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A Brief History of Leprechauns, Ireland's Trickster Fairies

Recently updated on August 25th, 2021 at 04:51 pm

Every year on March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in Ireland and all across the globe. It’s the time for shamrocks, costumes, parades and of course, leprechauns. These wee fellas are a big part of this special holiday and an important part of Irish history and culture. But what makes them so popular, where did they come from, and why are people still so infatuated with them today? Here’s everything you need to know about history of leprechauns and why these tiny guys have made such a big impact.

The origin of leprechauns

The leprechaun story has long been a beloved aspect of Irish lore. They are believed to be a part of another piece of famous folklore, as they are traditionally known to be members of the fairy family. Tales of these small creatures first emerged in the 8th-century, when legends about tiny water-dwellers began circulating among the Celts.

Their name is thought to come from the word luchorpán,” meaning small body- no surprise there as they are said to be only 2-3 feet tall. Where do these little folk live? In order to hide from humans, they are known to dwell in tiny underground caves or hollow tree trunks.

They are famous for being the cobblers of the fairy world and their name is also associated with the old term “’leath bhrogan,” meaning shoemaker. This profession is what earns them their iconic pots of gold.

The history of leprechauns in Ireland

While we think of these creatures as imaginary, belief in them and other closely-related fairies was actually widespread throughout Ireland. This is one of the reasons that this icon is now so ingrained into Irish culture, even today.

Over the years, the history of leprechauns has become associated with everything green and they are now often depicted as old men dressed in a hat and suit of this color, wearing buckled shoes or smoking a pipe. However, this was not always the case. In fact, you may be surprised to know that they were originally depicted as wearing red and were thought of as being dressed in this color for many years.

Over time, they have evolved into the green-wearing guys we have come to know and love today. Many theorize that this is due to the general popularity of the color green throughout Ireland. This is, in part, because of its prominence on the Irish flag, as well as the widely-used name, the Emerald Isle. Whatever the reason, green has become synonymous with leprechauns and St. Patrick’s Day alike.

Legend also says that there are no female leprechauns, and their seemingly impossible origins only add to their magical and mysterious qualities.

The traditions and beliefs surrounding leprechauns

Pot of Gold

One key component of the leprechaun story is their famous pot of gold. They are known to possess and hoard their prized pots and traditionally hide this treasure at the end of a rainbow. This means that humans need to catch them in order to find this fortune, as it is impossible to actually locate the end of this natural phenomenon.

Lucky Symbols

The leprechaun story says capturing these small creatures will secure a wee bit of luck in addition to three wishes. With this in mind, they have become associated with the “luck of the Irish,” which is one of the reasons they remain so popular today.

Tiny Tricksters

Many looking for fortune also seek to gain their gold, but beware- these teeny men are also known to be tricksters. They are said to deceive humans and serve as a warning against greed. Some even believe that they hide their gold simply in order to lure in the unsuspecting and when granting their captors three wishes, they often instead lead them astray.

Sights and Sounds

Keep your ears open- they can often be heard tapping their tiny cobbler hammer in the distance, which signals listeners that they are near. They can also be heard dancing away to traditional Irish music and are even known to play instruments while doing a little jig.

RELATED CONTENT: 7 Photos That Will Make You Fall in Love With Ireland

Leprechauns today

Today, the leprechaun story has evolved and they have gained fame for their portrayals in popular culture, from the cheery man on cereal boxes to the scarier variety in movies. Yet, their roots are inevitably Irish and many visiting the Emerald Isle can capture a bit of this magic themselves. On and around St. Patrick’s Day, many dress up as the wee folk, but searching for these fairies is a fun activity all year round.

Whether you head to Limerick on the lookout for these little fellas or visit the National Leprechaun Museum in Dublin to see this legend come to life, there are many amazing things to do to celebrate these creatures today.

BE INSPIRED: Ireland destination guide

What do you love most about the history of leprechauns? Let us know in the comments below…

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