croker ( Wikimedia Commons )

Changes in Leprechaun Traits: Now a Wealthy Shoemaker

By 1825, the leprechaun population was limited to only males. T. Crofton Croker's Fairy Traditions and Legends of the South of Ireland provided more insight on traits of these mythical creatures: “They are often described as bearded old men dressed in green and wearing buckled shoes. Sometimes they wear a pointed cap or hat and may smoke a pipe.”

The Leprechauns of the time were thought to be particularly stylish. Both Samuel Lover, writing in 1831, and William Butler Yeats (in 1888) made mention of the importance leprechauns placed in their appearance.

Lover wrote that a leprechaun was:

“…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.”

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Following that, Yeats later added:

“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.”

The 18th Century poem by William Allingham entitled The Lepracaun; Or, Fairy Shoemaker further promoted the idea that in the fairy realm occupations are chosen by group, and leprechauns were in charge of keeping the rest of the community’s feet happy. He also provided a hint to people searching for leprechauns (more on why soon) – the presence of leprechauns can be noted by their tapping sounds as they work:

"Lay your ear close to the hill.
Do you not catch the tiny clamor,
Busy click of an elfin hammer,
Voice of the Lepracaun singing shrill
As he merrily plies his trade?"

‘Elves and the Shoemaker’, originally from ‘The Book of Fables and Folk Stories’, by Horace E. Scudder. Illustration by George Cruikshank ( Wikipedia)

Allingham is often credited as the creator of the “modern leprechaun”: a short man with a red beard, a green hat in which a golden four-leaf clover (symbol of good luck) is tucked, and a green suit with a large buckle on its belt.

A modern stereotype of a leprechaun. ( Wikimedia Commons )

The Moral behind Leprechauns

By the 1800s the perception of leprechauns as wealthy, clever folks was a common notion. Thus the old “wee” (small) fellows were depicted in stories with a strong interest in protecting their gold from the greedy humans that sought it out. Leprechauns are supposed to offer bribes to humans if caught in order to regain their freedom.

Engraving of a Leprechaun counting his gold, 1900 ( Wikimedia Commons )

The legends about leprechauns not surprisingly focus mostly on a human catching a leprechaun then trying to attain their wealth. The most common story involves a boy or farmer who finds a leprechaun and forces him to tell where he has hidden his gold. The leprechaun is obliged to show him to the spot, which is below a tree or plant. As the human is without a shovel he ties a red cloth around the nearby tree/plant and makes the leprechaun swear he will not remove the indicator. When the person returns with the shovel he finds that there are now many red cloths and the leprechaun has vanished. Thus the leprechaun has managed to trick the human and maintains possession of his gold.

Another similar story tells of a girl who catches the leprechaun and makes him lead her to his treasure, but along the way hears a noise to which the leprechaun tells her there are bees chasing her. When she turns around to look, the leprechaun disappears.

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Also according to some legends a leprechaun carries two leather pouches. He has a silver shilling in one which returns to his pouch whenever it has been given. The other pouch has a gold coin which is said to turn into leaves or ashes once the leprechaun is set free.

Another widespread interpretation of events after humans find and catch leprechauns is the offering of three wishes to which the capturer goes insane or is tricked as his wishes backfire. A popular story of this sort is that of Seamus. Seamus was a man from County Mayo who caught a leprechaun and was offered wishes. He chose to be the richest man on a tropical island. His wish was said to have come true, but there was a catch – there were no pubs, shops or other people on the island. Seamus got bored and eventually wished to be back in Ireland.

All of these stories present the same morals: getting rich quick doesn’t work out in the long run, stealing is wrong, and don’t mess with the Irish faerie folk.

The Fascination Leprechauns Continue to Hold

Leprechauns are now understood to be the fairy tales of the past and fanciful stories to tell when one sees a rainbow. However there is still a hold these little folk have on modern society. In Dublin there is even a Leprechaun museum which provides tours and detailed information on leprechauns and Irish folklore throughout the ages. Some Irish-themed sites also provide readers with tips and tricks on how to catch a leprechaun (and what to do when you have).

