The Origin of Leprechauns -- Celtic Folklore Month

The Origin of Leprechauns -- Celtic Folklore Month

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We see them all over the place here in America—on our cereal boxes, in cartoons, in parades—but what are leprechauns? Where did they come from, and why are they so iconic?

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Here's The Real Reason We Wear Green On St. Patrick's Day

The other week, I took a train ride into New York to see a show, and accidentally climbed aboard a train of loud, young frat boys dressed in green for St. Patrick's Day. I checked my calendar to make sure that I didn't accidentally travel through time (I mean, it was only March 5), and then realized that somewhere, somehow, a St. Patrick's Day event was taking place close to the city. It seems like the entire month of March is dedicated to emerald-shaded clothing, beer, and general merriment.

While I wanted to cheer the second these hooligans exited the train, I did realize that it was strange how I predicted their event based on one single factor — their green clothes. I looked down and realized that my own gray and blue sweater was a huge indication that I wasn't part of their crew. These kids took up more than one train car and had walked through the aisle of the moving train to greet people near and far who were also en route to the parade — obviously, they only approached others who were openly dressed for the occasion.

So, why do we wear green on St. Patrick's Day? It's one of my favorite colors, but how did it become tied to the patron saint of Ireland? Or even leprechauns?

It turns out there’s no one reason why green is the color of choice for the holiday. Rather, a handful of different reasons and lore combined and adapted over time resulting in St. Patrick’s Day being associated with the color green. According to National Geographic, the original color of the St. Patrick's Day was blue. However, as Nat Geo notes, green was adopted by St. Patrick’s Day festivities in the 18th century after the shamrock became Ireland’s national symbol. Additionally, green began to dominate based on Ireland’s nickname as "The Emerald Isle," which was popularized in part because of the country’s lush landscape, per USA Today.

There are also political ties to the color green. As Brian Witt, the cultural exhibits coordinator for the Milwaukee Irish Fest, told USA TODAY, green is associated with Irish nationalism. King George III introduced the Order of St. Patrick, named for the saint who was often depicted dressed in blue, per Smithsonian Magazine. After the divide between the Irish people and the British monarchy grew, the people of Ireland wanted to separate themselves from Britain and moved away from the color blue. Thus, the color green became a symbol of rebellion in Ireland, per Smithsonian Magazine.

The shamrock as a symbol of Ireland and St. Patrick’s Day also has a religious history. As National Geographic reports, some believe the shamrock represents the Holy Trinity — the three leaves symbolize the father, son, and the holy spirit. They were also used by St. Patrick to teach others about the basics regarding the Holy Trinity, per Nat Geo. Thus, it makes sense to represent the shamrock by wearing green, to pay tribute to the religious aspect, the seasonal aspect, and to the man himself.

Now, onto the leprechauns. There has been debate about whether leprechauns are offensive, specifically when thought of as a depiction of the Irish. To be clear, reducing a group of people down to a singular outfit or icon generally gets dicey. However, the leprechaun does have ties to Irish folklore. Per History, leprechauns are likely based on Celtic fairies, small creatures called “lobaircins” known for stirring magic and mischief. That eventually evolved into leprechauns pinching those who aren't wearing the color, per Nat Geo, which has developed into others pinching people to remind them that leprechauns wouldn't approve of their non-green apparel. (As someone who hates being pinched, this is reason enough to throw on a green shirt.) The latter is actually an American-based tradition, per as Christain Science Monitor, as leprechauns were first imagined to have been wearing red jackets and red, pointed hats, both free of shamrocks.

It's amazing to see how much the holiday has evolved. Back in the day, only those in Ireland celebrated St. Patrick's Day, and it usually included a feast and a trip to church. Now, it's celebrated with green clothes, drunken debauchery, and immense pride of the country — after all, everyone is a little bit Irish on St. Patrick's Day. As you wear your green clothes and drink your green beer at your favorite bar this holiday, remember why green is such a powerful color — not only will it save you from getting pinched by a weird stranger, but it'll remind you of the rich history of Ireland.

Beyond Leprechauns: 7 Creatures Of Irish Folklore

The leprechaun is one of the world's most recognized mythical creatures. In today’s popular culture, we typically think of leprechauns as small, mischievous elf-like creatures, usually clad all in green, who hoard their treasure at the terminal points of rainbows. (We also might think of the cheeky, cultish horror film series of the same name) In Irish folklore, leprechauns were believed to be solitary tricksters who mended shoes and might grant you three wishes if you caught them.

But there's more to Irish mythology than a small green man currently associated with marshmallow cereal. If you're interested in even more mythic creatures from the Emerald Isle, keep reading.


According to the 1875 volume of The Origin and History of Irish Names and Places by historian Patrick Weston Joyce, the abhartach (or avartagh) are solitary sorcerer dwarfs with the power to rise from the grave and wreak havoc as undead creatures. Not to be taken lightly. The only way to subdue their powers is to kill them with a yew-wood sword and bury them upside down.

In alternate iterations of the abhartach myth, this creature drinks the blood of his subjects. Some academics believe that this monster inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which in turn has influenced the modern-day concept of vampires.


The cluricaun (or cluricaune) is a sprite-like creature who takes the form of a tiny old man. Known for his love of drinking, he’s in a state of perpetual drunkenness and loves to play practical jokes. In his work Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, W. B. Yeats writes, “some suppose he is merely the Leprechaun on a spree,” writing them off as “sluttish, slouching, jeering, mischievous phantoms.” Yikes.

