A Photo & 5 · about me · Cultural History · Funny history · Historical Places

A Photo & 5: Leprechauns

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I sure love faux history. Legends, make-believe, folklore…these are the entertaining offshoots of serious historical study. Although they contain no historical truth, they are representative of cultural history, and at the very least, they are just FUN. One could argue that those who understand and appreciate the history of a culture well enough to create fairytales about it may, in fact, understand it best. I love people who perpetuate nonsense and see the value in studying something simply for fantasy and enjoyment. I am aware that leprechauns are not real. But, I am also aware that lurking closely behind every legend and mythical creature is some pretty interesting history. I’ll be darned if I’m not a sucker for the little green guys and for St. Patrick’s day. So, in honor of this emerald day, I’m posting a photo & 5 about leprechauns and some of the history behind these tricky little creatures. Your photo is above (courtesy of one seriously hilarious afternoon involving me, a camera, and my children) and now, your 5 facts:

1. A leprechaun is technically an Irish fairy; the idea may possibly have been derived from the Tuath(a) Dé Danann, a magical and inhuman race in Irish mythology. Meaning “people of the goddess Danu,” it is believed that they represent the main deities of pre-Christian Gaelic Ireland. References to leprechauns as we know them do not show up, however, until medieval times, with the first in the story Echtra Fergus mac Léti (Adventure of Fergus son of Léti). The story tells of 3 sneaky lúchorpáin (leprechauns) who are captured by a king and then grant him 3 wishes for their freedom.

2. Traditionally, a leprechaun’s main occupation is making and mending shoes. I enjoy that the leprechaun has an occupation at all. Until I learned this,  I was perfectly satisfied with the idea of him doing nothing but skipping through green, picturesque fields picking clovers.Way to be productive, leprechauns.

3. According to Irish poet William Butler Yeats, leprechauns came upon the gold in their pots at the end of rainbows by uncovering it from where it was buried in “old war time.”

4. The book Irish Wonders (David Russell McAnally), identifies the leprechaun as the son of an “evil spirit” who is “not wholly good nor wholly evil,” which makes me like him even more. None of this “good fairy” “bad fairy” business. He’s a relatable creature.

5. The leprechaun has a sneaky, drunk cousin that is known as a clurichaun. As described by folklorist Nicholas O’Kearney, this little guy is said to be another being of the same class: he was a jolly, red-faced, drunken little fellow, and was ever found in the cellars of the debauchee, Bacchus-like, astride of the wine butt with brimful tankard in hand, drinking and singing away merrily. Any wine-cellar known to be haunted by this sprite, was doomed to bring its owner to speedy ruin.” Once again, relatable. Don’t we all have at least one family member like the clurichaun?

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone!

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