LEPRECHAUN (Irish: leipreachán) is a type of fairy in Irish folklore, usually taking the form of an old man, clad in a red or green coat, who enjoys partaking in mischief. Like other fairy creatures, leprechauns have been linked to the Tuatha Dé Danann of Irish mythology. Popular depiction shows them as being no taller than a small child.
The earliest known reference to the leprechaun appears in the medieval tale known as the Echtra Fergus mac Léti (English: Adventure of Fergus son of Léti). The text contains an episode in which Fergus mac Léti, King of Ulster, falls asleep on the beach and wakes to find himself being dragged into the sea by three lúchorpáin. He captures his abductors, who grant him three wishes in exchange for release. The leprechaun is said to be a solitary creature, whose principal occupation is making and mending shoes, and who enjoys practical jokes. According to William Butler Yeats, the great wealth of these fairies comes from the “treasure-crocks, buried of old in war-time”, which they have uncovered and appropriated. According to McAnally the leprechaun is the son of an “evil spirit” and a “degenerate fairy” and is “not wholly good nor wholly evil”.
The leprechaun originally had a different appearance depending on where in Ireland he was found. Prior to the 20th century, it was generally held that the leprechaun wore red, not green. Samuel Lover, writing in 1831, describes the leprechaun as,
- … quite a beau in his dress, notwithstanding, for he wears a red square-cut coat, richly laced with gold, and inexpressible of the same, cocked hat, shoes and buckles.
According to Yeats, the solitary fairies, like the leprechaun, wear red jackets, whereas the “trooping fairies” wear green. The leprechaun’s jacket has seven rows of buttons with seven buttons to each row. On the western coast, he writes, the red jacket is covered by a frieze one, and in Ulster the creature wears a cocked hat, and when he is up to anything unusually mischievous, he leaps on to a wall and spins, balancing himself on the point of the hat with his heels in the air.” According to McAnally, “He is about three feet high, and is dressed in a little red jacket or roundabout, with red breeches buckled at the knee, gray or black stockings, and a hat, cocked in the style of a century ago, over a little, old, withered face. Round his neck is an Elizabethan ruff, and frills of lace are at his wrists. On the wild west coast, where the Atlantic winds bring almost constant rains, he dispenses with ruff and frills and wears a frieze overcoat over his pretty red suit, so that, unless on the lookout for the cocked hat, ‘ye might pass a Leprechawn on the road and never know it’s himself that’s in it at all.'” This dress could vary by region, however. In McAnally’s account, the northern leprechaun or Logheryman wore a military “red coat and white breeches”, with a “broad-brimmed, high, pointed hat”, on which he would sometimes stand upside down. The Lurigadawne of Tipperary wore “an antique slashed jacket of red, with peaks all round and a jockey cap, also sporting a sword, which he uses as a magic wand.” The Luricawne of Kerry was “a fat, pursy little fellow whose jolly round face rivals in redness the cut-a-way jacket he wears, that always has seven rows of seven buttons in each row”. The Cluricawne of Monaghan wore “a swallow-tailed evening coat of red with green vest, white breeches, black stockings,” shiny shoes, and a “long cone [hat] without a brim,” sometimes used as a weapon. In a poem entitled The Lepracaun; or, Fairy Shoemaker, 18th century Irish poet William Allingham describes the appearance of the leprechaun as:
In the politics of the Republic of Ireland, leprechauns have been used to refer to the twee aspects of the tourist industry in Ireland. This can be seen from this example of John A. Costello addressing the Oireachtas in 1963: “For many years, we were afflicted with the miserable trivialities of our tourist advertising. Sometimes it descended to the lowest depths, to the caubeen and the shillelagh, not to speak of the leprechaun.
Films, television cartoons and advertising have popularised a specific dim-witted image of leprechauns which bears scant resemblance to anything found in the cycles of Irish folklore. Irish people can find the popularised image of a leprechaun to be little more than a series of offensive Irish stereotypes. Thanks again Wikipedia!