Leprechauns – The Little People of Ireland
Ireland is a land filled with the stories and myths of little people, but for this blog we are going to look at the famous (or perhaps infamous) Leprechaun and their cousins the Clurichaun. Leprechauns are not considered to be fairies in the traditional sense, they are the descendants of The Tuatha De Danann.
The Tuatha De Danann were an ancient tribe of mythological people (though according to some, were an actual ancient peoples) who invaded Ireland over four thousand years ago. Many battles occurred between the islanders and the invaders until a truce was finally made between them. The islanders would remain above ground and The Tuatha De Danann would live underground. Over the centuries living underground they began to shrink until they became the little people we know of today.
In the same fashion as countless stories I’ve investigated, the people of the Emerald Isle say “The Little people have always been here”.
What we think of the Leprechaun from popular culture is a diminutive man dressed in green from head to toe, a mug of ale or whisky in his hand, who guards a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. It wasn’t always this way. The Leprechaun has changed his clothing many times, from traditional Irish clothing to waist coats and frills. By the oldest descriptions, they wore a leather apron, red shirt, dark trousers, a belt with a large silver buckle and black shoes also with large silver buckles. The Leprechauns were or perhaps, are shoe makers. They apply their trade day and night hammering away as they make their small shoes, the sound can be heard throughout the woodland of which they live, far away from humans.
The Leprechaun always carries two pouches with him, one with a silver coin and the other a gold coin. He carries these coin in case he is caught so he can bribe his way out any situation, but you must always keep your eyes on him or he will vanish and the coin you’ve obtained will turn to ashes.
Another belief is that if you catch one, he will grant you three wishes so you’ll let him go, but like the Jginn (genie), one must be very careful about what they wish for. As one old story tells about a man named Seamus who caught a Leprechaun and was granted three wishes to be set free. Seamus’ first wish was to own his own tropical Island, and the Leprechaun happily granted it. Seamus’ second wish was to be the richest man on the island, and again the Leprechaun happily granted the wish. Seamus bathed in his gold but then realized there were no other people on his island and therefore no stores or pubs in which to spend the gold. So with his third and final wish, he wished he was back in Ireland.
The Leprechaun is tricky, clever, wise and intelligent, he will say and do anything to escape. Although, if one is more interested in conversing then obtaining riches, the Leprechaun is a great conversationalist, with a great sense of humor.
One story that took place over two hundred years ago tells of the leprechaun’s clever and trickster nature. Molly Cogan of Kilmallock tells of a encounter involving her grandfather and a leprechaun. One night as he went to the stable to tend to his horse, Grandpa Cogan heard something ‘hammering away’ like a shoemaker making a shoe, and whistling the nicest, prettiest song he had ever heard. He sneaked into the stable and looked around but saw nothing at first. The hammering was still going on so he looked even harder and found a little man, sitting under his horse wearing an apron with a hammer in his hand. The little man was whistling away, so engrossed in his work he did not notice Grandpa Cogan approach. The grandfather knew of Leprechauns and their gold and he intended to catch him. The man rushed to the Leprechaun and caught him in his hand. “I have you now,” he exclaimed “and I’ll never let you go until I get your purse, that’s what I want. So give it to me now.”
“Stop, stop!” cried the leprechaun, “stop and I will get it for you!”
Believing the little trickster, the man opened his hand and just then the Leprechaun jumped from his open hand and ran off laughing. He never saw the Leprechaun again and was left with just the little shoe the Leprechaun was making as a reminder of his encounter.
If you think your clever enough to outsmart a leprechaun, think again, just as Tom Pearce found out in in my favorite tale, one I heard when I was a child.
On a cold winter night, Tom Pearce was heading for home when he heard a curious hammering sound, and a cheerful whistling coming from under the hedge. As quiet as he could he crept up to the hedge and saw a little Leprechaun no taller than his knee, sitting cross-legged on a stone, hammering away at a little shoe. As in so many stories, the Leprechaun was so engrossed in his work he did not see or hear Tom’s approach. Tom snatched up the little fellow as quickly as he could.
