5 Things You Might Not Know About Leprechauns
St. Patrick’s Day isn’t complete without leprechauns, those folkloric little men we think of as making mischief and hoarding their gold. As with many holidays, traditions, and related stories, there are a lot of details that tend to get lost through the years. Sit back and take a read with Independence Bunting to learn a few new facts about these mythical creatures.1. Leprechauns Are a Protected Species
If you ever find yourself on the Emerald Isle, you may want to visit Carlingford, just below the Eastern end of Northern Ireland. This is the “Home of the Last Leprechauns”, which is actually an officially “protected species” by the European Union.
Carlingford has been a fairly recent addition in the history of leprechauns, starting just in 1989. Pub owner P.J. O’Hare was gardening in the early hours of the morning, when a scream coming from the direction of Foy Mountain pierced the air. He headed over to investigate, but what he found was quite a surprise. Near a wishing well, he found a small green suit and hat, plus a scatter of bones. Upon picking up the suit, he discovered 4 gold coins in the pants pocket. He took his findings to his pub and put it on display for the public as the first authentic leprechaun suit found in Ireland.
However, some didn’t believe O’Hare, including his good friend and confidante, only known in records as McCoillte. He staged a leprechaun hunt, though to no avail. Despite this, the leprechaun hunt tradition lives on and occurs every year on a Sunday in March at 2PM.
After O’Hare’s death, though, strange things started to occur to McCoillte. O’Hare’s pub was since sold and the leprechaun display remained, except for the gold coins, which had gone missing. McCoillte was the one who found them, randomly; while repairing a stone wall near his house, he made the re-discovery. After that, McCoillte himself began encountering leprechauns, and from these experiences he and others interested in leprechauns began to rally for the protection of the mountain that they believed to be their home. His efforts were finally rewarded as the European Union made the area a preserve in 2009 under the E.U. Habitats Directive. They also made the leprechauns a protected species, as they could neither prove nor disprove their existence.2. They Don’t Wear Green
According to traditional Irish legend, leprechauns actually wear red! Think of the similar green outfit you might imagine, but in fancy red and gold as well. You might see one in a red coat laced richly with gold and a matching waistcoat. However, instead of the derby hat we’re used to seeing, leprechauns of past would wear a tri-cornered hat (think Paul Revere, but in red), and shoes and buckles of gold.
So when did their clothes turn green? The green is actually an American adaptation. It’s thought that since Ireland started becoming known as “The Emerald Isle”, and part of the Irish flag is green, green just became the go-to color for all things Irish.3. They’re Traditionally Cobblers
Leprechauns are typically considered to be cobblers, or shoemakers. According to some researchers, the origins of the word leprechaun come from the Gaelic word for shoemaker, “leath bhrogan.” Like many mythical creatures that have a distinct sound or trace left behind to hint at their presence, the leprechaun also has theirs. The tap-tap-tapping sound of a hammer to nails into a shoe is their signature sound and indicate that they are close by.
Interestingly enough, though a typical cobbler lives modestly, leprechauns are very well-dressed (as we spoke of in #2) and have that pot of gold at the end of their rainbow.4. Early Legends Say They Live in Water
Earlier tales about these creatures say that they lived in water, and might try to drag people down to their underwater lair. Though we mentioned one word origin in #4, others say leprechaun may have derived from “luchorpán”, which means small body. This eighth-century legend of water spirits proposes that these sprites merged with mischievous household fairies that haunt cellars and drink too much.
Though their specific origins are unclear, one piece that remains constant throughout their folklore is that they are mischievous, rogue, and clever creatures that are hard to find.5. Legend Says Leprechauns Came From a Divine Race
Irish folklore indicates that leprechauns, like other fairies and sprites of lore, came from an ancient, divine race called Tuatha Dč Danaan, “peoples of the Mother Goddess Danu.” The Tuatha Dč were the last divine race in Ireland before they conceded to the Celts and Gaels, who are the ancestors of the present-day Irish.
There are different versions of what happened to these Tuatha Dč, whether they were defeated and run underground, or if they had prepared for their destiny and began to move their existence underground. They became known as the Aes sidh, ‘people of the mound’ since they lived below the Earth’s surface in mounds. It’s said there are whole kingdoms and cities underground, but sometimes these ‘Fairy-Folk’ or ‘little people’ will sometimes come above-ground as mischief-makers.
Again, the leprechauns are thought to be just one of the line of descendants from the Tuatha Dč. However, folklore also indicates that there are no female leprechauns. In attempts to explain how more leprechauns come to be, some folklore has said that they are deformed children of fairies.
While there is no cut-and-dry history of the leprechauns, it’s fun to go back into the folklore and see what early tales tell of them. Though some versions are incongruous or overlap in strange ways, we can piece together the information like a puzzle to make sense of the history behind them. At the very least, we can enjoy their present-day form in celebrating St. Patrick’s Day!
Don’t forget to include Independence Bunting in your holiday-decorating activities! We have a special St. Patrick’s Day section to help with the festivities and bring the magic of Ireland to your home or office! Visit our contact page, or call us directly at 800-995-9125 for more information!