Everyone knows the story of Saint Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland. What some may not know is that the ‘snakes’ in the story refer to the native peoples who lived in Ireland before the importation of Christianity. That makes the tale a bit less charming. The ‘wee folk’ and pagans, and even those who practiced the earlier Celtic version of Christianity, were driven underground by religious persecution when Catholicism came to Ireland. So, on this Saint Patrick’s Day when everyone is Irish, I would like to talk a bit about the most famous, but much-misunderstood of the fey-folk, the Leprechaun.
The Leprechauns vs St. Paddy
In Ireland, where this faerie resides, he is called Lobaircin or Clurichaun (in Gaelic clúrachán or clobhair-ceann). Some folklorists describe the clurichaun as a night version of the industrious leprechaun, who goes out to drink after finishing his daily cobbles. He favors wine and wine-cellars unless he lives near those of Danish blood, when it seems he will develop a taste for beer and smoking pipes.
He—always a male— appears in the form of a tiny old man, wearing a cocked hat with a reddened face and eyes as bright as a frog’s. Often he wears a long apron over a coat with big brass buttons, and silver buckles on his shoes. By profession he is a maker of brogues, and it is by the noise of him hammering on shoe-heels on a fine summer’s day that he may most often be found. He favors private, untrodden ways, like bog-meadows, for his work. This shyness is understandable because he is both rich and curmudgeonly, and once word got around to the human invaders about his habit of keeping a buried crock of gold, people began trying to force him reveal where his treasure is hidden. Leprechauns are not common these days if ever they were, but if you can succeed in finding one in the countryside, and manage to not take your eyes off him even to blink (because he will turn into fog or smoke and disappear), you may then be able to threaten him with sufficient bodily harm, like cutting off his nose, that he will reveal where he has buried his cache. Better have a shovel on hand for digging because though he will lead you openly to the field where the gold is buried, and you mark the spot carefully, you will never find the hiding place again because he has led you into a faerie land.
Of course, as it is with all the fey, you must be very careful in your dealings, because while they will give you exactly what you bargained for, it is almost never what you want. Personally, I would never threaten one of the fey. It isn’t nice. Besides, like many who know and believe in the little men, I am mortially afeared of the wee folk’s fooleries and revenge, and Saint Patrick is not here to protect us.