Far darrig

The far darrig (or fear dearg) is another supernatural being, who, according to Yeats, is also closely related to (or possibly just another version of) leprechauns. Described as having long snouts and skinny tails, these small faeries wear red coats and caps, and in Irish far darrig appropriately translates to “red man.” Thought to be associated with nightmares, these tricksters delight in gruesome practical jokes, like stealing babies and replacing them with changelings.

Fear gorta

Fear gorta literally means “man of hunger” in Irish. According to Yeats, this supernatural being "is an emaciated phantom who goes through the land in famine time.” He begs for food, and gives good fortune to those who help him.


The sluagh (or slua) are the spirits of sinners who, unwelcome in heaven or hell, must haunt the realm of the living. From the Irish word meaning “horde,” the slaugh were thought to move through the sky in flocks, and they’d try to enter the homes of dying people in order to steal their souls.

Ellén trechend

The Cath Maige Mucrama is a tale written in Middle Irish dating from the 8th or 9th century. In this tale, the ellén trechend, a horrifying three-headed monster, emerges from a cave on a rampage of destruction. Though translators agree that the ellén trechend has three heads, they disagree on what species (of monster) it is. Some interpret it to be a bird or a vulture. Others believe the ellén trechend to be a fire-breathing dragon-like creature. Either way, you can rest easy the beast was eventually slain.


In Irish folklore, a banshee is a spirit who appears in the form of a cloaked, wailing woman. Her appearance generally foretells the death of another, usually a family member. The term came to English from the Old Irish term ben side meaning “woman of the fairy mound,” a reference to Ireland’s numerous tumuli, or earth mounds, which are common throughout the Irish countryside. Like many of the other fairy-like creatures on this list, the banshee is generally described on the short side, between one and four feet tall. At least Ireland's monsters are relatively small.


What constitutes Irish folklore may be rather fuzzy to those unfamiliar with Irish literature. [1] Diarmuid Ó Giolláin, for one, declared that folklore was elusive to define clearly. [2]

Bo Almqvist (c. 1977) gave an all-encompassing definition that folklore covered "the totality of folk culture, spiritual and material", and included anything mentioned in Seán Ó Súilleabháin's A Handbook of Irish Folklore (1942). [3] [4]

It was not until 1846 that the word "folklore" was coined, by English writer William Thoms, to designate "the manners, customs, observances, superstitions, ballads, proverbs, &c of the olden time". [1] [5] The term was first translated into Irish as béaloideas (lit. 'oral instruction') in 1927. [6]

Folktales and songs Edit

Tales have been traditionally recounted in fireside gatherings, [a] [7] such social gatherings, in which traditional Irish music and dance are also performed, are labeled by some as the cèilidh, [8] though this is a term borrowed from Scottish Gaelic. The story-telling, songs and dance were also part of how special occasions were commemorated, on such days as Christmas, Halloween (Oíche Shamhna, eve of Samhain), Beltane, held on the first day of May, [4] or St. Patrick's Day. Irish folklore is closely tied with the pipe and fiddle, the traditional Irish music and folk dance. [9]

The keening Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire composed by Eileen Dubh Ní Chonaill in her husband's wake is a piece of poetry passed down by folk tradition. [10]

Other than folktales and legends, the folkloristic genres is complemented by memorates, beliefs, and belief statements. [11]

Handcraft and herb lore Edit

Also part of Irish folklore are the handed-down skills, such as basket-weaving or St. Bridget's crosses.

As an example, shallow wicker baskets called skeeoges as strainers (to empty the boiled potatoes and hot water on, to drain the liquid) were recorded in the Co. Wexford area by Patrick Kennedy in the 19th century. A later folklore collector was unable to ascertain whether this practice was carried out in the locality during the field work in the 1950s (or in the revisit in 1970's). [b] This basket's name skeeoge supposedly derived from the Gaelic word for "shield" (Irish: sciath). [12] [13]

The Irish Folklore Commission has accumulated a collection of crosses made on St. Bridget's Day (1 February), and various craft objects made of plaited straw, etc., gathered from across the county. [14]

Folklore can also include knowledge and skills such as how to build a house [ citation needed ] , or to treat an illness, i.e., herb lore. [15]

There are certain stock motifs, often stereotypes, in Irish folklore.

Fairies Edit

One commentator attributes to Andrew Lang the sweeping definition that Irish folklore is all about fairies. [16] The belief in fairies (sidhe) has been widespread. [16]

Some, such as Irish poet W. B. Yeats, have divided the fairies into multiple categories and/or species (see Classifications of fairies). However, Irish fairies are typically divided into two main categories: the fairy race and the solitary fairies. [17] [18]

The race of fairy people (Aos Sí) were thought to be descendants of the Tuatha Dé Danann, a godlike race who came to Ireland and conquered the people there. They are described as human sized, beautiful, powerful, and in tune with nature, similar to the modern day fantasy race of Elves. [19]

The solitary fairies are what they sound like—solitary. Instead of living together like the elite fairy race, solitary fairies are secretive and isolated, often staying away from humans and coming out at night. [20] The solitary fairies include a wide range of magical creatures in Irish folklore. [ citation needed ]

One type of Irish fairy is the female banshee, the death-messenger with her keening, or baleful crying over someone's death, [21] and known by many different names. [22] [c]

Another well-recognized Irish fairy is the leprechaun, which many have identified as the maker of shoes. [d] [16] [24] [e] The cluricaune is a sprite many treat as synonymous to the leprechaun, [27] [29] and Yeats muses on whether these and the far darrig (fear dearg, "red man") are the one and the same. [24] Mackillop says these three are the three kinds solitary fairies, [30] but Yeats goes on to say "there are other solitary fairies", naming the Dullahan (headless horsemen), Púca, and so forth. [24]

