Irish Leprechaun Tales: Sinister Cobbler or Fairy Fare

Leprechauns, part of the genus fairy, play a big role in Irish folklore as lustful, nasty, capricious creatures whose magic might delight you one day and kill you the next if you displease them. Not your Disneyland version!

While leprechauns are mythical beings, a rare type of insulin resistance, sometimes called leprechaunism, is very real.

Leprechaun lore peg these wee folks as wizened, bearded old men dressed in green (early versions were clad in red) and wearing buckled shoes, often with a leather apron. Sometimes they wear a pointed cap or hat and may be smoking a pipe. In the book “The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures,” John and Caitlin Matthews trace leprechaun legends back to eighth-century legends of water spirits called “luchorpán,” meaning small body. These sprites eventually merged with a mischievous household fairy said to haunt cellars and drink heavily. Other researchers say that the word leprechaun may be derived from the Irish leath bhrogan, meaning shoemaker. Shoemaking is apparently a lucrative business in the fairy world, since each leprechaun is said to have his own pot of gold, which can often be found at the end of a rainbow. Fairy or “faerie” stories, cite leprechauns as little people of the Tuatha Dé Danann who invaded Ireland and were banished to live under ground. As a cousin of the Clurichaun, the Leprechaun is known to inhabit Ireland before the arrival of the Celts and can survive hundreds of years. Some consider Leprechauns to be the true natives of Ireland who are descended from Irish royalty.

According to Irish legend, people lucky enough to find a leprechaun and capture him (or, in some stories, steal his magical ring, coin or amulet) can barter his freedom for treasure. Leprechauns are usually said to be able to grant the person three wishes. But dealing with leprechauns can be a tricky proposition. The leprechaun is a roguish trickster figure who will deceive whenever possible.

In the magical world, most spirits, fairies and other creatures have a distinctive sound that is associated with them. In the case of the leprechaun, it’s the tap-tap-tapping of his tiny cobbler hammer, driving nails into shoes, that he is near. Sorry, Gaelic gals. Leprechauns are all men, possibly due to cobbling being a male-dominated occupation!

In his collection of Irish fairy and folk tales, W.B. Yeats offered an 18th-century poem by William Allingham titled “The Lepracaun; Or, Fairy Shoemaker” which describes the sound:

“Lay your ear close to the hill.
Do you not catch the tiny clamour,
Busy click of an elfin hammer,
Voice of the Lepracaun singing shrill
As he merrily plies his trade?”

The 1825 publication of a book called “Fairy Legends” seemingly cemented the character of the modern leprechaun.

Reference material taken in part from the following sources: Yourirish.com and livescience.com

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