Leprechauns are also known by more than pots of gold in the Fairy Kingdom. The leprechaun can be identified by the sound of his knocking or tap-tap-tapping upon his little shoe bench, as they are cobblers and the sound is that of their tiny hammers making elfin shoes. Fairies prize shoes and fine clothes far more than gold. If you can trap a leprechaun—some say green velvet and fine wine do the trick—the location of all that hidden gold could be revealed. But be aware that simply looking away from the ’chaun for a moment can allow them to vanish back into the green grass or woods where you happened upon them. The leprechaun is believed to be a perpetual bachelor elf who successfully staves off scores of proposals from all manner of feminine fairy, although it could simply be that he prefers the solitary life rather than that he has an actual disdain for the feminine ilk.
Victorian-era Irish writer and folklorist David Rice McAnally Jr. amassed an entire volume of Irish legends, Irish Wonders, upon which William Butler Yeats and other scholars draw quite heavily. While little is known about McAnally, we do know he was a clergyman who heard many stories including accounts of pookas (you’ll find one of my favorites in the chapter on the subject). He wrote one of the best extended descriptions and accompanying stories of the leprechaun to date, which I have excerpted from here.
McAnally describes the leprechaun, or leprechawn, as a creature of neither evil nor good, but of rather mixed quality, the child of an evil father and a degenerate fairy of a mother. (Apparently she spent one too many nights knocking back the whiskey with a pooka). The best way to spot a leprechaun is to know what one is looking for. For physical description, McAnally’s account is unmatched. He writes:
He is of diminutive size, 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.”
If you’re curious about leprechauns and how to catch one, you’ll enjoy a selection of stories I’ve chosen for my new book, Fairies, Pookas and Changelings: A Complete Guide to the Wild and Wicked Enchanted Realm. You’ll hear the story of a man who was sure he could outsmart a leprechaun; the tale of a man who was ostracized from his village for not revealing the supposed golden store/indentured leprechaun (though it’s more likely his fortune came from hard work and a decided distaste for The Drink) and an epic tale of fairies and leprechauns on Halloween. All this, and much, much more.
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Excerpt and text copyright Varla Ventura/Weiser Books 2016.
photo: Nathan in San Diego via flickr cc