Leprechaun, Wax Museum Plus, Ireland ( Wikimedia Commons )

On the other side of the pond, General Mills cereal’s Lucky Charms has “Lucky” the leprechaun to keep children entertained while they consume the sugar-filled product for which he is the mascot. There are also horror/comedy movies that are focused on a monstrous trickster of a leprechaun to torment adults.

Leprechauns may not really provide us a treasure of gold and silver, but they certainly have provided richness to Irish folklore.

Featured Image: A Leprechaun’s hat. ( Albund | Dreamstime.com)

By Alicia McDermott


Ireland Now (2010). Leprechauns. http://irelandnow.com/leprechaun.html

Lisala (2011). The True Origins of the Leprechaun. http://morphemeaddict.com/news/true-origins-leprechaun

National Leprechaun Museum. (n.d.) Leprechauns. http://www.leprechaunmuseum.ie/folklore-and-mythology/otherworld/leprechauns/

New World Encyclopedia. (2014). Leprechaun. http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Leprechaun

Radford, B. (2013). Leprechauns: Facts about the Irish Trickster Fairy. http://www.livescience.com/37626-leprechauns.html

Walsh, J. (2015). Facts about Leprechauns and Where the Legends Really Come From. http://www.irishcentral.com/culture/entertainment/-top-ten-facts-about-leprechauns-and-where-the-legends-really-came-from-212728761-237598771.html

Your Irish (2015). The Magical Legend of the Leprechaun. http://www.yourirish.com/folklore/the-leprechauns

Little people (mythology)

The Native peoples of North America told legends of a race of "little people" who lived in the woods near sandy hills and sometimes near rocks located along large bodies of water, such as the Great Lakes. Often described as "hairy-faced dwarfs" in stories, petroglyph illustrations show them with horns on their head and traveling in a group of 5 to 7 per canoe. [1]

Native legends often talk of the little people playing pranks on people, such as singing and then hiding when an inquisitive person searches for the music. It is often said that the little people love children and would take them away from bad or abusive parents or if the child was without parents and left in the woods to fend for themselves. [ citation needed ]

Other legends say the little people if seen by an adult human would beg them not to say anything of their existence and would reward those who kept their word by helping them and their family out in times of need. From tribe to tribe there are variations of what the little people's mannerisms were like, and whether they were good or evil may be different.

One of the common beliefs is that the little people create distractions to cause mischief. They were believed to be gods by some. One North American Native tribe believed that they lived in nearby caves. [ citation needed ] The caves were never entered for fear of disturbing the little people.

Legends of physical remains of tiny people being found in various locations in the western United States, particularly Montana and Wyoming, typically describe the remains as being found in caves with various details such as descriptions that they were "perfectly formed", dwarf-size, etc. Archeologist Lawrence L. Loendorf notes that "The burials, of course, are always sent to a local university or to the Smithsonian for analysis, only to have both the specimens and research results disappear." [2] Loendorf also suggests that the discovery of two mummies of anencephalic infants in the first half of the twentieth century with deformities that caused some people to believe they were adults has "contributed to public belief in the existence of a group of tiny prehistoric people." [3]

A graveyard unearthed in the 1830s in Coshocton County, Ohio, was believed to contain skeletons belonging to a pygmy race. In fact, the graves (which were roughly 3 feet (0.91 m) long) were "bone burials" containing disarticulated or bent bones packed together. [4]

Native American Edit

    - Aztec - Maya
  • Geow-lud-mo-sis-eg - Maliseet[5] - Yup'ik - Inuit - Iroquois[6] - Cree
  • Memegwesi/Memegawensi/Memengweshii/Pa'iins - Anishinaabe[7] - Shoshone[8] or Awwakkulé [9] - Crow - Comanche - Wampanoag - Catawba
  • Yunwi Tsundi - Cherokee
  • Canotila - Lakota[10]
  • Popo-li or Kowi Anukasha - Choctaw[11]

The Native American little people have been said to reside in the Pryor Mountains of Montana and Wyoming. The Pryors are famous for their "fairy rings" and strange happenings. Some members of the Crow tribe consider the little people to be sacred ancestors and require leaving an offering for them upon entry to the area. [12]

