The origins of Leprechaun Day are just as mysterious as the hiding places of the pots of gold belonging to the little folk. But Leprechauns themselves have been part of Irish folklore for thousands of years, and even though these tiny fairies have reputations for playing tricks and being mischievous, they are well-loved and deserving of a day to call their own.
It is said that if you catch a leprechaun, he will have to give you his pot of gold, but leprechauns are resourceful when it comes to defending their gold, and they are not easily caught. If you are unable to catch one of the wee folk on Leprechaun Day, you can still honor the day by nourishing your own pot of gold. Adding to a savings account is a guaranteed method of increasing your wealth, and perhaps your pot of gold will lure a sly leprechaun.
The Origins of Leprechauns
The word leprechaun comes from the Old Irish language, and when traced back to its roots can be translated to mean ‘small body’. Leprechauns were thought to have lived in the fairy rings and fairy houses of Ancient Ireland, and have been referenced in ancient Irish manuscripts as far back as the 12th – 15th Centuries!
Although today’s leprechauns are often depicted as male, with ginger hair, a wiry beard and wearing a green coat and little top hat. The leprechauns referenced in these ancient manuscripts often wore red and were not always male, with female leprechauns known for luring unsuspecting men away from their homes for revelry and adventure.
Over the years female leprechauns seem to have disappeared from stories and tales and have been replaced with the green-wearing little men that we know today.
Although the way we imagine leprechauns may have changed over the years, one thing has consistently remained the same – leprechauns will always be sly, cunning and cheeky fellows, full of mischief and naughtiness.
Why are leprechauns obsessed with gold?
Although we now closely associate leprechauns with their love of gold, they weren’t always so obsessed with the shiny yellow stuff. Leprechauns first became associated with gold through an ancient Irish story which over the years has turned into somewhat of an Irish legend.
In this story, the Danes, who had recently invaded Ireland, left the leprechauns in charge of all the wealth and plunder that they had taken during their conquest. Unbeknown to them, the leprechauns were not as trustworthy as they first seemed, and the cheeky little leprechauns hid the plunder and gold in pots and pans before hiding it throughout the whole of Ireland.
The legend still has it that whenever a rainbow appears, it ends where a leprechaun has buried his gold.
Leprechauns are cheeky tricksters
Since this tale, the notion that leprechauns possess a hidden wealth has stuck in the minds of storytellers and most of the legends that follow center around stories of humans trying to catch and deceive a leprechaun in an attempt to steal their wealth. But leprechauns are not so easily deceived. Leprechaun gold is very well hidden, and although they will reveal the location of their treasure when questioned by a human, if the person looks away from them, even for a second, they can disappear into thin air – never to be seen again.
Some stories also give leprechauns the ability to grant wishes, which usually end up backfiring on the human – one of the most famous examples of this is the story of Seamus. Seamus was a simple man from Ireland, who, having caught a leprechaun, was granted a wish. He thought long and hard about his wish before deciding that he wanted to be rich and to live on a tropical island. With a click of his fingers, the leprechaun made Seamus’ wish come true, but as expected, there was a catch. Although Seamus was rich and on a tropical island there were no pubs, no people and no shops on the island and so Seamus’ great wealth was completely useless. Bored and tricked by the leprechaun, Seamus wished to be back in Ireland, where although he may not be rich, there were pubs, people and shops.
Other creatures related to leprechauns
Leprechauns aren’t alone in causing mischief in Irish tales and are closely related to the Clurichaun and Far Darrig Faeries.
The Clurichaun is a mischievous fairy, with a love for drinking and causing trouble. Often found living in or near to a pub, brewery or wine cellar, the Clurichaun is also a treasure guardian and is handy at repairing shoes too. In some Irish folk-tales, it is told that Leprechauns turn into Clurichauns when they get drunk and disorderly!
Far Darrig faeries are also similar to leprechauns except that they wear a red coat and hat. Another mischievous character in Irish folk law, Far Darrig faeries are often depicted as fat and hairy and in some cases even have long rat-like tails and noses. Obsessed with making practical jokes Far Farrig faeries are usually responsible for causing trouble and are also often connected with giving people nightmares.
Today, leprechauns are still strongly associated with Irish history and feature heavily in pop-culture. Mostly depicted as mischievous but likable characters, you’ll have likely seen leprechauns on television, in film, in children’s cartoons and even in advertising campaigns. Some of the most notable depictions of leprechauns in popular culture include the mascot of the cereal, Lucky Charms, and as logos for sports personalities and teams. Despite most renderings of modern leprechauns taking a positive look at their characteristics, some films have chosen to dote on their darker side, including the American horror film ‘Leprechaun’, which we wouldn’t advise watching unless you have a thick skin!
Things to do on Leprechaun Day
Leprechaun Day is a chance to celebrate the history of these mischievous Irish faeries and opens up the door for some serious Leprechaun fun! There are no set rules about how to celebrate Leprechaun Day but if you are looking for things to do then here are some things that you could try:
- Read some traditional Irish tales about leprechauns
- Read a poem by Irish poet Willian Butler Yeasts and learn more about their past
- Dress up in some leprechaun appropriate attire for a treasure hunt in the woods
- Take on the spirit of a leprechaun by adding some coins to your money box or by making a payment into a savings account
- Try creating your own rainbows by spraying a gentle mist of water into the air when the sun is shining
- Bake a leprechaun cake, decorate it with green icing and Irish symbols and then leave it out for them to eat
Whatever you decide to do to celebrate Leprechaun Day, the most important thing is to have fun and to remember the part that leprechauns have played throughout Irish history.