St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner, and with it comes the ever-popular figure from Irish mythology and folklore: the leprechaun. Though not connected with the historical figure of St. Patrick, or the original celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, the leprechaun is now a well-recognized symbol of Ireland and Irish culture.
The earliest origins of this mythical creature are thought to date back to before the arrival of the Celts in Ireland. Some scholars speculate that leprechauns were originally linked to “faerie forts” and “faerie rings,” small mounds of earth with unknown origins scattered throughout Ireland. At some point in history, the leprechaun morphed into its own entity, distinct from the other fairy beings of Irish folklore. These early leprechauns were characterized as little old men and were thought to be shoemakers or cobblers for these fairies.
The legend of the leprechaun soon came to describe these supernatural beings as “crotchety, solitary, yet mischievous creatures”—diminutive shoemakers who hid the gold they made from their labors in a pot at the end of a rainbow or scattered throughout the mountains and forests. Additionally, leprechauns were originally thought to wear red, and only in the twentieth century did the image of the leprechaun change to a figure in green, coinciding with a general shift in associating the color green with anything Irish.
Today, leprechauns in popular culture are perhaps not as cranky, yet they still maintain a reputation for mischief. In Lorna Balian’s Leprechauns Never Lie, Ninny Nanny and Gram are in a bad state—the rain barrel is empty, the potato field needs digging, and all they have for food is rainwater soup! Yet, Ninny Nanny is lazy, so she decides to catch a leprechaun and find out were he has hidden his pot of gold. But finding the leprechaun’s fortune turns out to be much more than Ninny Nanny and Gram bargained for. The leprechaun leads them on a merry chase throughout their farm—all with the best intentions!
If young readers would like to catch their own leprechaun, consider helping them set up a leprechaun trap to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Construct a trap that lures the leprechaun onto a fake floor with spray-painted “gold,” or assemble a trap that uses a shoebox, a dowel, and (of course) gold to catch the leprechaun under the box.
Have fun building and decorating a trap, but don’t forget that leprechauns are mischievous and smart creatures, so you never know what to expect!