The changeling is often ascribed to being perpetrated by fairies. [31] The theme is assigned its own migratory legend type, "The Changeling" (ML 5085). [32]

Fairy land Edit

Fairies are also connected with the Irish traditional belief in the Otherworld (An Saol Eile). [33]

Fairy forts and hawthorn trees, also known as fairy trees, are places where fairies are thought to reside. Thus, to tamper with these sites is seen as hugely disrespectful to the fairies. [34]

Hawthorn tree Edit

There are several trees sacred to Ireland, but the lone hawthorn (aka the "may" tree) is particularly considered a fairy haunt, and patches underneath where the grass have worn down are reputed to be due to fairies dancing. [f] [35] Though literary fiction more than folklore, two consecutive poems by Samuel Ferguson, "The Fairy Thorn" and "The Fairy Well of Lagnanay" describes the lone Fairy Hawthorn (The Whitethorn). [g] [37]

Fairy mounds Edit

The notion that Irish fairies live in fairy mounds (fairy forts, fairy hills) give rise to the names aos sí or daoine sídhe ('people of the sidhe [fairy mound] '). [38]

In the instance of "The Legend of Knockgrafton" (name of a hill), the protagonist named Lusmore is carried inside the fairy "moat" or rath by the fairy wind (Irish: sidhe gaoithe). [h] [40]

Heroic sagas Edit

Other classic themes in Irish folktale literature include Cú Chulainn, Children of Lir, Finn MacCool, from medieval heroic and tragic sagas.

Folklore material in the 'Pre-Croker period', according to Bo Almqvist's reckoning, do tentatively include various Medieval written texts (the heroic tales in the Ulster Cycle, Finn Cycle, the Cycle of the Kings, and the hagiography of St. Patrick and other saints, etc.), with the proviso that these works can no longer be considered intact folk legends, given the accrued literary layers of the "fanciful and fantastic". However they are an excellent well-source of comparative study, as collected folktales are sometimes traceable to these medieval sagas. [41] An example is the tale of Cú Chulainn's horse [i] remnant in the legend type of "The Waterhorse as Workhorse" (MLSIT 4086), [j] or so argued by C. W. von Sydow. [42]

In the 20th century, the Irish Folklore Commission collected a large corpus of such romantic heroic sagas, particularly the stories of Fionn Mac Cumhail and the Fianna. [k] [43]

Early collectors Edit

For most of the 19th century, collection of Irish folklore was undertaken by English-speakers, and the material collected were recorded only in English. [44]

Thomas Crofton Croker who compiled Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland (1825–28) is considered one of the earliest collectors. [45] Croker is the first among the significant "antiquary-folklorists" (the label applied by Richard Dorson) to emerge from mere antiquarians. [46]

Tales in the Irish language Edit

The Irish-speaking West, the Gaeltacht included for example the Aran Islands, where some folklore-collecting was performed by Danish linguist Holger Pedersen back in 1896, though the resulting collection was never published until a century later. The playwright J. M. Synge also included a couple of folktales in his The Aran Islands (1907). [47]

Irish Folklore Commission Edit

Séamus Ó Duilearga (James Hamilton Delargy), who founded the Folklore of Ireland Society and its Béaloideas magazine in 1927, was later appointed to head the Irish Folklore Commission (IFC) in established by the Irish government in 1935. [48] Seán Ó Súilleabháin was the archivist for the IFC since its inception. After having undergone 3 month tutelage in Uppsala, Sweden under C. W. von Sydow on the methods of folklore archiving, the archivist became instrumental in establishing collecting policies for the IFC. [49] One of Ó Súilleabháin's projects was the Schools' Scheme for primary school children to collect folklore (1937-1938). [50] [51] IFC established a network of 200 or 300 correspondents all over Ireland to whom long questionnaires were sent out to task them with particular areas of folklore collecting. [50] [52]

Ó Súilleabháin soon compiled a how-tow guidebook for folklore-collecting fieldwork, entitled Láimh-Leabhar Béaloideasa (1937) in Irish, later expanded and published in English as A Handbook of Irish Folklore (1942). The methodology was based on the Uppsala system he studied, and the books became the standard bible for any Irish folklore collector. [53] [54]

Folktale classification Edit

An effort to catalogue all the known international folk tales in Ireland, either in print or in oral circulation (as of 1956) was mounted by Seán Ó Súilleabháin and Reidar Thoralf Christiansen, culminating in The Types of the Irish Folktale (1963), a compilation of some 43,000 versions under 700 international tales. [43]

Christiansen was the creator of the index of Norwegian migratory legends (ML index), [55] and Bo Almqvist adapted this for Irish legends, calling it MLSIT (for Migratory Legend Suggested Irish Type). [56] Although The Types of the Irish Folktale purportedly deals with folktale but not folk legend, there are found to be some intersections between these comparative study apparatuses. [57]

Folklore is a part of national identity, and its meaning has evolving through time.

