Here is a nice cross post from the Fantastic Reality list on the wee
folk. As you'll see, one of them defined that he was from "the
mountains". Now, Leprechauns don't live on the mountains because then
we would have seen them. So they live in the mountains. Cavern worlds!
Dear Friends and Listmates,
A very happy St. Patrick's Day to you all tomorrow--and "Top of
Morning" to you all!
I thought you might all enjoy the copy below of a talk I gave on
"Leprechauns" exactly a year ago today, on March 16, 2006, at the St.
Patrick's Day Luncheon of a local women's club in a Long Island
restaurant, on the invitation of my friend Beth Anne Reynolds who is
"Queen" (President) of the Merrick-Bellmore (Long Island) Red Hat
Beth Anne later told me she especially liked my Hamlet quote from the
end of my talk, "There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio,
than are contained in your philosophy." I told her that it's one of
own all-time favorite quotations. Alongside of it, of course, my
all-time top favorite quote is J.B.S. Haldane's "suspicion" that "the
Universe is not only queerer than we suppose" but "also queerer than
_can_ suppose," from his 1927 book _Possible Worlds_.
If I'd had more time--I had about 25-30 minutes to speak--and it had
been an audience either of professional folklorists or of serious,
dedicated Forteans--I would have also expatiated at length on the
Leprechauns as a typical example of the world-wide folklore--and
real-life "experience anomaly"--tradition of the "Other
Race," or "Parallel Species"!
LEPRECHAUNS (Red Hat Society talk)
Where have the Leprechauns gone? [PAUSE]
Why are there only male Leprechauns? [PAUSE]
What is the Leprechauns' favorite color? [PAUSE]
How do the Leprechauns bring good luck? [PAUSE]
What do the Leprechauns have to do with St. Patrick's Day?
At the end of the evening, we'll play an Irish Blarney game
and answer these questions!
But first, let me tell you about the Leprechauns!
Come with me on a trip through Time!
Close your eyes, and picture yourself back in Ireland on a
chilly, windy autumn evening in the Middle Ages, 700 or 800 years
'Tis growing dark, and mists are beginning to shroud the fields and
woods. An Irish farmer begins trudging his weary way home after a
hard day's work in the fields harvesting the wheat. 'Tis a poor,
crop he's reaped this Fall, like last year but even worse. He wonders
next year there will be enough to feed the family. Maybe...maybe..he
might have to say farewell to his family, and run away to the sea as
sailor, like so many Irish farmers in lean years...But if he left,
about Bridget and the children? Where would THEY go?... The wind's
howling seems to echo his own somber thoughts, as does the hooting of
<<What's this?! What do I hear, over and above the
a tap-tap-tapping, like someone hammering in the distance! Could that
a Leprechaun, a Little Cobbler, busy making his shoes? Could
he perhaps help me and Bridget out? Could he show us a buried pot of
gold to buy food for next year? They say there's treasure still
somewhere on Sir Brian's lands, though nobody knows just where any
more--maybe the Leprechaun can tell me just where that would be!>>
So, who or what exactly are the Leprechauns? Whom or what did the
think he heard that night hundreds of years ago?
Like many other nations, the Irish believe in a variety of fairies,
"Little People," and supernatural beings. There is the Puca,
pictured in different Irish counties as a ghostly black horse or
as a small deformed goblin, and as a huge, hairy bogeyman--but almost
always as a sinister, frightening figure. There is the Merrow, a
of mermaid. There is the Grogoch, a hairy little red man who lives in
caves or tree-clefts outside but can be induced to do household
chores--though he can also get in the way too often! There are the
Dullahan, a scary headless horseman that may have inspired our
"Legend of Sleepy Hollow" story. We have, too, the Banshee, a female
voice screaming or wailing in the middle of the night, foreshadowing
death in the family--and a number of others. Ireland's best-known and
best-loved fairy by far, however, is the Leprechaun, the most winsome
and charming of all the fairy-folk!
The Irish have believed in Leprechauns for many hundreds of
years, but for a long time the outside world knew little about them.
Then, in the early 1800's, folklorists began studying Irish beliefs
customs. Folklorists are scholars who study the beliefs and customs
different groups of people--such as Irish farmers, for instance. They
observe customs, and ask local people to describe their beliefs, sing
their songs, demonstrate their dances, and tell their stories,
and proverbs. In Ireland, folklorists studying the beliefs and
of the rural Irish learned about many fascinating traditions. They
learned about memories of the old Viking raids spreading fear and
destruction in their dragon-boats, about stories of buried treasure,
about kissing the Blarney Stone to gain the gift of eloquence, about
Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland, and about many others.
most fascinating of all, they learned about the Leprechauns--and told
the rest of the world about them.