Memegwaans Edit

Ojibwe myths also bring up a creature known as the Memegwaans, or Memegwaanswag (Plural), which seems to be different from the more common Little People variation of Memegwesi. According to Basil H. Johnston, a Memegwaans is a little person without definitive form which is terrified of adult humans. However, it seems to have a soft spot for children and will often approach in the guise of a child any young person who seems upset, injured, scared or lonely and either protect them or keep them company until help arrives. If an adult sees one, they will often cower on the ground, screaming and crying hysterically before vanishing in the blink of an eye. They were also known as protectors of copper mines & were prayed to almost as patron saints of lost children. This is more specific & different from the Memegwesi, which is often simply described as a short, hairy man. [13]

Just where did Leprechauns originate from?

The earliest known reference to the leprechaun appears in the medieval tale known as the Echtra Fergus mac Léti (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 his release

One the one hand their meaning comes from the Irish term &lsquoleath brogan&rsquo which means shoemaker but other tales tell of a small man that merged with fairies and became very fond of drinking.

Of course, legends and stories often overlap and there is even a tale of that Leprechauns were once Santa&rsquos little elve helpers before they ended up in Ireland.

That said, many people believe in Leprechauns and they also say that every story has some truth to it. So who knows!

If people tell you that they are a symbol of the Luck of the Irish this is in fact untrue, you can read my post on the Luck of the Irish here.

The Fighting Irish Leprechaun

Notre Dame University teams are known as the Fighting Irish. The Leprechaun was taken from Irish folklore and chosen as the mascot for the Notre Dame teams.

This Notre Dame logo is a picture of the side view of a Leprechaun with his dukes up, ready to fight any foe into submission. There is a live version of this mascot that is a student. He is dressed in an Irish green suit and Irish country hat. He has a magical shillelagh that brings "The Good Luck Of The Irish" to the team as he leads the fans in cheers for their team.

The Little Irish People

St. Patrick’s Day is here, which means shamrocks, the color green, pots of gold, and leprechauns. These little men have been a part of St. Patrick’s day celebrations for years, but where did they come from and how did they become popular? Leprechauns have an amazing history behind them.

Leprechauns have come from Celtic and Irish folklore, which has been shared around the world. Different companies have taken on interpreting leprechauns, which changed the look of the small fairies. Leprechauns just recently have been associated with the holiday.

“Lugh was originally the god of sun and light, and then he became a great warrior ruler of ancient Ireland. Lugh thus becomes a sort of fairy craftsman, from there, Lugh became ‘Leprechaun’, the fairy of Irish folklore,” stated Mark Cartwright in “Leprechaun.”

Leprechauns are now known for being short, solitary, shoemakers. They wear green or red and are typically old, wrinkled, and ugly. These tiny creatures have great agility with a sour temper.

“In 1959, Walt Disney released a film called Darby O’Gill and the Little People, which was about an old Irish man and his experiences with magical leprechauns,” said Emily VanSchmus in “This is Why Leprechauns are Associated with St. Patrick’s Day”.

The movie was released around St. Patrick’s Day with the version of the leprechaun that is popular today. This started the tradition of leprechauns in parades, parties, and other celebrations in the United States. Modern images of these magical male fairies have become a normal part of St. Patrick’s Day due to American viewers of the Disney movie.

“As with many old legends and traditions, the image and nature of the leprechaun has changed over time and has been updated for a modern audience,” noted Benjamin Radford in “Leprechauns : Facts About the Irish Trickster Fairy.”

Irish Folklore?

A lot of people think of Irish folklore as quaint a kind of sweet quirk of Irishness. This is to denigrate an area of serious study. We are constantly bombarded by a stream of happy Irish images – green hats, russet beards and commercial lies. However, ‘Folklore Studies’ is a mainstream university subject. If only everyone cleaved to that great requirement of serious study: “interrogate your sources”. Here is a story of real and dubious sources real myth becoming movie lies.

A serious source is a 15th century manuscript (Laud Misc. 610, if you are a scholar and want to check) that records an 8th century story. The ancient Irish Brehon Laws had a concept of distraint. If I owed you money and failed to repay it you were entitled to confiscate from me property to the value of the debt. This property was returned when the debt was cleared. Interestingly, if the property thus distrained was cattle, then half of the calves produced during distraint were retained and half returned.