Irish identity Edit

In Ireland the word Folk Lore has deep meaning to its people and brings societies together, it is a word that has ideological significance in this country. [58] To put it succinctly, folklore is an important part of the national identity. [59] [60]

Effects of Christianity on Irish folklore Edit

When Christianity was first brought in Ireland during the 5th century by missionaries, they were not able to totally wipe out the pre-existing folklore and beliefs in God-like fairies. But folklore did not remain untouched, and the myths and Christian beliefs were combined such that Irish folklore would “enforce Christian ideals but still remain as a concession to early fairy belief systems”. [61] Christianity altered the importance of some beliefs and define a new place for them in folklore. For example, fairies, who were previously perceived as God, became merely magical, and of much lesser importance. Along with it, a fusion of folklore legends and Christianity was witnessed. One of the major example of this is the existence of legends featuring both Saint Patrick, a central figure in the Irish church, and fairies (for example, “The Colloquy of the Ancients” is a dialogue between Saint Patrick and the ghost of Caeilte of the Fianna, an ancient clan of Celtic warriors).

All in all, the current Irish folklore shows a strong absorption of Christianity, including its lesson of morality and spiritual beliefs, creating a “singular brand of fairy tale tradition”. [61]

English colonization Edit

During the 16th century, the English conquest overthrew the traditional political and religious autonomy of the country.

Great Famine Edit

The Great famine of the 1840s, and the deaths and emigration it brought, weakened a still powerful Gaelic culture, especially within the rural proletariat, which was at the time the most traditional social grouping. At the time, intellectuals such as Sir William Wilde expressed concerns on the decay of traditional beliefs:

In the state of things, with depopulation the most terrific which any country ever experienced, on the one hand, and the spread of education, and the introduction of railroads, colleges, industrial and other educational schools, on the other – together with the rapid decay of our Irish bardic annals, the vestige of Pagan rites, and the relics of fairy charms were preserved, - can superstition, or if superstitious belief, can superstitious practices continue to exist? [62]

Modern society Edit

Moreover, in the last decades, capitalism has helped overcoming special spatial barriers [63] making it easier for cultures to merge into one another (such as the amalgam between Samhain and Halloween).

All those events have led to a massive decline of native learned Gaelic traditions and Irish language, and with Irish tradition being mainly an oral tradition, [64] this has led to a loss of identity and historical continuity, in a similar nature to Durkheim's anomie. [65]

Irish folklore is replete with oral traditions that pertain to historical subjects. This was recognised in Seán Ó Súilleabháin's A Handbook of Irish Folklore, which includes a chapter specifically dedicated to collecting "Historical Tradition". [66] Irish folk history was commonly known by the name seanchas, a term defined by Séamus Ó Duilearga as “orally preserved social-historical tradition.” [67] When conducting fieldwork in county Fermanagh, the American folklorist Henry Glassie, a pioneer in the study of folk history, observed that in Irish storytelling “history is a topic for conversation”. [68] In his prize-winning works on the memory of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, the Israeli historian Guy Beiner has written in-depth case studies of folk history, powerfully demonstrating the value of folklore for the study of social and cultural history. [69] [70] Beiner has advocated for use of the term "vernacular historiography", which he argues "consciously steers clear of the artificial divides between oral and literary cultures that lie at the heart of conceptualizations of oral tradition" and also allows for the inclusion of folklife sources found in ethnological studies of material and visual culture. [71]

Finnish folklorist Lauri Honko has referred to the re-contexted exploitation of folklore as its “second life”. [72] Irish folklore material is now being used in marketing (with strategies suggesting tradition and authenticity for goods), movies and TV shows (The Secret of Kells, mention of the Banshee are found in TV shows such as Supernatural, Teen Wolf or Charmed), books (the book series The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, the novel American Gods. ), contributing to the creation of a new body of Irish folklore.

On Lugh and Leprechauns

My grannie once told me that if you were clever and quiet enough to sneak up and catch that little leprechaun who hides his pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, while he was busy at work, most likely he'd be smoking his pipe and cobbling a brogue, or a shoe.

Then, if you caught him, you got three wishes. But don't let go, don't take your eyes off him for one instant—or poof! He'll be gone in a blinding flash. And don't take any coinage he offers. It'll turn to stone at first light.

OK, so for years I thought little old Mr. Berini, the Italian cobbler who lived down the road, was a leprechaun. I'd sneak up on him but he was merely busy cobbling our shoes in his basement, nothing more.

But he only charged my grannie a quarter for resoling our shoes. In hindsight, she was probably just trying to get me to go away or be quiet. Mr. Berini must've thought I was a peculiarly "touched" child, I'm sure.

Some scholars think the origin of the diminutive Irish leprechaun was an offshoot of the bigger-than-life Celtic god of all crafts, the Irish Lugh Lámhfhada (Lew of the long arm), or his cognates, Welsh Ludd, or Lleu Llaw Gyffes, (Lew of the Skillful Hand), and the Gaulish triune god, Lugus. (The Romans equated Lugos/Lugus with Mercury).

Votive inscription to Lugus. Lugo,Galicia.

The great god Lugh (whose –Proto-Celtic moniker,*Lug-" is embedded in dozens of European cities—from London, to Leiden, to Laon), was erroneously referred to as the shining one, or a sun god before the advancement of Proto Indo-European linguistics proved it to be a false cognate.

You're probably wondering why I've gone off the deep end writing about leprechauns during high summer. Other than it's nearly half way to St. Patrick's Day, I was responding to a Facebook post by Celtic Mythology, August, Lúghnasadh, is Lugh's month. The harvest month approacheth. Besides, our summer months, dubbed Junuary and now, apparently, Julyuary, have been socked in with thick fog and drizzle. What sun?

Lughnasadh, the night of the wicker man,
the burning man set aflame
Full moon marks the first harvest
The plain ripens, bellydeep in bright grain.

Some scholars think that the leprechaun is not a vestige of the pre-Christian Celtic pantheon at all.