Belief in Leprechauns, they found, went back to the Middle Ages.
Mediaeval Irish chroniclers described rural Leprechaun beliefs. Irish
farmers trudging home from a long day's back-breaking work in the
often thought they could hear the Leprechauns' hammering in the
distance. It must be the Little People hard at work making their
The Leprechauns were pictured as busy, hard-working shoemakers only a
couple of feet tall. They were believed to make shoes for all the
fairies. The name Leprechaun itself comes from either of two Gaelic
expressions, _leath bhrógan_ "shoemaker" or _lúchorpán_ "pigmy,
half-body, small body"--reflecting both their size and their usual
activity. The Leprechauns were also pictured as guardians of buried
treasure, who could be persuaded to show humans the location of a pot
gold. That was a very important reason for their appeal to the Irish!
To understand this Irish belief about Leprechauns and the pot of
we must first know a few things about Ireland's history. We nowadays
think of Ireland as a charming country, famous for its natural beauty
and its many quaint traditions. Visitors love Ireland's bright green
fields, its mists, and its suggestions of an old, mysterious history.
However, in Roman times (up to almost 500 A.D.) and the Middle Ages
(about 500-1500 A.D.), Ireland was a poor, wild country on Europe's
outermost Western fringe where life was very hard except for the
Ancient and mediaeval Ireland was divided into several
kingdoms constantly at war with each other, and it was constantly
and invaded by foreigners. From 795 to 1014 A.D., it was repeatedly
attacked and overrun by Vikings from Norway and Denmark in their
dragon-headed long-boats. "From the fury of the Northmen, good Lord
deliver us!" was a common Irish, English, and even continental
prayer in those days. To escape the "fury of the Northmen," some
monks fled to Iceland--and possibly even to America, according to
scholars! After England's Norman Conquest in 1066 A.D., the
Norman-French from France and England became Ireland's new invaders.
They were followed from 1171 on, by the English themselves. In the
Middle Ages, from 1200 to 1500, Ireland gradually became step-by-
an English colony.
Periodic famines often brought Irish farmers to the verge of
both in Roman times and in the Middle Ages. Some turned to piracy,
raiding England and Scotland for slaves, food, and gold. As a boy of
St. Patrick was himself taken by Irish raiders from his Scottish home
around 403-406 A.D., and taken to Ireland as a slave. There, he
and guarded the Druid (Irish pagan) high priest Milchu's sheep, until
dream inspired him to escape and sail back home to Scotland. Disease
epidemics, too, often killed off great numbers of Irish throughout
Middle Ages. The worst of these was the Black Death (bubonic plague
epidemic) of 1347-1351. And even in modern times, Ireland suffered
"Potato Famine" of 1846-1848, where a fungus destroying the potato
killed off a million Irish out of 8 million through starvation and
disease, and drove another million to migrate to America.
During their constant wars and invasions, the Irish often buried
valuables--gold, silver, and jewels--underground, to hide them from
brutal, greedy raiders and invaders with their fire and sword. Often,
the original owners were killed or carried off as slaves by the
and the exact location of the treasure was forgotten. Later
however, recalled that some kind of treasure was buried somewhere in
their area--and they hoped the Leprechauns could lead them to it. In
times of famine, especially, poor Irish farmers dreamt of the
Leprechauns making life a bit easier for them by showing them these
treasures, with which they could then buy bread for themselves and
To gain the Leprechauns' help, Irish farmers in the Middle Ages left
food for them--bread, porridge, and turnips--on their own farmhouse
doorsteps. They believed that the Little People were often just as
hungry as themselves! If the food was gone in the morning, the
Leprechauns must have taken and eaten it! Also to gain and retain the
Leprechauns' good will, Irish farmers flattered them by always
them the "Gentry" or the "Good People" in case they overheard. In
general, the Irish treated the Leprechauns with kindness and respect.
few Irish, of course, were more greedy and impatient than their
neighbors, and tried to force the Leprechauns to reveal the location
buried treasure by treating them roughly. Superstitiously, mediaeval
Irish farmers also thought the Leprechauns--the lúchorpán, "small
bodies"--could make themselves small enough to hop on a man's thumb.
Like so many supernatural beings in folklore throughout the world,
Leprechauns were believed to be shape-shifters, changing their size
shape at will. Irish farmers used to fertilize their fields by
branches with green leaves in March just before St. Patrick's Day and
sprinkling the ashes over the fields. However, to make sure no
leprechauns were hiding in the leaves, they first shook the branches
vigorously to shake out the leprechauns! It certainly would not do to
burn or otherwise harm the Leprechauns!