“Let me go! Let me go!” cried the leprechaun, “What have I done to have you grab me so rudely?” “Nothing yet” Tom replied, “but if you want me to let you go, you will hand me over that purse you have that never runs short of gold.” “Damn me” grumbled the leprechaun, “I must be getting careless. That’s the third time this week I’ve been caught and they all want the same thing, me magic purse, me magic purse. I have no purse! It’s been robbed from me already.”
“All right then” said Tom, who had been taught not to be too soft with a leprechaun, “then tell me where there’s some treasure buried nearby.” “Hasn’t that also been taken already?” cried the leprechaun, “I’ve been caught so often by lummocks like you that there’s no treasure left in the county.”
“What about the three wishes then?” asked Tom. The Leprechaun looked cross, “So you know about the wishes then?” he asked sulkily.
“I know all about Leprechauns, little feller. Why do you think I’m only blinking the one eye at a time. Don’t I know that if I take both eyes off you for a second you’ll just vanish.”
“All right then,” said the Leprechaun at last, “You can have the three wishes. But if you want my advice you’ll think carefully before making them. It’s not as simple as you think, wishing for anything in the world.”
So Tom looked thoughtfully up at the sky where the stars were just beginning to twinkle, and the moon was rising out of the clouds. And of course when he looked back he held nothing in his hand but the stump of a gorse bush.
Like the Yuni Tsundi, the little people of the Cherokee Nation in America and the Tomte /Nisse, some Leprechaun watch over and guard certain people and their families for generations. If one of these clans of little people happen to guard your family or simply take a liking to you, it is because they see something good within you and you will have good luck and good health all your life. Some of these Leprechauns are even said to have followed their chosen family on to boats while they made their way to Australia, Canada and America.
Though many claim to have seen Leprechauns today throughout the world they may not in fact be a leprechaun, since their appearance is so similar to a Tomte / Nisse, and of course the reverse is also true.
Few true sightings are ever reported of the jolly little fellows for fear of ridicule with the exception of Ireland whom respect these little people with whom they share their Island. And thanks to a group of lobbyists from Carlingford, all Leprechaun are a protected species under European directive.
It is claimed that there are 236 Leprechaun living in Ireland today, belonging to five clans:
The Leinster Clan
The Ulster Clan
The Connaught Clan
The Meath Clan
The Munster Clan
Clurichauns are considered the black sheep of the family and are often confused with Leprechauns. These little fellows always have a drink of ale or whisky in hand, which they have made in their distilleries below ground. They are rude, crude, ill tempered and even foul mouthed and when deep in their cups they become a menace to the surrounding area. They have been know to put harnesses on sheep, dogs and domestic fowl ridding them like horses into the early hours of the morning until they retreat to their homes in a drunken stupor. When they are not pulling off pranks and drinking they are a bit cranky, no doubt because they have a hangover, but like the Leprechauns they are well mannered.
It is also said that unlike the Leprechauns with their cobbler abilities, they have no formal job, but making alcoholic beverages is a job and one that they can taste test themselves.
They also carry two pouches in case they are caught and will prove to be a challenge to be out witted like their Leprechaun cousins. The Clurichauns are not stylish dressers, dressing in simple plain clothing, but perhaps this is because they don’t want to ruin any fancy clothing by spilling ale on a frilled blouse or while riding a sheep bareback through the countryside during the night. It may also be a way to more easily distinguish between the cousins, but the hats and shoes with big buckles are the norm with in the family of Chauns.
The Leprechaun is the most celebrated little person across the world especially on St. Patrick’s Day (March 17) with babies, children and adults dressed in what is now the traditional green Leprechaun garb. Both Leprechaun and Clurichauns know this is their day and come out in droves to celebrate this with us, so keep your eye out for them, but remember no one has ever out smarted a Leprechaun!