The story I want to refer to was a construct of the Filí, the ancient order of the Hereditary Men of Learning. Distraint laws referred to property. This story extended the concept of distraint to land for the first time.

Fergus mac Leite, as ancient myth tells us, was a king of Ulster from 26 to 14BC. (Figure that one out ?). He was owed a debt and the story tells how he distrained land to the value of the debt. Our location is on the shores of Dundrum Bay, north of Newcastle, Co. Down. In order to distrain it, Fergus had to drive his chariot three times round the parcel of land which he was claiming. The direction of his drive was very important clockwise following the motion of the sun in the heavens, known in Irish as deiseal, right-handed from deas, right. Having completed the boundary chariot drive, he was required to sleep on the land.

So far, the story is all very dry and perhaps boring. In order to bring the story into popularity, extras were included by storytellers. As Fergus slept on the shore of Dundrum Bay he was dragged into the sea by a group of small sea-sprites called Lúchorpáin, meaning small bodies (you see where this is going). He struggled as he was dragged underwater and feared he would drown. But he realised that while held by the Lúchorpáin he was in no danger of drowning. Brought before the king, he was questioned as to why he slept on the shore of their territory. As his fear of drowning receded he realized his superior strength over his captors. Grasping the king around the neck he demanded he be released and granted one wish – that, forevermore, he would be able to swim underwater without fear of drowning. This wish was granted to him on condition that he never again enter the waters of Dundrum bay, the territory of the Lúchorpáin. So here we have the basis for the notion of leprechauns. Capture one now and you get three wishes, not one. I imagine our modern leprechaun would fight vigorously to avoid water, the realm of the sea-sprites. What is the connection between the two?

Fast forward to about the year 1910. The Irish Language Commission asked a scholar priest, An tAthair Peadair Ó Laoghaire (Fr. Peter O’Leary), to write an illustrated series of primary school books for the teaching of the Irish language. He chose a little known folkloric subject for these books variously called leprechaun, lucorpan, cluracaun, etc. It is easy to see how, through the centuries, the absence of standardized spelling gave rise to a population of mini Irish fairy folk. More importantly for our story is that a generation of Irish children learned the Irish language through the medium of these little people, made real by being written down and drawn in a school book.

Fast forward again (it’s a theme) to 1937. Irish scholars and politicians were horrified at the loss of the Irish language and Irish folklore due to the immense hemorrhage of emigration. Today about 33 million Americans self-identify as of Irish descent. There is a saying that, through the ages, the English invaded but the Irish infested. You decide which strategy was more successful. The Irish Folklore Commission began 3 years of the Schools’ Collection. Across the country 11 and 12-year old school-children were asked to interrogate parents, grandparents and older neighbors about folklore, superstitions, stories and old ways of life and of agriculture. What emerged from this massive effort was, and is, the greatest collection of folklore and folk-ways anywhere in the world. Check it out online – Folklore Dept., University College Dublin. All the handwritten copybooks of the children are classified by school and region. Perhaps you can find a contribution by your parents or grandparents as children.

A moot point is that, immersed in this great collection, is the record of leprechauns deriving from the inventions of Fr. Peter O’Leary, learnt by a generation of children and passed on to their children and grandchildren and recorded in the Schools’ Collection.

Slow forward to the late 1950s Walt Disney visits Ireland, lands in the Office of the old Folklore Commission and, I imagine, slaps the desk and says “gimme what you have on leprechauns” (Apparently this happened). He is shown the Schools’ Collection and extracts leprechaun ‘folklore’. This was all reproduced and embellished in the movie Darby O’Gill and the Little People which was a Disney ‘hit’ at the time.

As a fun way to extend the film’s fantasy, Walt Disney went full bore on a campaign establishing that Darby O’Gill and the Little People starred actual leprechauns. Publicity pieces were published detailing the wee folks’ involvement in filming, as were photos of the small stars attending the movie’s Dublin premiere. Walt went so far as to produce “I Captured the King of the Leprechauns,” and episode of the Walt Disney Presents anthology TV show, in which he journeyed to Ireland to meet both Darby and King Brian. As a finishing touch, the movie’s opening credits state, “My thanks to King Brian of the Knocknasheega and his leprechauns, whose gracious cooperation made this picture possible” – Walt Disney

So now, for all time, the ridiculous notion of The Little People is imprinted in the public perception of Ireland and of Irishness. The grandeur of the 8th century story of Fergus mac Leite, and its purpose in extending the concept of distraint to land, has been lost. I could rail on more, but will desist.