Others say he was an invention of the Irish Tourist Board. I think he was a hangover invention of the Saint Patrick's Day Parade.

Clearly when Lugh got snared in the web of medieval hagiography in Christian Ireland, he got the roughshod Cinderella treatment and was subsequently shrunk like a wool sock in the hot water laundry cycle.

The leprechaun is supposed to be a singular entity (no plural hoardes or tribelets—that too seems to be a Disney-meets-Bord Failte Eireann shenanighan—courtesy of Darby O'Gill and the Little People).

According to the Facebook site, Celtic Mythology, “The Lore of Ireland: An Encyclopedia of Myth legend and Romance”, renowned folklore collector and native Gaelic speaker and poet, the late professor, Dathi Ó hÓgáin, stated that "the designation luchorpán was only invented in Ireland when the lore of dwarf communities was adopted from abroad by Irish writers and that the solitary leprechaun of folklore is a post-medieval development from the literature." (Collins Press, Cork, 2006 pp. 308-9).

University College Dublin Professor Dathi Ó hÓgáin's post-medieval claim is interesting in that luchorpán is clearly not a native Goidelic Irish word. Not with that "p" in it. There is no "p" in Goidelic. The Irish were positively allergic to plosives. This is how you can spot loan words in Irish, like páiste (from the word, page, or child, not the cymbals!) Or Welsh—map Irish cognate—mac (son).

But I don't think it's quite that simple, as the term is indeed used in Old Irish texts.

A quick internet search reveals that the earliest version of "luchorpán" (a water sprite) was used in the 8th century in "Echtra Fergusa maic Léti". But it's a far stretch of the imagination—let alone, linguistics, as luchorpán mixes Church Latin with Irish—to be a native irish word.The Old Irish, lúchorpán is a hybrid word— lú means “small” and corp means “body.”

But Lú, or Lugh, also means the really BIG baddass god dude. What's a neopagan to do to keep the Cailleachan ("Storm Hags") at bay? The leprechaun's abode seems to be a curious conspiracy of sunlight and rain.

Of course, the watery luchorpán might have been a different entity altogether that was later conflated with Lugh and the leprechaun. Still, there's that pesky "p" to contend with. And we know that those sooty godlets, the leprechauns, who live in caves, or wood huts deep in the woods, are not particularly fond of water, other than their Swiss bank vaults at the ends of rainbows.

The page from the Free Dictionary has some interesting information that seems plausible.

Leprechaun n. One of a race of elves in Irish folklore who can reveal hidden treasure to those who catch them.

[Irish Gaelic luprachán, alteration of Middle Irish luchrupán, from Old Irish luchorpán : luchorp (lú-, small see legwh-in Indo-European roots + corp, body from Latin corpus seekwrep- in Indo-European roots) + -án, diminutive suff.]
lepre·chaunish adj.

Word History: Nothing seems more Irish than the leprechaun yet hiding within the word leprechaun is a word from another language entirely. If we look back beyond Modern Irish Gaelic luprachán and Middle Irish luchrupán to Old Irish luchorpán, we can see the connection. Luchorpán is a compound of Old Irish lú, meaning "small," and the Old Irish word corp, "body." Corp is borrowed from Latin corpus (which we know from habeas corpus). Here is a piece of evidence attesting to the deep influence of Church Latin on the Irish language. Although the word is old in Irish it is fairly new in English, being first recorded in 1604.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright � by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

n (Myth & Legend / European Myth & Legend) (in Irish folklore) a mischievous elf, often believed to have a treasure hoard

[from Irish Gaelic leipreachān, from Middle Irish lūchorpān, fromlū small + corp body, from Latin corpus body]


A late view of the folkloric Lucharachán (or Leipreachán) from T. C. Croker “Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland”, (1825-27, pub. 1862)


The dwarf Otherworld race of Irish, Scottish and Manx mythology and folklore.

All spelling, names and terms in Modern Irish unless stated otherwise.

The modern singular and plural forms of the name are:

Lucharachán “Little, Small (Dwarf, Pygmy) Person”

Lucharacháin “Little, Small (Dwarf, Pygmy) People”

The name is derived from the following words:

*Carachán (*Carrachán) “Small bodied, puny creature”

The race is also known by an alternative modern Irish name, shown in singular and plural below:

Abhac “Dwarf, Pygmy (Water Sprite)”

Abhaic “Dwarfs, Pygmies (Water Sprites)”

Scottish: Luspardan (gs. Luspardan, pl. Luspardain)

Alternative Scottish: Ùraisg (gs. Ùraisg, pl. Ùraisgean)

Manx: Mooinjer Veggey “Little People”


The Lucharacháin are a diminutive race of supernaturally-gifted people found in the indigenous literary and folkloric traditions of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man whose origin in native Gaelic belief are unclear. They rarely featured in the earliest myths of the Gaelic nations and only latterly rose to prominence. However their influence was to grow, albeit greatly altered, in Irish and Scottish folklore and they can still to be found in modern mainstream and genre books, comics, graphic novels, television series, movies and artworks through the phenomena of the Hiberno-English Leprechaun and the Scots-English Brownie.

