Ah, the Emerald Isle with its magical tales of Faeries and glorious images of St. Patrick chasing the snakes into the sea. Just be careful for what you take as reality may be myth and mist.
Take St. Patrick for instance. One is hard put to pin down just where he was born, let alone establish the facts of his life. Although forever associated with the Irish, the Catholic Encyclopedia says he was Scottish. However, there seems to be credible evidence that he was actually born in Wales. (There are also those who put in a claim that he was Italian based on his name having been recorded as Patricius.) If his origins are up for question, one thing is certain, his most famous claim to fame never happened. There were no snakes in Ireland for him to chase.
Which brings us to faeries. Don’t ask me how we made this transition of subject, for that is just the nature of magic. Things just happen out of nowhere. The best-known Irish faeries are Leprechauns. Technically, they fall into the category of Sprites or Goblins.
Apparently Leprechauns must be born old, for you never see an illustration of a young one. They are always shown as old men of short stature, generally pegged at a height of two feet, although sometimes they have been presented from a range of a foot or a height approaching five feet. Nonetheless, they tend to garb their tiny bodies in an exotic green outfit, which includes knee breeches, swallow-tailed waistcoats, pointing toed buckled shoes and squat hats holding a shamrock. They almost always carry a twisted walking stick or shillelagh and a leather purse of gold coin tethered to their belt. They top it all off with a long clay pipe and perpetual mischievous twinkle in their eyes.
There is quite a dispute over the very name Leprechaun. Some say it derives from the old Irish word for “little body”, which is luchorpan. Others hold to the idea that Leprechauns are offspring of an ancient Euro-Celtic sun god named Lugh (pronounced Luck). A third claim is the name is a corruption of “leath bhrogan”, which translates to shoemaker. This last seems credible enough, since Leprechauns are always depicted as shoemakers, and very good ones, at that, capable of working their lathe drunk or sober, and since they have more than a bit of weakness for a nip or two this is probably a good skill to possess.
Now Leprechauns are shy little folk and well should be since people seek them out for their riches. All Leprechauns possess some great cache of gold that they are bound to lead a human to if caught. The problem is, that even if a human manages to snare one of these chaps and find the gold, it is quite another feat to get it home.
One tale of how tricky the Leprechauns can be tells of a lucky chap who grabbed a little folk and was led to the treasure buried in a field. In need of a shovel, the Irishman tied his red handkerchief to a bush to mark the spot and dashed home to get a digging tool. The two minutes it took him to get home and back was enough for the Leprechaun to fasten a red handkerchief to every bush in the field.
Now most take this to show the magical and devious side of the wee folk. I take it to display the Leprechauns enormous sense of humor. Certainly it would have been much easier to untie the one handkerchief in those two minutes than to fasten hundreds to every bush in sight, but certainly wouldn’t have given the Leprechaun the great joy of seeing the stunned and amazed face of the Irishman leaning in frustration on his now useless shovel.