The Legend Of The Leprechaun

The leprechaun is traditionally viewed as a mischievous little creature, who spends his days crafting shoes and storing his profits in the proverbial pot of gold. Legend has it that you can find the pot ‘o’ gold if you listen closely for the hammering sounds the tiny fairy makes as he does his work.

Catching a leprechaun is hard work. They are inclined to resist contact with human beings, according to legend, and they are crafty. The leprechaun will share his secrets with you if you are lucky enough to find him. According to the tales of old, a leprechaun will lead you to his pot of gold and bestow his riches upon you, if you are clever enough to meet him.

The classic leprechaun of Irish folklore stands a mere 24 inches in height, and he will have a glint of mischief in his sparkling eyes. He will greet you with a bright, happy expression that may mask some element of trickery. Leprechauns enjoy their own prankish nature, and they will relish playing tricks to fool the people who seek them out.

Your leprechaun may have an appetite for fine malt whiskey and tobacco from a pipe. They are also rumored to be able to drink you under the table, despite their diminutive size! These pleasure seeking fairy creatures carry many secrets, and they will take pains to protect their treasures from prying eyes.

There are no female leprechauns. These elfin beings have inhabited the Emerald Isle for thousands of years, before the Druids practiced their Pagan faith in Ireland. In order to capture one of these elusive fairies, you must maintain eye contact with him. He cannot flee as long as you stare at one another. However, if you turn away from him, he will seize his chance and disappear.

Beware of the many hidden powers of the leprechaun. He may have the ability to hypnotize you, and his power will allow his to escape. Keep watch for his bright red coat, and his distinctive, pointed cap. He will be a sharp dresser, with many rows of decorative buttons upon his cloak.

The legend of the leprechaun is one of Ireland’s most charming tales. There are many symbols of Ireland, and the little imp who cobbles shoes and hides his riches in a pot of gold is just one example of the Irish story-telling tradition.

If you enjoy Irish symbols and folklore, you will find other find examples on today’s Irish jewelry designs, which echo the tales of the Irish people. Shamrocks and Claddagh symbols all tell a story of centuries past, and they are a fine way to celebrate the gifts of story and verse that are a hallmark of the Irish people.


You may have heard the legend of the pot of gold before. It’s very popular. Many people have been known to chase leprechauns and their gold. Supposedly, if you catch a leprechaun, they will grant you three wishes in return for freedom.

St. Patrick’s Day festivities would not be the same without leprechauns. These creatures are known to be great musicians. What instruments might Irish leprechauns play? They’re said to master a variety of traditional Irish instruments. This includes tin whistles, the fiddle, and the Irish harp.

Where did the word “leprechaun” come from? No one is quite sure. Some believe it comes from the Old Irish words for “small” and “body.” Others say the term may have come from the Irish words for shoemaker. Have you ever dressed as a leprechaun? Would you like to hunt for the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow? Leprechauns may be mythical, but that doesn’t stop many people from dreaming of their riches!


The Anglo-Irish (Hiberno-English) word leprechaun is descended from Old Irish luchorpán or lupracán, [1] via various (Middle Irish) forms such as luchrapán, lupraccán, [2] [3] (or var. luchrupán). [a]

Modern forms

The current spelling leipreachán is used throughout Ireland, but there are numerous regional variants. [6]

John O'Donovan's supplement to O'Reilly's Irish-English Dictionary defines lugharcán, lugracán, lupracán as "a sprite, a pigmy a fairy of a diminutive size, who always carries a purse containing a shilling". [7] [8] [b]

The Irish term leithbrágan in O'Reilly's Dictionary [10] has also been recognized as an alternative spelling. [8]

Other variant spellings in English have included lubrican, leprehaun, and lepreehawn. Some modern Irish books use the spelling lioprachán. [11] 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." [11]