The earliest appearance of this dwarf-like people is to be found in an isolated 8th century text recording the adventures of Fearghas mac Léide where they are called the Abhaic (singular Abhac). This word is derived from the same Irish stem that gives abha, abhainn “river”, and is closely associated with both water and the sea. For modern scholars this suggests that Classical legends of water sprites and diminutive races, the Pygmies of Greek myth in particular, contributed to the creation and development of a dwarven race in Gaelic tradition. The Abhaic were later associated with the Fomhóraigh, no doubt due to the aquatic nature attributed to both and a shared Old Testament ancestry claimed by some Biblically-influenced Irish texts, and were originally thought to live beneath lakes or the sea (that is, in the Otherworld). This gave them something of a capricious or ambivalent air and in contrast to the solitary Little People of 19th and 20th folklore the earliest tales portrayed the them as living in populous communities much like those to be found in early Irish society, with their own lords and kings (like the Tuatha Dé Danann). One alternative collective title for them in the 8th century tale was the Tuatha Luachra “Peoples of Luachair (Peoples of the Little, Small Folk or the Rushland)” and their home was called Loch Luachra “Lake of Luachair (Lake of the Little, Small Folk or the Rushland)”.

However it is clear that the early Christian scribes struggled to find a place for the Abhaic in the context of the accepted literary milieu they had created with pre-Christian religious beliefs featuring the likes of the Tuatha Dé Danann, Aos Sí and Fomhóraigh, and their stories remained unpopular until the post-Medieval period. When they did reappear in the written record the literary name Abhaic had been displaced by a substitute folk-name, the Lucharacháin, which derived from an older regional name Luchorpáin (which also gives the more popular if latterly vulgarised modern word LeipreacháinLeprechauns”). This was almost certainly a compound of the Irish words “little, small” and corp, corpan “body” (the latter borrowed from Latin corpus “body”) and this became the preferred name for the “Little People”.

Irish Folklore

In the Late Middle Ages concepts shaping the image of the Lucharacháin mainly came from Britain and the Continent and the various legends of “dwarfs” and “dwarf communities” shaped by the interaction of Celtic, Germanic and Classical myths in Medieval European fairy-lore. But the modern popularity of the legend of the “Irish Little People” is partly the result of a separate development in North America where the Irish Lucharachán mixed with English, Germanic and Scandinavian tales of dwarfs, elves and goblins to produce the much-changed Irish-American figure of the “Leprechaun” (an anglicised version of the regional term Leipreachán carried by bilingual or anglophone immigrants from Ireland). This in turn filtered back to Ireland in the late 19th and 20th centuries, combining with the already existing lore of the “Little People”. Unlike the peoples and kingdoms of the earliest myths they now took on a more lonesome (and at times sinister) profile and became associated with magic, shoe-making, metal craft and ancient hidden riches.

This has led to considerable debate between those who see the original references in Irish and Scottish traditions to diminutive races as being of foreign origin and those who see them as being an indigenous concept under heavy external influences. In favour of the former view are the entirely peripheral and rare occurrences of the tales of the Little People in Irish and Scottish mythology, and the lack of a purely native name (excluding Abhaic). Those who favour an indigenous origin point to the relatively early first appearance of the Little People in Irish myth, before the Germanic “dwarf” influences of English and Scandinavian legend could have come into play, and the lack of an exact Classical comparison. On the other hand, the popular image of the contemporary “Leprechaun”, largely shaped outside of Ireland, is barely Irish at all.

One very unfortunate effect of the popularity of the Leipreacháin or Leprechauns in popular culture over the last two hundred years has been the diminution of traditional Irish Mythology and races like the Tuatha Dé Danann and Fomhóraigh. Just as the Fomhóraigh have become equated with “giants” in contemporary imagery so the Tuatha Dé have been confused with the Leipreacháin and been reduced to the status of the “Little People” (quiet literally). The modern or popular image of the “Fairies” in Ireland is largely based upon a meld between concepts of the “Little People”, in the form of the more recent legends of the Leipreacháin, and 19th and 20th century English and German fairylore, with its abundance of diminutive or winged fairies, elves, dwarfs and trolls. It bears very little relation to the genuine Irish tradition and its popularity is largely as a result of the gradual erosion of native Irish culture in favour of a crude Anglo-American approximation.

The Ùraisg or Anglo-Scots Brownie, cultural realtive of the Lucharachán or Hiberno-Irish Leprechaun

Leipreacháin or Leprechauns, Brownies or Ùraisgean

Leipreacháin is one of the commonest terms in late Irish and Hiberno-Irish folklore for the beings originally known as the Abhaic. From this word comes the anglicised form “Leprechauns” (sg. Leipreachán “Leprechaun”). Though a perfectly valid term in itself the association with the modern, populist imagery of Leprechauns has generally lowered the word’s standing and some now decline to use it when referring to the traditional form of the diminutive race. In this case the literary term Lucharacháin is frequently preferable.

Conversely in Scotland much of the mythology around the Abhaic have contributed towards the the Anglo-Scots’ traditions of the Ùraisgean. These are a type of water-spirit (singular Ùraisg) very similar to the Leipreacháin that feature in the folklore of southern Scotland and northern England and combine Gaelic, English and Scandinavian influences as well as elements of 19th and 20th century European fairy-lore. In Scots or English they are more commonly known as Brownies, Brounies, Urisks, Hobs or Hobgoblins (sometimes Brownie is Gaelicised as Brùnaidh).

Another group of beings related to the Lucharacháin are the Gruagaigh (singular Gruagach derived from the Irish word gruaig “hair, locks”, but in Scotland having the added meaning of “girl, maiden”) who feature in late Scottish and Irish folklore (and contemporary Fantasy or Children’s fiction). Though sometimes described as shaggy or hairy this seems to be something of a modern innovation and before that they were female spirits associated with cattle and milking. Their mixed nature has caused a modern identification with the Fomhóraigh, however this association is false. In fact their late appearance in the lore of Ireland and Scotland again points towards an origin in the Germanic traditions of Scandinavia, England and Continental fairy-lore mixed with that of the indigenous and folkloric traditions of the Gaelic nations.

