Today is St. Patrick’s Day. What better strange and mysterious creature to examine from a cryptozoological standpoint than the leprechaun?
Modern-day depictions of the leprechaun—little bearded men with pots of gold filled by paychecks from television appearances hocking sugary children’s cereal—can be seen as “little more than a series of offensive Irish stereotypes,” according to Wikipedia, so let’s dig in to the actual mythology a bit.
While traditionally human in appearance, the general belief is that leprechauns are either a type of fairy, or elves “said to serve as defenders of the faerie community.” The word “leprechaun” is thought to have grown from the Old Irish word “luchorpan”—“lu” meaning “small” and “corp” being the root of the Latin word “corpus,” meaning body.
Much has been made about the supposed pot of gold to be found at the end of a rainbow. Have you ever managed to make it to the “end” of a rainbow? Can’t… be… done, my friend. This pot of gold apparently belongs to a leprechaun somewhere and, as the story goes, if you’re able to catch a leprechaun, he’ll grant you three wishes and/or lead you to his pot of gold.
Leprechaun gold is thought to indeed be kept in pots, but it’s been suggested that these pots are buried in various areas throughout the Irish countryside. As for where all the gold came from, it’s thought to be ancient treasure “left by the Danes when they marauded through Ireland.”
And as for getting three wishes or some gold for catching a Leprechaun, IrelandsEye.com explains,
“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.”
The basic takeaway is that, on the aggregate, you’ll probably be able to earn more money by going to work than by catching a leprechaun. They clearly don’t want to be bothered and there’s no evidence that they’re able to grant wishes or are at all willing to give you some of their gold.
If you’re able to catch one, though, don’t let go. Please observe the following story, as told by Crystalinks.com:
“Leprechauns know the location of buried treasure, often in a crock of gold. They will reveal the location of this treasure if caught but will not give it up easily, hence the saying that a leprechaun’s treasure is at the “end of the rainbow” (i.e. unobtainable).
By nature leprechauns are mischievous with a great fondness for Celtic music and sports. They like nothing better than a well-crafted, ironic practical joke and Irish folklore is replete with examples. Once, a farmer captured a leprechaun and forced him to reveal the location of buried treasure. The leprechaun assured him that the treasure was buried in an open field beneath a particular ragwort plant. The farmer tied a red bandana to the plant, released the leprechaun, and left to get a shovel. Upon his return he found that all the weeds in the field had been tied with identical red bandanas.”
Which brings us to…
Leprechauns are thought to be talented shoe makers. Some believe it’s because of a fondness for dancing that leprechauns must continue to make new shoes in order to replace old, worn out ones. I’d guess that leprechauns aren’t like, “Oh sweet, I get to make new shoes,” though. They’re probably more like, “Man, I just made these things and they’re worn out already.” Maybe they’re not that good at making shoes after all.
They like to play pranks. Who doesn’t? David McAnally’s 1888 book Irish Wonders says that “the leprechaun is the son of an ‘evil spirit’ and a ‘degenerate fairy’ and is ‘not wholly good nor wholly evil’,” according to Wikipedia. The fact that they just play harmless pranks is pretty good considering half their DNA comes from an evil spirit.
Leprechauns are not drunks, though they enjoy the occasional adult beverage every once in awhile. Who doesn’t? There’s another creature called the clurichaun which is believed to be similar to a leprechaun with a drinking problem. According to YourIrish.com, “The leprechaun is fond of drinking Poteen, moonshine, but must not be mistaken by their Irish cousins the clurichauns who are drunken creatures who love to cause chaos around Ireland at night time, a headache for us humans.”
So Are They Real?
In his book The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries: The Classic Study of Leprechauns, Pixies, and Other Fairy Spirits, author W.Y. Evans-Wentz posits the following:
“Are these beings of the spirit world real beings, having a veritable existence of their own, in a world of their own, or are they only the creation of the imagination and his informants?
The newspaper, the ‘National’ School, and the Zeitgeist have answered to their own entire satisfaction that these things are imagination pure and simple. Yet this off-hand condemnation does not always carry with it a perfect conviction.
We do not doubt the existence of tree-martins or kingfishers, although nine hundred and ninety-nine people out of every thousand pass their entire lives without being vouchsafed a glimpse of them in their live state; and may it not be the same with the creatures of the spirit world, may not they also exist, though to only one in a thousand it be vouchsafed to behold them?
The spirit creatures cannot be stuffed and put into museums, like rare animals and birds, whose existence we might doubt of if we had not seen them there; yet they may exist just as such animals and birds do, though we cannot see them.”
There may never be a definitive yes or no answer to this question except to say that there are plenty of things the human mind can’t fully comprehend and plenty of animals we haven’t officially found yet. Until then, perhaps it’d be a good idea to check out the National Leprechaun Museum that just opened in Dublin.
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