The word may have been coined as a compound of the roots or laghu (from Greek: ἐ-λαχύ "small") and corp (from Latin: corpus "body"), or so it had been suggested by Whitley Stokes. [12] [c] However, research published in 2019 suggests that the word derives from the Luperci and the associated Roman festival of Lupercalia. [14] [15] [16]

Folk etymology derives the word from leith (half) and bróg (brogue), because of the frequent portrayal of the leprechaun as working on a single shoe, as evident in the alternative spelling leithbrágan. [10] [8] [d]

The earliest known reference to the leprechaun appears in the medieval tale known as the Echtra Fergus mac Léti (Adventure of Fergus son of Léti). [17] 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. [18] [19]

The saga and Disney

The Disney film Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959)—based on Herminie Templeton Kavanagh's Darby O'Gill books—which features a leprechaun king, is a work in which Fergus mac Léti was "featured parenthetically". [20] In the film, the captured leprechaun king grants three wishes, like Fergus in the saga.

While the film project was in development, Walt Disney was in contact with, and consulting Séamus Delargy and the Irish Folklore Commission, but never asked for leprechaun material, even though a large folkloric repository on such subject was housed by the commission. [21] [e]

The leprechaun is said to be a solitary creature, whose principal occupation is making and cobbling shoes, and who enjoys practical jokes. [23]

The leprechaun has been classed as a "solitary fairy" by the writer and amateur folklorist William Butler Yeats. [f] > [25] Yeats was part of the revivalist literary movement greatly influential in "calling attention to the leprechaun" in the late 19th century. [26] This classification by Yeats is derives from D. R. McAnally (Irish Wonders, 1888) derived in turn from John O'Hanlon (1870). [27]

It is stressed that the leprechaun, though some may call it fairy, is clearly to be distinguished from the Aos Sí (or the 'good people') of the fairy mounds (sidhe) and raths. [29] [30] [31] [g] Leprachaun being solitary is one distinguishing characteristic, [33] [34] but additionally, the leprachaun is thought to only engage in pranks on the level of mischief, and requiring special caution, but in contrast, the Aos Sí may carry out deeds more menacing to humans, e.g., the spiriting away of children. [29]

This identification of leprechaun as a fairy has been consigned to popular notion by modern folklorist Diarmuid Ó Giolláin. Ó Giolláin observes that the dwarf of Teutonic and other traditions as well as the household familiar are more amenable to comparison. [6]

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. [35] According to David Russell McAnally the leprechaun is the son of an "evil spirit" and a "degenerate fairy" and is "not wholly good nor wholly evil". [36]


The leprechaun originally had a different appearance depending on where in Ireland he was found. [37] 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. [38]

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 onto a wall and spins, balancing himself on the point of the hat with his heels in the air." [39]

According to McAnally the universal leprechaun is described as

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: [40]

  • 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. [41]

The modern image of the leprechaun sitting on a toadstool, having a red beard and green hat, etc. is clearly a more modern invention, or borrowed from other strands of European folklore. [42] The most likely explanation for the modern day Leprechaun appearance is that green is a traditional national Irish color dating back as far as 1642. [43] The hat might be derived from the style of outdated fashion still common in Ireland in the 19th century. This style of fashion was commonly worn by Irish immigrants to the United States, since some Elizabethan era clothes were still common in Ireland in the 19th century long after they were out of fashion, as depicted by the Stage Irish. The buckle shoes and other garments also have their origin in the Elizabethan period in Ireland.

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. [44]

In the politics of the Republic of Ireland, leprechauns have been used to refer to the twee aspects of the tourist industry in Ireland. [45] [46] This can be seen from this example of John A. Costello addressing the Oireachtas in 1963—

For many years, we were afflicted with the miserable trivialities of our tourist advertising. Sometimes it descended to the lowest depths, to the caubeen and the shillelagh, not to speak of the leprechaun. [46]

Films, television cartoons and advertising have popularised a specific image of leprechauns which bears little resemblance to anything found in the cycles of Irish folklore. It has been argued that the popularised image of a leprechaun is little more than a series of stereotypes based on derogatory 19th-century caricatures. [47] [48]

Many Celtic Music groups have used the term Leprechaun LeperKhanz as part of their naming convention or as an album title. Even popular forms of American music have used the mythological character, including heavy metal celtic metal, punk rock and jazz.