Leprechaun beliefs, however, were by no means confined to the Middle
Ages, the folklorists discovered! Modern Irish farmers in the 19th
20th centuries believed in them just as much, they found! Modern
farmers in fact had even more to say about them than the mediaeval
chroniclers. Those chroniclers wrote mostly about the doings of
nobility, and bishops, and weren't too interested in the customs and
beliefs of ordinary people. That gap was filled in by modern
folklorists. From the stories told by these farmers, the folklorists
gathered a vivid, detailed picture of 19th and 20th century
Modern Irish farmers described the Leprechauns as little
men from 2 to 3 feet tall. Only male Leprechauns were reported--
ever saw female Leprechauns. They were usually solitary, rarely seen
groups--unlike some other Irish fairies who often were seen in
They usually wore a belted jacket, a top hat with belt and buckle,
breeches, and boots with a buckle. They often wore a leather apron.
Sometimes they wore a cocked hat instead of a top hat. Their clothes
were sometimes described as bright red, sometimes as green--but green
became the more common Leprechaun costume color from the late 1800's
though even in the 20th century they were sometimes reported as
Folklorists have suggested that bright red may have appealed as a
startlingly vivid color signaling the sudden appearance of something
extraordinary near oneself. Green, on the other hand, may have
symbolized the mystery of wild Nature. The increasing popularity of
green from the late 19th century on may reflect the rise of green as
Irish national color. However, before the 19th century stress on the
Irish patriotic "wearing of the green," Leprechauns just as often
red as green clothes!
As in the Middle Ages, Irish farmers in recent times too
set out food for the Leprechauns--now, it was mostly potatoes. The
Leprechauns were still pictured as busy, hard-working shoemakers--and
guardians of buried treasure. As in the Middle Ages, the sound of a
leprechaun's hammering betrayed his presence. They were pictured as
of "potheen"--Irish "moonshine"--and as tipsy much of the time. But,
they were never too tipsy to impair their shoe-making! Fun is fun,
the work does have to get done!
Their role as guardians of buried treasure inspired the modern idea
the Leprechauns showing you the pot of gold at the rainbow's end.
Actually, the pot of gold at the rainbow's end seems to be a modern
idea, invented by poets embellishing folklorists' descriptions of
Leprechaun beliefs, rather than an authentic bit of genuine Irish
folk-belief. It was believed that if a Leprechaun was captured and
threatened with bodily violence, he might reveal his treasure's
place, if his captor kept his eyes on him. But usually he tricked his
captor into glancing away, and the Leprechaun vanished. The
also often gave humans who chanced on them a gold coin. However, when
the human witness later tried to buy something with that coin, it
disappear--or turn int\to dust and ashes or into dead leaves. That
showed the mischievous, untrustworthy nature of the Leprechauns! The
Leprechauns were mischievous, and not always too honest. However,
were never considered really evil or scary, like for instance the
Dullahan, or Banshee. Unlike the headless-horseman dullahan or the
night-wailing Banshee, they were not considered omens of death or
As in the Middle Ages, the Irish in later times too used to
generally call the Leprechauns and other fairies by euphemisms like
"good people" or the "gentry." They believed it might be unlucky or
dangerous to speak of the fairies using their real names, in case
should be nearby and overhear. Still, with the Leprechauns, there was
less fear of actual active malice than with other fairies or
Leprechauns may not be just be a matter of legend and
folklore. The Irish, some folklorists have suggested, believed in
Leprechauns because they sometimes actually saw them. People even
claimed to have seen them in the 19th and 20th centuries! Thus, Irish
newspapers reported well-publicized "close encounters" with
in 1938 and again in 1959.
In 1938, Dublin's Irish Press reported, "Watching for fairies has
into sudden popularity in West Limerick." By fairies, the Irish Press
meant Leprechauns. Its reporter interviewed a number of men and boys
had seen and even chased groups of very short little men, who,
"jumped the ditches as fast as a greyhound." While they "passed
hedges, ditches, and marshes," they "appeared neat and clean all the
time." They were 2 feet tall, with "hard, hairy faces like men, and
ears." They were dressed in red, wearing knee breeches and "vamps"
(short socks) instead of shoes, one of them also wearing a white
This shows that the traditional red costumes occasionally persisted
the 20th century.
The sightings began when a schoolboy, John Keeley, met a short little
man walking along the road at a crossroads between Ballingarry and
Kilfinney, 6 miles from Rathkeale, in County Limerick. His story,
however, met disbelief and amusement. His friends told him to go back
and talk to the "fairy," and he did so. He asked the little man where
came from, and was told, "I'm from the mountains, and it's equal to
what my business is." The next day, John Keely met two little men at
crossroads, while a group of villagers watched secretly behind some
bushes. The little men were skipping rope, and "could leap the height
a man." John approached them, and held the hand of one of them. The 3
them began to walk down the road, but the little men noticed the
watchers, and ran away. The next few days, more of the little men
seen and chased--but never caught.
