Fairies, you know, have full often a trade
And work for each other like brothers
And this leprechaun fairy boots and shoes made
For the use and the wear of the others
'Leprechaun' may come from the Irish luchorpán meaning 'small body' or some say that the word may be derived from the Irish leath bhrogan, meaning shoemaker. Either way in their book The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures, John and Caitlin Matthews trace leprechaun legends back to the 8th century.
Traditional leprechauns don’t wear green clothes or tall hats, nor do they have ginger beards. These are all 20th century inventions. According to Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland (1825) proper leprechauns are all shoemakers, and are exclusively male. Where baby leprechauns come from is anybody's guess.
A leprechaun is at the most only 2.5 inches high and wears dark coloured clothes that could be used as camouflage when he built his homes in the mud. His red hat is pointed and very high standing, his beard is either white or brown and traditionally he can grant you three wishes.
In Irish folklore, each leprechaun is said to have his own pot of gold, which can often be found at the end of a rainbow.
On 1 July 1964 a rumour spread through Liverpool’s schools that leprechauns had been seen in Jubilee Park. Thousands of children organised a hunt for them, tearing up plants and turf, scaling surrounding walls, and searching empty houses. Police cleared the area, but over the next couple of days thousands of kids stormed the city’s parks.
The episode is often dismissed as a case of mass delusion, but there may be a simpler explanation. In 1982, a short man called Brian told the Liverpool Echo that some children had seen him in the park, abused him for his height and called him a leprechaun. Brian went along with it, babbling at the kids in an imaginary leprechaun language, and threw sods of grass at them. They ran off, screaming, and returned en masse the next day.
According to another theory, the park constable invented the whole story as a way of getting overtime.
For many years, we were afflicted with the miserable trivialities of our tourist advertising. Sometimes it descended to the lowest depths...the leprechaun.
In 1989, Carlingford pub owner P. J. O’Hare claimed he was selling some land when he heard a scream in a nearby well. Investigating, he found a leprechaun’s clothes and bones and put them on display in his pub. The event inspired an annual leprechaun hunt in the town.
Due to phenomenal interest from the general public and the declining numbers of leprechauns, the hunt was ceased in order to campaign to the European Union to protect the area in which they are found. The area is now protected under the EU Habitats Directive, which protects flora, fauna and wild animals therefore making it illegal to hunt leprechauns in their own habitat. There are signs along the Slieve Foy mountain trail asking hikers to tread lightly and issuing the following warning: 'hunters and fortune seekers will be prosecuted.'
The Leprechaun Hunt has now resumed as an annual charity event. People are invited to hunt for ceramic leprechauns, hidden adjacent to the protected area. The public are asked to refrain from disturbing the area where the leprechauns live and not to attempt to capture any of The Little People.
In 1946, Portland newspaper columnist Dick Fagan built the world's smallest public park. His office looked down on Front Avenue, Portland from which he could see a hole in the pavement. It was supposed to be the site of a lamppost but Fagan planted it with flowers and named it Mill Ends Park.
Fagan explained in his column that he'd looked out of the window and seen a leprechaun digging in the hole. He ran down and grabbed the leprechaun, which meant that he had earned a wish. Fagan said he wished for a park of his own, but since he had not specified the size of the park in his wish, the leprechaun gave him the hole.
Fagan continued to planted flowers in the hole, and wrote about the resident family of leprechauns and their adventures in and around the park. The leader of the clan was Patrick O’Toole, who reportedly informed Fagan that Mill Ends Park hosted the 'only leprechaun colony west of Ireland.'
It was officially designated a public park on St.Patrick's Day, 1976. It is the world's smallest public park, covering less than two square feet.
It is said that a leprechaun can be found by listening for the sound of his shoemaker's hammer.
It is believed that a leprechaun is so quick that if you take your eye off him for a second, he will vanish.
A clurichaun is said to be a cousin of the leprechaun but he is always drunk.
According to Irish legends, if you catch a leprechaun you can barter his freedom for his treasure - but they can be cunning about this. One tale of leprechaun trickery concerns a man who gets a leprechaun to show him where his treasure is located. The man marks the spot with one of his red garters, releases the sprite and fetches a spade. Returning, he finds that the field is covered in red garters.
The poem from which this tale comes ('Cunning Tom and the Leprechaun', 1866, Thomas Keightley) ends:
'Our tale has a moral - all fairy tales have -
And 'tis this - if you'd wealth be possessing,
The gold that is worked for, to spend or to save,
Will prove in the end the best blessing.'
There is something sinister about putting a leprechaun in a workhouse. The only solid comfort is that he certainly will not work.
The 1993 comedy horror film Leprechaun starred Jennifer Aniston in her first feature film role.