Púcaí or Pookas

Due to some confusion or misunderstanding many modern authors and “experts”, particularly writers of Children’s fiction or populist “Guides” to the Celts, have conflated the Lucharacháin with the Púcaí, supernatural creatures of late Irish and Scottish Folklore usually anglicised as “Pookas, Phoukas, Pucas, Pucks” in English. However these two beings are quiet separate.

Appendix I: Alternative Names and Derivations

Alternative regional names in the Irish language for the Little People are usually derived from words or concepts related to their nature: small, furtive, rarely seen, large-footed, and possessed of magic or treasures. Here is the most comprehensive list of words:

Corp, corpan “body, little body”

Regional and variant names and spellings of the names of the Little People in the Irish language:

Leprechaun origins remain mystery in U.S.

A lot of lore around St. Patrick’s Day is centered on luck. From leprechauns to four leaf clovers, there are a variety of talismans associated with the celebration.

Every March, images of tiny, green-clad men with top hats and pots of gold show up on everything from posters to t-shirts alongside four leaf clovers, lucky talismans and everything Irish. But who, or what, are these mythical luck-bringing beings?

Leprechauns, likely from the Irish luchorpán (literally “small body”), are figures of Irish folklore, and they likely grew from Celtic belief in fairies. Tales referencing leprechauns go back hundreds of years, to a time when the distinction between magic and reality wasn’t quite so clear.

Said to be inhabitants of underground caves or hollow trees, leprechauns are the shoe makers of the fairy world. They spend most of their lives underground and gained recognition over time as being fiercely protective of their treasure, that prolific pot of gold, employing all manner of trickery to do so. Historically, there are no female leprechauns, adding additional mystique to their origins.

The association of the color green with leprechauns is a relatively new development. They were said to dress in red until possibly the 18th century, perhaps due to the growing American association of the color green with Irish culture. Nevertheless, the color stuck, and today green is plastered everywhere in the weeks leading up March 17.

Oddly, despite how abundant leprechauns are in the American celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, they are not quite as prevalent in the Irish celebration of the day. Despite a large Irish immigration to the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many Americans remained unaware of the true origins of leprechauns.

Over time, Americans adopted their own, often amusing, explanations for leprechauns.

Junior Jaidyn Sebetich contributed a possible origin story: “I think the leprechaun originated in the early 1700s in Ireland to make children think that there was a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow… I do think that there was a shred of truth to the legend of leprechauns because I think Irish people wanted some information to stay [a secret] in the Irish culture.”

No matter where leprechauns may have originated, today they remain an institution of St. Patrick”s Day. They bring the promise of luck and prosperity despite their mischievous ways and add a fantastical aspect to the celebration.

“I think the legend of leprechauns is both silly while also important. It is a fun piece of history that is important to Ireland. [And,] it is a pretty silly piece of history since they are supposed to make tons of mischief… [while] I have not really believed in leprechauns as luck, [I] rather believe they are full of fun and mischief,” Sophomore Zach Losko reflected.

Regardless of how a person celebrates St. Patrick’s Day, leprechauns are a magical way to add a little extra fun to the day. Consider looking for their fabled treasure this year it just might be a lucky day.

Outside of school, you can usually find Emma dancing, tending to her little garden, buried deep inside a book, or baking some kind of epic, albeit messy.

The Celtic Cross – Symbols of Ireland

Celtic Cross Example Image (Image Source: Wikipedia Commons)

Well, there is the ordinary cross that the whole world recognises and then there’s the Celtic cross. It’s one of the main symbols of Ireland and Scotland. This can be obviously seen across hundreds of their cemeteries where the Celtic crosses are all over. It also extends to different places around Europe, including England and Wales.

We cannot quite confirm where these special crosses originated from. There are always competing tales telling us different things about the tradition we observe today. One clan claims that St. Patrick was the one to introduce this Celtic cross to Ireland. That is especially because he was the one responsible for the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. He helped so many people through their conversion from Paganism to Christianity.

However, there are different groups of people that believe those sources that claim otherwise. Those sources actually profess that the introduction of this cross was done by either St. Declan or St. Columba.

The difference between the Celtic cross and the ordinary one is the circle found intersecting both the stem and arms. Not really sure what it symbolises, but it’s popular for being a Christian symbol. Yet, there was evidence that show it actually has roots since the ancient times of paganism.

The history behind some of Ireland's most famous symbols

I'm betting it's not the harp, Ireland's official national symbol, but more likely the shamrock, the shillelagh, or the Leprechaun. We take a look at some of the most well-known Irish symbols and explain how they came to be so, well, Irish. Let us know what your favorite Irish symbol is.

The Shamrock

Derived from the Irish word seamróg, meaning 'little clover,' shamrock refers to young sprigs of clover. It was coined by Edmund Campion, an English scholar in 1571 when he wrote of the 'wild Irish' people eating the plant. In fact, the Irish at that time included wood-sorrel as a herb in their diet, which looked quite similar to clover.

It is popularly believed that St. Patrick once used the clover in his preaching to symbolize the Christian Holy Trinity, although the first written account of this does not appear until Caleb Threlkeld wrote about it in 1726.

The clover was a sacred plant of the Irish Druids, due to the cluster of its three heart-shaped leaves. Three was a sacred number in Irish mythology, perhaps inspiring St. Patrick to 'Christianize' it in his teachings.

