Why are Leprechauns Associated with St. Patrick's Day?

What leprechauns are and what they do

Leprechauns have been known since ancient times as part of a group of “wee ones” called luchorpans (or lobaircin), and are in many of Ireland’s Fairy-tribe legends.

Although leprechauns are frequently referred to in Irish literature dating back as far as the 16th century, their exact character does not seem to have been fully understood until more recent times.

Usually described as old men of small size who wear cocked hats and leather aprons, they are makers of brogues by profession (a type of low-heeled shoe). Leprechauns prefer to live alone in remote places and spend their time making shoes. In most of the stories about them, it is the noise of their hammering that ultimately gives them away.

Solitary and unfriendly by nature, every leprechaun is believed to possess a pot of gold which he hides and protects. Legend says that if you can capture a leprechaun and threaten him with bodily harm, he may reveal the location of his secret stash. The problem is, as many who have tried will agree, is that if you glance away for even a moment, he will disappear--vanishing along with all hopes of finding his treasure.

How to catch a leprechaun

Through the ages, many types of leprechaun traps have been fashioned. Although the perfect trap has never been created (leprechauns are too tricky), people are always trying to come up with new ideas that will lead them to the famous pots of gold. But no matter which trap you choose, the trick is to be very clever and think like a leprechaun!

Experts on this subject say the very best traps are made from nets, old shoe boxes (since leprechauns are cobblers, they will be naturally attracted), cardboard boxes, and other large containers. But more important than the trap itself is the bait you choose.

Since leprechauns are very greedy, one of the best things you can use for bait are coins. Don’t worry if you can’t afford to use real coins (since the leprechaun make figure a way to snatch them without being caught), you can easily substitute candy coins. Other options are coins made by cutting circles out of cardboard and then painting them gold, or painting small rocks to look like gold nuggets. (Some say Lucky Charms cereal may even work!)

Another old leprechaun trapper’s secret is to make your trap blend into its surroundings by coloring it green or decorating it with four leaf clovers. You can never be too cautious because leprechauns become suspicious very easily and will leave in a flash--if they figure out what you’re up to! But, they always leave a trail of gold or green glitter, so be on the look-out for these signs! And since leprechauns catch on so quickly, if one trap fails, you’ll have to change your whole design the next time.

A famous leprechaun story

One of the best known stories about leprechauns is a tale from Ireland known as “Clever Tom and the Leprechaun.” As the story goes, Oliver “Tom” Pathrick was the eldest son of a farmer from Morristown, not far from Liffey in Kildare County. One sunny day while Tom was walking through the woods near the stonecutter’s house, just talking to himself, he heard singing. Thinking it odd that the stonecutter would be singing so loudly -- he’d never known him to sing at all -- Tom looked through the bushes and spied a large brown jug (used for storing liquor) and a wee man with a cocked hat and a fancy leather apron standing beside it, hunched over a pair of shoes.

Making his way through the brush, Tom sneaked up on the little man and said, “God bless your work, honest man. I wonder why you’re working on the holiday.” To this the little man said, “That’s my own business.” “Well, perhaps you’d be good enough to tell me what you have there in the brown jug,” Tom said. “It’s good beer,” said the little man. Tom said, “Will you give a body a taste of your beer to try?” To this the little man replied, “There you are bothering decent folk with your questions when you should be tending your father’s farm. You’re here while the cows are knocking the corn about.”

So taken was Tom by this revelation -- that the cows could be damaging the corn -- that for a moment he considered jumping up and racing home; but then he had a second thought. If this is a genuine leprechaun, all I need do is reach out and grab him. Then, he’ll have to tell me where his treasure is hidden.

In his excitement, however, as Tom reached out, he knocked over the jug of beer. “This is a fine way to treat a good soul, this is!” cried the leprechaun. As the leprechaun reached to retrieve the jug, Tom seized the moment, reaching again and this time, catching hold of his coat--frightening the poor little man. “If you don’t hurt me, I’ll show you where my crock o’ gold is,” he told Tom. And so off they went, with Tom holding fast on the leprechaun’s coat.

Holding tight as they traversed over ditches and through the brushes (for Tom knew how quickly a leprechaun can vanish), they came to a plowed field full of bolyawn trees. Pointing to one, the leprechaun said, “Dig under that bolyawn and you’ll get a crock full o’ gold guineas.” Realizing that he had no tools to dig, Tom tied his red garter to a branch of the tree and turned to run home to fetch one. “Seems you have no further occasion for me, then,” the leprechaun said. “No, said Tom, you may go away now.”

Back at home, Tom got a shovel and ran back to the field as fast as his legs could carry him. All the way, he was so pleased with himself that he’d outsmarted the leprechaun and was about to be rich. But when he returned to find the tree with the pot of gold, he saw that every bolyawn tree in the field had a red garter. He’d been tricked! Returning home with his shovel over his shoulder, he cursed the leprechaun every step of the way.

Why leprechauns are associated with St. Patrick's Day

Although there appears to be no direct historic connection between leprechauns and St. Patrick’s Day, there are a number of popular theories as to why the two have become linked.

One idea speculates that the two are connected because a leprechaun is a symbol of good luck, and that St. Patrick must have had good luck to finally escape his Irish captors.

Another idea is that in America, all the symbols associated with the Irish people have become lumped together into one all-Irish holiday with shamrocks, leprechauns, blarney, green beer, and public intoxication just part of the festivities.

Another theory (of mythological proportions) is that the original Irish were indeed leprechauns--which seems the less likely of the three.

St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland

What is not commonly understood in America is that while St. Patrick’s Day is a day of celebration and revelry in the United States (and much of the west), in Ireland it is a more solemn, largely religious holiday, not unlike Easter or Christmas. It is celebrated with Church mass, community feasts, and acts of charity. In Ireland, parades, shamrocks, and green beer are provided mostly for the tourists who expect it.

An Irish blessing about leprechauns

Near a misty stream in Ireland in the hollow of a tree,

Live mystical, magical leprechauns who are clever as can be.

With their pointed ears and turned up toes and little coats of green,

The leprechauns busily make their shoes and try hard not to be seen.

Only those who really believe have seen these little elves,

And if we are all believers, we can surely see for ourselves.

Do you want to vouch for James R. Coffey's expertise in Holidays? Vouch ×
What is a Vouch?

Comments

1
share
...