I’m a sucker for stories, especially anything to do with legends, myths, and of course, fairy tales. My love for these tales is part of why I originally wanted to go to Ireland and also part of why, after 3 months living in Galway and three visits to the Emerald Isle later, I still want to go back.
One of my favourite Irish tales is that of the infamous leprechaun. The legend of the Irish leprechaun is a well-known one; little wee well-dressed men, often angry or drunk (or both) with a certain fondness for gold. Traditionally these fair folk are rumoured to keep their treasures at the end of a rainbow, as many of us know from the commercials and adverts for the popular breakfast cereal Lucky Charms. But what is the real story behind these little moody little men and their hordes of treasure? Well according to a Dublin local, it goes a little something like this…
Leprechauns are, by trade, cobblers. And their number one customers are the fairies. You see, fairies love to dance and will frequently dance the night away wearing and ruining their tiny fairy shoes. When this happens, the leprechauns are kept happy and busy; paid by the fairies for their trade. But sometimes there aren’t fairy dances, so there are no fairy shoes to be mended. It is during times like these that the leprechauns will venture into the human world in search of work.
When this happens, a leprechaun will knock on a human’s door begging for work in the hopes that you have shoes in need of mending. If you do, the leprechaun will happily take them away to be fixed and return them, as good as new, when he is done. In exchange for his services he will be paid a gold or silver coin, which he would take to hide away at the end of the rainbow with the rest of his treasure.
But what if you don’t have any shoes to be repaired? Leprechauns don’t take well to not getting what they want, so if you were to say no when one came knocking, he would curse you. The most frequent curses involve spoiled milk, or cursing your child so that he or she can only speak backwards. But whatever the curse, it’s never a pleasant one, so it is best to always have a shoe in need of mending; just in case a leprechaun comes knocking.
Now, with all the work done for the fairies, and when needed, the humans (especially considering that the humans always had to be in need of some help, unless they wanted to be cursed) you can imagine that these little leprechauns have quite a large stash of gold at the ends of their respective rainbows. Gold that, for many humans, is a very tempting treasure. However, the leprechaun’s gold is too well hidden for a human to find on his own. For that you would need the help of the leprechaun himself, but first you need to catch him.
Catching a leprechaun is a tricky business. You need to be able to get him, and keep him. But being so small and quick, leprechauns can easily escape; something you cannot let happen unless you wish to be cursed. You can’t go grabbing a leprechaun by his clothing, he is too quick and will get away easily leaving you speaking backwards or stuck with spoiled milk. The best way to catch a leprechaun is to grab him tightly around the neck. Now you need to be careful here, you don’t want to bruise or hurt him, just get a good enough grip on him that he can’t break free. Once you have a hold of him and he can’t get away you are entitled to one, and only one wish. It is at this point that you can wish for the leprechaun’s gold, hidden at the end of the rainbow. Having been caught, the leprechaun is bound to grant your wish and will lead you to his treasure. Just don’t be surprised when he shows up at your door looking for work in an effort to get his gold back!