The Metrical Dindshenchas, a collection of ancient poems dating back to the 11th century, known as 'the lore of places', indicates that the shamrock was important long before the arrival of St. Patrick.

Teltown (in Irish Tailten, named for Tailltiu who was Lugh Lámhfhada’s foster mother) was described as a plane covered in blossoming clover. Brigid founded her religious order in Co. Kildare (in Irish Cill Darra, meaning 'church of the oak') in a blossom-covered clover field. These beautiful meadows were called St. Brigid’s Pastures, ‘in which no plow is ever suffered to turn a furrow.’ It was said that, although cattle were allowed to graze there from morning till night, the next day the clover remained as luxuriant as ever.

In later times it became traditional for Irish men to wear the shamrock in their hats on St. Patrick’s Day.

After mass, they would visit the local drinking establishment to 'drown the shamrock' in 'St. Patrick's Pot.' This involved placing their shamrock in the last beverage of the day, draining the glass, then picking out the shamrock and tossing it over their left shoulder.

During the 18th century, the shamrock became popular as a national emblem worn by members of the Irish Volunteers, local warbands raised to defend Ireland against the threat of Spanish and French invasion.

Now, every year on St. Patrick's Day, the Irish Taoiseach presents a Waterford crystal bowl featuring a shamrock design containing shamrocks to the US President in the White House.

The Shillelagh

From the Irish sail éille (shee-lay-lee), meaning 'cudgel with a strap,' the shillelagh is a stick traditionally made from blackthorn or oak. Wood taken from the root was preferred, as it was considerably harder and less likely to split.

The stick would have been coated in lard or butter and placed inside a chimney to 'cure,' thus giving it its black shiny surface. It would normally have a large knob at the top for a handle.

Although often thought of as a walking stick, the shillelagh was actually a weapon used in the art of Bataireacht (Bat-er-akt), an ancient Irish martial art, and means 'stick fighting.' It evolved over the centuries from spear, staff, ax and sword combat, and prior to the 19th century, was used to train Irish soldiers in sword fighting techniques. There were three types short, medium and long, and it was used to strike, parry and disarm an opponent. It was considered a gentlemanly way of settling a dispute.

The Leprechaun

Known in Irish as the leipreachán, this mischievous little fellow is usually depicted as an old man, about 3ft tall, with red hair and beard, dressed in a dapper green or red coat and hat.

He makes shoes and hides his gold coins in a pot at the end of the rainbow. He is said to be intelligent, cunning and devious, a comical figure who loves practical jokes, a creature neither good nor evil.

As a fairy being, he is thought to be associated with the Tuatha de Denann, however, there is no mention of such a character in Sidhe or Denann mythology. It is more likely that he has arisen out of local folklore and superstition. Despite his enormous popularity, there is little known about his origins.

The shamrock is a small clover and was an important symbol to the ancient Irish druids because its three heart-shaped leaves represent the triad.

The Celts believed that everything necessary in the world comes in threes.

Like the three ages of man, the moon phases, and the three dominions of earth, sky, and sea.

In the 19th century, the shamrock became a symbol of Irish nationalism and rebellion against the British Crown, and anyone caught wearing it was executed.

If you are interested in tracing your Irish heritage, I recommend 23andMe DNA kits or Ancestry DNA kits.

Baron Samedi

Baron Samedi is the Voodoo loa of death, sex, and resurrection. Since those topics represent a substantial and universal chunk of human interests, he is the most instantly recognizable of voodoo spirits. The Baron wears a glossy top hat, a tailcoat, and sunglasses. He has cotton plugs in his nostrils in the fashion of a Haitian corpse—at least when he is not just wearing a skull as a face. The Baron’s name comes from his delight in partying on Saturdays and also has a rumored connection to Samhain, the Celtic festival of death and darkness. In fact, Baron Samedi seems to owe some of his features to the folk beliefs of Irish indentured servants who worked in the fields next to African slaves.

The Baron’s favorite colors are black, white, and purple. He is extremely fond of cigars, rum, peanuts, and black coffee (particularly the first two). Baron Samedi is noted for his obscenity and his debauchery. Frequently represented by phallic symbols he is rumored to attend orgies and seek all manner of congress. He delights in using a nasal voice to make fun of white people for being uptight—Eek!

The Baron is married to Maman Brigitte, a fair-haired, foul-mouthed white loa who seems to be associated with the Celtic goddess Brigid (Maman Brigitte even has emerald green eyes). A powerful death/fertility loa in her own right, Maman’s symbols are the black chicken and cemetery crosses. She is noted for dancing the suggestive but remarkably artistic banda dance and for rubbing red hot chili peppers on her…self. Although she is powerful, beautiful, and insatiable, her husband Baron Samedi still chases after pretty mortals.

Zora Neale Hurston recounts that when you make a request of Baron Samedi, you use a cow’s foot extended in place of your hand. When the Baron is ready to leave, he takes whatever he’s holding along with him. By substituting the cow foreleg, you don’t loose your arm! [Editor’s note: this seemed like a somewhat trivial scholarly point but we decided to include it as a safety tip for motivated readers]

Baron Samedi’s veve (the voodoo symbol which acts as a beacon to loa) is a cross on top of a catafalque with two standing coffins on either side.

Baron Samedi is the leader of the Guédé loa—a spirit tribe who are masters of death magic. The lesser Guédé spirits dress like the Baron and share his licentious and rude manner. They help carry the dead to the next realm—sooner than anticipated with the right inducements or the wrong dealings.

Watch the video: Myth of the Month - Leprechauns


  1. Grojinn

    You must tell him that you are not right.

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