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A stereotypical depiction of a leprechaun

Fascinating Facts You Probably Did Not Know About Leprechauns


The leprechaun is perhaps one of the best-known creatures in Irish folklore. Leprechauns are popularly depicted as little men with beards dressed in green coats and tall green hats. Other well-known beliefs about leprechauns include the pot of gold that they are said to keep at the end of the rainbow, and their mischievous nature. Whilst many are familiar with this general depiction of the leprechaun, there are other aspects of these Irish creatures that are less well-known.  

Leprechaun street art in Irish Quarter, Birmingham, UK

Leprechaun street art in Irish Quarter, Birmingham, UK. (CC BY 2.0)

The Name Leprechaun Has A few Possible Origins

For a start, there are a number of different theories regarding the origins of the word ‘leprechaun’. For example, one account states that this name may have been derived from the Irish leath bhrogan (which is translated as ‘shoemaker’). Another possible explanation for this name is that it comes from the word luchorpan (meaning ‘small body’). Yet another is that it is from the word lucharma’n (meaning ‘pygmy’). It may be pointed out that originally, the name leprechaun was used only in the north Leinster area, and that other regions of Ireland had alternate names for this creature, including lurican, lurachmain, and lurgadhan.

A leprechaun counts his gold in this engraving c. 1900.

A leprechaun counts his gold in this engraving c. 1900. (Public Domain)

Leprechauns are Descendants of Tuatha Dé Dannan

Leprechauns are considered to be part of the fairy family, and that they are the descendants of Tuatha Dé Dannan (translated as ‘Peoples / Tribes of the Goddess Dana / Danu’), who were a group of supernatural beings who invaded Ireland in the distant past. Interestingly, the existence of female leprechauns is not attested in Irish folklore. One explanation to get around the problem of leprechaun procreation is that these creatures are actually unwanted / deformed children of fairies that have been abandoned by the rest of the community. This may also serve as an explanation for the leprechaun’s notoriously grouchy, solitary, and untrusting nature.

Riders of the Sidhe. (1911) John Duncan. This is an imaginary representation of what the famous Irish ‘fairy people’ the Tuatha Dé Dannan (ancestors of the Leprechauns and other fairies) may have looked like.

Riders of the Sidhe. (1911) John Duncan. This is an imaginary representation of what the famous Irish ‘fairy people’ the Tuatha Dé Dannan (ancestors of the Leprechauns and other fairies) may have looked like. (Public Domain)

Leprechauns Have Cousins… or a More Mischievous ‘Dark Side’

Whilst leprechauns are known to be tricksters, they are perhaps not as troublesome as their cousins, the clurichaun. According to Irish folklore, these lesser known relatives of the leprechaun are nocturnal creatures, and are prone to causing havoc. For example, the clurichaun are often depicted as emptying out entire wine cellars, and being drunk. In many stories, they are also said to harness livestock, including sheep and goats, and ride them around Ireland in the night. According to some folklorists, the clurichaun are not a type of fairy distinct from the leprechaun, but are leprechauns in their ‘night-form’. In other words, leprechauns experience a complete change of character when they get drunk after a hard day’s work.

An illustration of a leprechaun or clurichaun, cousin of the leprechauns.

An illustration of a leprechaun or clurichaun, cousin of the leprechauns. (1862) T.C. Croker (Public Domain)

Leprechauns Work Hard and Earn Well

Speaking of work, leprechauns are believed to serve as cobblers to other fairies. Therefore, they are said to always have a hammer in one hand, and a shoe in the other. Moreover, the noise made by leprechauns hammering nails into the soles of shoes are said to be audible by human beings. According to Irish folklore, fairies are very fond of dancing, and because of that, are in constant need of new shoes. Therefore, shoemaking is a lucrative trade in the fairy world.

‘Meadow Elves’ (1850) by Nils Blommér.

‘Meadow Elves’ (1850) by Nils Blommér. (Public Domain) According to Irish folklore, fairies are very fond of dancing, so Leprechaun cobblers would be very wealthy.

One result of the leprechaun’s trade is that they are very wealthy fairies, and it is commonly believed that leprechauns keep the gold that they earn in pots hidden at the end of rainbows. Alternatively, it is believed that leprechauns are the bankers of the fairy world. In this case, the gold they keep may not be their own, but belong to other fairies who have entrusted the leprechauns with the safeguarding of their wealth.

Leprechauns are a Protected Species

Finally, leprechauns are considered to be a protected species under European Law. This status has been granted by the European Union to the supposed 236 leprechauns that are living today in Carlingford Mountain. It was here that, in 1989, the remains of a leprechaun were allegedly found by a local pub owner by the name of P. J. O’Hare. One day, a scream was heard near a well, and when O’Hare arrived at the scene, he saw bones, a tiny suit and some gold coins near a patch of scorched earth. These items are now displayed in a glass case.

So are leprechauns just the stuff of myth and legend? Not according to Ireland’s only ‘leprechaun whisperer’, who insists he’s seen these little people. Seventy-four-year-old Kevin Woods from County Louth in Ireland said he first encountered leprechauns in the Cooley Mountains more than 20 years ago. According to Mr Woods, there were once billions of them in Ireland but they all died out, and now there are just a few hundred left. He now spends his days running Last Leprechauns of Ireland tours. So is Mr Woods just a lepre-CON, or do these little people of ancient mythology really exist?

Top image: A stereotypical depiction of a leprechaun (Free Art License) and a Leprechaun hat with a pot of gold. (Public Domain)

By Wu Mingren


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The word LEPRECHAUN is of a Greek origin... It is constructed by the words LEPRE - ΛΕΠΡΑ - LEPROCY and CHAUN - ΧΑΥΝΟΣ - LANGUID. By the word LEPRE - ΛΕΠΡΑ - LEPROCY in the ancient Greek dictionary, we get the information that the skin of a Leprechaun is full of flakes, just like someone who is infected by leprocy. By the word CHAUN - ΧΑΥΝΟΣ - LANGUID we get the information about specific characteristics of the face, but also general information about the activity of the body. So the Greek word ΧΑΥΝΟΣ (for CHAUN) means the one that keeps constantly his mouth open, the one that his lower jaw is protruded, the one that is loose, slack, porous, lightweight and foolish.

The leprechauns left Ireland after tobacco was introduced to the island. Anybody who knows anything about the Little People knows this. And this article doesn't touch on their music either. Or the old woman who lived in a shoe.

Always after me lucky charms!

dhwty's picture


Wu Mingren (‘Dhwty’) has a Bachelor of Arts in Ancient History and Archaeology. Although his primary interest is in the ancient civilizations of the Near East, he is also interested in other geographical regions, as well as other time periods.... Read More

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