Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Top 10 Leprechaun Questions You're Afraid to Ask

Getting ready for St Patrick's Day? This year do it armed with truth. Leprechaun truth.

1. Are leprechauns real?
Yes. And they have pots of gold to give if you catch them and don't let them go before the tricksters give it to you. It's all true.

2. Are leprechauns really Irish?
Likely not. They're more likely Scots. Leprechauns originally had different names in different places of Ireland (eg Luricawne in Kerry, Cluricawne in Monaghan, Logheryman in the north). In Ulster, the little men were once known as 'grogoch' or 'pecht,' the latter believed to be linked with the Scottish aboriginal people, the Pict, who were driven out of Scotland via Celts. (Some say they crossed on land bridge.)

Meanwhile, Germany have their hobgoblins, Wales the bwca or brownies, and England the Lob-lie-by-the-fire. Leprechauns may have been pushed to Ireland through attacking Celts or Vikings, and may have originated in Scotland or farther east.

3. Do leprechauns wear green?
They do now, but not originally. Many sources suggest they first wore red. For one, Samuel Lover, an Irish-Anglo writer in the early 19th century, described leprechauns as wearing 'a red square-cut coat.' In 'Irish Wonders' from 1888, David Russell McAnally describes the 'little red jacket' and 'red breeches' leprechauns wear.

4. Leprechauns are big St Patrick fans, right?
Wrong. Per Bob Curran's fun 'The Truth about Leprechauns' (2000), leprechauns do meet and party on March 17, but aren't fans of the patron saint (no fairies are), for they feel he cheated them out of land.

5. What's leprechaun mean? 'Green guy'?
No. It's believed to mean 'half shoe maker,' derived from leith bhrógan. The name comes from the fact that leprechauns are great shoe makers, but only repair one shoe -- half a pair -- picking whichever shoe is most worn from excessive dancing.

6. Are leprechauns nice?
No, not at all. To modern-day leprechaunologist Colin Chapman, who writes on them at angelfire.com, they are 'a difficult kith, belligerent and easily angered.' They're prone to 'a binge of whiskey,' they 'steal horses' (later cars), they're 'liars' and 'gang members.' Other show, per Curran, 'a fondness for abducting unbaptised human babies.'

There is one slight exception: the leprechauns of 'some parts' of Munster, per some sources, where leprechauns are more amiable and sometimes will give a sparán na scillinge (purse of the shilling), which never empties.

7. What's a leprechaun's favorite song?
You'll laugh, but probably 'Danny Boy.' The popular folk song is derived from the melody of 'Londonderry Air,' which is said to have been written by harpist Rory Dall O'Cahan in the 1600s. Though it's believed, as told by Curran, that O'Cahan lifted the melody from a leprechaun harpist he heard along the banks of the Roe River in North Derry. That's right, leprechauns wrote the music for 'Danny Boy.'

8. Is Paul McCartney a leprechaun pirate?
Yes. The first-known record of 'leprechaun' in English is from Thomas Dekker's comedy 'The Honest Whore' (1604). Dekker, a leprechaun lover apparently, was fresh off a hit poem the year before called, get this, 'Golden Slumbers.' Compare his verse with Paul's bit (changes IN CAPS) from the 'Abbey Road' record:
Golden slumbers
Kiss/FILL your eyes
Smiles awake/AWAIT you when you arise/RISE
Sleep pretty wanton/DARLING, do not cry
And I will sing you a lullaby.
9. Are there female leprechauns?
No one knows. According to Curran, 'The leprechaun is understandably reluctant to discuss the matter.' Some believe leprechauns come from the 'illicit' offspring between a human and a fairy.

10. Where can you find leprechauns?
Leprechauns meet regularly for holidays, particularly May Eve (April 30-May 1) at the Beltane Fair of Uisneach in County Westmeath -- which is a hill that marks the geographic center of Ireland. In WY Evans-Wentz's priceless 'The Fair-Faith in Celtic Countries' from 1911, he claims his mother 'once saw a leprechaun beside a bush hammering.' So look for bush hammerings.

If that seems too iffy, just go to Mobile, Alabama:

Just be sure to hide your unbaptised human babies.

The Irish Fireside blog lists more St Patrick's Day-related links.

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