A County Carlow farmer moving a large bush with a bulldozer
1959 was startled to see a 3-foot-tall red man run out from
the machine, according to the November 9, 1959 Belfast Telegraph. The
little man ran "about 100 yards across the field, over a fence into
field adjoining." Three other men also saw the fleeing figure. Was
too, a Leprechaun, wearing the ancient bright red costume in defiance
the modern "wearing of the green"?
Leprechauns and other Little People have been seen less
in the late 20th century. Have cars, trucks, tractors, bulldozers,
other modern farm machinery frightened them off? Has the removal of
trees and boulders destroyed their habitat? Sometimes, happily, the
newspapers do report local Irish farmers protesting the removal of
certain trees or boulders, which they say are fairy or Leprechaun
The same, by the way, is sometimes reported from other countries as
well. Thus, in Iceland, construction and road projects are sometimes
delayed to protect the homes of the invisible folk who live in
forests, rocks, and harbors. Similar reports sometimes come from
and India, where farmers also believe in usually invisible "little
people" inhabiting certain trees and rocks. Perhaps the Irish should
start protecting Leprechaun trees and rocks to attract tourists, who
might then hope to catch a glimpse of the "Little People"!
Now that I've described the Leprechauns, I can explain how
they and St. Patrick actually have much in common. Both the Saint and
the Leprechauns represent hope--hope from another world. The
were thought to offer supernatural help and hope. By bringing
Christianity and faith in God to Ireland, St. Patrick actually
the hope and help the Irish had always longed for. Not all of you
I know, are Catholics. However, St. Patrick's missionary work as the
"Apostle of Ireland" is an important part of Irish history.
The Irish were superstitious, believing in all sorts of spirits and
omens of good or bad luck. In their desperation--with their wars,
invasions, poverty, hunger, and plagues--they badly needed a source
hope. Lacking a belief in God, they turned to the "Little People"
believed to roam their fields and woods--the Leprechauns. The
Leprechauns, they believed, could bring them good luck. In
as I've explained, the Leprechauns were believed to guard buried
treasure--the "pot of gold" of Irish folklore.
Then came St. Patrick. After escaping his youthful captivity in
returning home to Scotland, and studying for the priesthood in
Patrick returned to Ireland around 433 A.D. For the next 30 years, he
diligently spread Christianity throughout Ireland, baptizing many
thousands and winning over kings, nobles, and even many pagan Druid
priests. To explain the Holy Trinity, where God is One and yet also
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, he used the shamrock as an analogy in
homilies, pointing out how it is one plant yet with three leaves.
is how the shamrock became an Irish national symbol, associated with
Patrick's Day. Legend describes Patrick expelling the snakes from
Ireland, as a symbol of victory over the pagan gods. He also healed
sick Irish, and worked many other miracles. Miraculous wells of
were said to spring up at his intercession. By the time of Patrick's
death around 464 A.D., most of the Irish had become Christians. From
being a primitive country on Europe's fringe, Ireland became "the
of saints and scholars," largely thanks to St. Patrick's work.
In pagan times, the Leprechauns were believed to bring supernatural
and help for the Irish, who did not yet believe in God. By bringing
Christianity to Ireland, St. Patrick gave the Irish the "real thing,"
faith in a real and not just an illusory or superstitious source of
supernatural hope and help. The Leprechauns and St. Patrick,
symbolize the spiritual state of Ireland before and after conversion.
I have one more closing thought. If people have sometimes
actually seen Leprechauns and other "Little People," just what DID
see? Nobody really knows! There are theories--but they're just
speculation. Some researchers have suggested survivors of an ancient
race of dwarfs who preceded the ancestors of the Irish themselves,
hid out in small clans in the countryside until quite recently.
they've been explained as QUITE vividly perceived symbolic
personifications of the mysterious forces of Nature. Other students
suggested some sort of "psychical" phenomenon. They have speculated
about "thought-forms" created by the "collective unconscious" of a
community by mental telepathy, causing people to actually see what
believe. Still others plead total ignorance, describing sightings of
unusual beings as "experience anomalies." Those are experiences that
know people can and sometimes do have but whose actual mechanism is
still completely unknown. As Shakespeare had Hamlet remind his
"There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are
in your philosophy." But, like I said, nobody REALLY knows! Maybe
best to just leave it as a tantalizing mystery, to charm the
in a modern world grown too prosaic, too over-explained and too
--- End forwarded message ---