It's not often these days that you hear a leprechaun story but they were very much a part of Gaelic folklore. A leprechaun was a mischievous little fairy with plenty of gold (more information here). If you could manage to catch a leprechaun, your financial problems would be solved.
However, as the leprechaun stories below show, it was never very straight forward, and something crazy, weird or magical was nearly always about to happen if you came across one.
Indeed, in modern Ireland ‘leprechaun' can a disparaging type of word for things that are a bit crazy or ludicrous but peculiarly Irish.
This is a bit of an aside but it was interesting to see the Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman refer to a very large unexplainable increase in our country's wealth in 2015 as “leprechaun economics”
Anyway, before I get sidetracked here are some old stories about how to catch a leprechaun (leprechawn). I have taken and adapted them somewhat from the book Irish Wonders by D. R. McAnally, Jr (available from www.gutenburg.org)
This leprechaun story is about Tim O'Donovan, of Kerry, who captured a Leprechawn and forced him to disclose the spot where his pot of gold was hidden. Tim was going to make the little rogue dig up the money for him at the spot. However, the Leprechawn pleaded that he had no spade and so Tim released him, marking the spot by driving a stick into the ground and placing his hat on it.
When Tim returned the next morning to the bog with his own spade spade, to the spot pointed out by the deceiving leprechawn he found, to his unutterable disgust, that the Leprechawn was too smart for him. In every direction innumerable sticks rose out of the bog, each bearing aloft an old cap so closely resembling his own that poor Tim, after a long search, was forced to admit himself baffled and give up the gold that the evening before, had been within his grasp, if he'd only had the brains to make the Leprechawn dig it for him, spade or no spade.
This leprechaun story is about Michael O Doherty who was trying to catch a leprechaun for over a year because he wanted to get married and he hadn't any money. So he thought he would catch a leprechaun or a luricawne as Michael would have called him. He would spot one occasionally but the little fellow would make fun of poor Michael.
But one night Michael was coming home from a wake he'd been at, and on the way home he lay down under a hedge for a rest. When he got up again he saw the leprechaun in the grass mending his brogues. So he crept up as quietly as a mouse and caught the leprechaun sure enough, holding him tight until the leprechaun told him where his gold was. The leprechaun took to a place near the hills to show him the gold when suddenly Michael heard an almighty screech over his head that would make the hairs on your head stand up.
"What in the name of the saints, was that? said Michael and he looked up from the little fellow that he was carrying in his arms. But as soon as he looked away, the little fellow took off. Michael heard the leprechaun laughing at him as he went away. And that was the nearest Michael ever got to the gold. The unfortunate Michael died poor.
Generally in any leprechaun story you will notice that even when caught the captor must be very clever to outwit the captured leprechaun, because the wily little rascal of a leprechaun has a thousand devices and generally gets away without giving up a penny of his gold. Sometimes indeed, he succeeds in bringing the eager fortune-hunter to grief, a notable instance of which was the case of Dennis O'Bryan, of Tipperary as in this leprecahaun story below
It's well known that the Leprechawn has a purse that's got the charmed shilling coin. Only one shilling, but the wonder of the purse is this: No matter how often you take out a shilling from the purse, the purse is never empty at all, When you put your finger in again, you always find one there, because the purse fills up when you take one from it, so you may stand all day counting out the shillings and they keep coming.,
Now Dennis was a young scoundrel that was always looking under hedges to try to catch a leprechawn, though they do say that the person who doesn't search for a leprechaun has a better chance at seing one than him that doesn't. Anyhow Dennis made his mind up that if there was one in the country, he'd get him. He hated work worse than sin, and spent his time sitting in a shebeen day in day out until you'd think he was stuck to the seat. But one day he was on his way home, and he spotted something red over in the corner of the field. In he goes, as quiet as a mouse, and up behind the Leprechawn and grabs him by the collar and throws him to the ground.
"Arrah, now, you ugly little vagabond,' says he, 'I've got you at last. Now give up your gold, or I'll choke the life out you, you old cobbler” and shakes him so hard you'd think his head would drop off.
Well, the Leprechawn begged, scratched, and cried, and said he wasn't a real Leprechawn at all, but a young one that hadn't any gold. But Dennis wouldn't let go of him. At last the Leprechawn said he'd take him to the pot of gold that was hid in a glen in County Clare.
Dennis didn't want to go so far, and was afraid the Leprechawn would get away. He was convinced the raschal was lying to him and that the gold was closer than that, he nearly choked the little fellow till his eyes nearly popped out. The leprechaun begged him to let him go for the magic purse Dennis thought he'd better go for it, because he was afraid that audacious little villain would trick him and get away.
So he took the purse, after looking at it to make sure it was red silk, and had the magic shilling in it. However, the minute he took his two eyes off the Leprechawn, away ran the rogue with a laugh that Dennis didn't like at all.
But he was feeling very good about himself after catching a leprechaun and getting the purse. “Begorra, I'm going to eat my fill for once, and drink till a steam engine can't squeeze another drop more down me neck,” says he. Off he goes to Miss Clooney's sheebeen where he found Paddy Grogan, Tim O'Donovan, Mike Conathey, an' Bryan Flaherty, and a string of other sitting at a table and he pulls up a seat and calls on Miss Clooney to bring her best.
"'Where's your money?' says she to him, because he usually had nothing but tuppence or so.
"Don't you worry” says he, “about the money you penny-scraping old skeleton.Just bring your best drink," says he. “I'm a gentleman of fortune and I'll never work a day again in my life. Come, gentlemen, drink at my expense."
And so they did and more than one. After four or five rounds, Dennis ordered dinner for them all, but Miss Clooney told him she'd give him no more and not another or sup would cross his lips till he paid fur that what he already had. So out he pulls the magic purse to pay, and to show everyone what it was and where he got it.
"And was it the Leprechawn gave it to you?” they asked."It was,” says Dennis, “and the virtue of this purse is such that if you take a shilling out of it by the handful all day long, they'll come in a stream like whiskey out af a jug,” says he, and pulls out a coin.
"But when he put in his fingers for another, it wasn't there. The Leprechawn had made an eejit (idiot) of him. Instead of giving him the right purse he had given him one so like it, so that you would have to look close to tell the difference.
But the face on Dennis was a holy show when he saw what the Leprechawn had done and him with only a shilling after having drunk multiples of that.
"You and your Leprechawns, and purses, and magic shillings,” screamed Miss Clooney, get out. "You're a thief, so you are, drinking up me drink, with a lie on your lips about the purse, insulting me into the bargain" says she.
"Your impudence beats the Devils, so it does," says she and she hits him a helluva crack on the head. And the other fellows started to think it was a like he had told them and leaving them to pay for the drink he had had. So they gave him an almighty beating that it was nearly dead they left him.
Then a policeman comes along having heard the hullabaloo.
"What's matther here?, he asks"
"So when they told him, he concluded that Dennis had stolen the purse and he took by the collar .
"Leave me alone," says Dennis. "Sure what's the harm of taking a purse from a Leprechawn?'
"None at all," says the policeman, "if you can produce the Leprechaun and make him testify he gave it to you and that you haven't stolen it or circumvented another man's money.
But Dennis couldn't do it, so thrown into jail he was, and got thirty days hard labor, which he had never done in his life before. When he got out, he said he'd given up looking for Leprechawns, for they were too smart for him entirely. And they were.
Click on the link if you want to know more about another Irish female creature form, the sexually provocative Sheela-na-gig.