  • Possibly the most notable of all is Lucky the mascot of Lucky Charms cereal, made by General Mills.
  • The Notre Dame Leprechaun is the official mascot of the Fighting Irish sports teams at the University of Notre Dame logo features the mascot of the team, Lucky the Leprechaun
  • Professional wrestler Dylan Mark Postl competed and appeared as Hornswoggle, a leprechaun who lived under the ring, for the majority of his WWE tenure.
  • The 1993 American horror slasher-film Leprechaun and its sequels feature a killer leprechaun portrayed by Warwick Davis.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman coined the term "leprechaun economics" to describe distorted or unsound economic data, which he first used in a tweet on 12 July 2016 in response to the publication by the Irish Central Statistics Office (CSO) that Irish GDP had grown by 26.3%, and Irish GNP had grown by 18.7%, in the 2015 Irish national accounts. The growth was subsequently shown to be due to Apple restructuring its double Irish tax scheme which the EU Commission had fined €13bn in 2004–2014 Irish unpaid taxes, the largest corporate tax fine in history. The term has been used many times since. [ citation needed ]

In America, Leprechauns are often associated with St. Patrick's Day along with the color green and shamrocks. [ citation needed ]

The Legend of the Irish Leprechaun

The legend of the Irish Leprechaun is a well-known one: little wee well-dressed men, often angry or drunk (or both) with a certain fondness for gold.
Classed by some as a type of solitary fairy, they are usually depicted as little bearded men, wearing a coat and hat, who partake in mischief.

Traditionally these fair folk are rumoured to keep their treasures at the end of a rainbow, but what is the real story behind these little moody little men and their hordes of treasure?
Apparently, the legend can be traced back to eighth-century tales of water spirits called “luchorpán,” meaning small body. The legend eventually evolved into a mischievous household fairy said to haunt cellars and drink heavily.
In any case Leprechauns are, by trade, shoemakers. Some researchers claim that the word leprechaun came from the Irish ‘leath bhrogan,’ meaning shoemaker, said to be the sprites’ main vocation.
And their number one customers are the fairies. Fairies love to dance and will frequently dance the night away wearing and ruining their tiny fairy shoes. When this happens, the leprechauns are kept happy and busy, paid by the fairies for their trade. But sometimes there aren’t fairy dances, so there are no fairy shoes to be mended. It is during times like these that the leprechauns will venture into the human world in search of work.
When this happens, a leprechaun will knock on a human’s door begging for work in the hopes that you have shoes in need of mending. If you do, the leprechaun will happily take them away to be fixed and return them, as good as new, when he is done. In exchange for his services he will be paid a gold or silver coin, which he would take to hide away at the end of the rainbow with the rest of his treasure.
All ok…but what if you don’t have any shoes to be repaired?
Leprechauns don’t take well to not getting what they want, so if you were to say no when one came knocking, he would curse you.
The most frequent curses involve spoiled milk, or cursing your child so that he or she can only speak backwards. But whatever the curse, it’s never a pleasant one, so it is best to always have a shoe in need of mending, just in case a leprechaun comes knocking your door!

Now, with all the work done for the fairies, and when needed, also for the humans (especially considering that the humans always had to be in need of some help, unless they wanted to be cursed) you can imagine that these little leprechauns have quite a large stash of gold at the ends of their respective rainbows.
Gold that, for many humans, is a very tempting treasure.
However, the leprechaun’s gold is too well hidden for a human to find on his own. For that you would need the help of the leprechaun himself, but first you need to catch him.
Catching a leprechaun is a tricky business. You need to be able to get him, and keep him. But being so small and quick, leprechauns can easily escape, something you cannot let happen unless you wish to be cursed.
If you happen to come across a leprechaun, be sure to hold on to him. According to Irish legends, people lucky enough to capture a leprechaun can barter his freedom for three wishes.
But dealing with a leprechaun can be a tricky proposition.
And just don’t be surprised when he shows up at your door looking for work in an effort to get his gold back…

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