A leprechaun is a tiny elf or fairy from Irish folklore who is supposed to know the whereabouts of hidden treasure—usually a pot of gold. They are always male and were believed to have been featured in Irish folklore predating the Celts. Leprechauns are cobblers and shoemakers by trade.
According to most legends, a person who catches a leprechaun and threatens him may be able to convince him to reveal the location of his treasure, sometimes said to be at the end of a rainbow. However, finding a leprechaun is not easy. The best way is to sneak up while he is mending his shoes, the only time he sits still for very long. After catching a leprechaun, a person must stay alert because leprechauns are very clever and can easily outsmart humans.
Leprechauns are great mischief makers who often play pranks on people, such as riding their sheep or dogs during the night or causing small accidents around the house. Occasionally they “adopt” a family and faithfully follow the members during their travels. However, if not treated well, a leprechaun will abandon the family after causing trouble. Some stories claim that leprechauns are the offspring of evil spirits and bad fairies. However, one legend says that the leprechaun is actually the ancient Irish god Lug. After the Irish people forgot the old gods, the legend goes, Lug became a fairy cobbler named Lugh Chromain, which means “little stooping Lug.”
Leprechauns in Context
Leprechauns are just one example of the many races of ancient creatures that lived in Ireland, according to Celtic belief. For the Celts, leprechauns are a connection to the land's ancient roots. The leprechaun's hidden pot of gold may reflect Celtic views of the land itself as a treasure to be appreciated.
Key Themes and Symbols
A leprechaun is traditionally pictured as an old man wearing a bright red vest, an old-fashioned cocked hat, a leather apron, and heavy leather shoes with silver buckles. Only in the twentieth century did the standard image of a leprechaun come to include primarily green clothing, a color closely associated with their Irish roots. In the tales of leprechauns, the pot of gold symbolizes great wealth that can only be achieved by performing a nearly impossible feat. The rainbow's end is a symbol of an imaginary place that can never be reached. Most tales of leprechauns center on the theme of outwitting the cunning creature.
Leprechauns in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life
Leprechauns have appeared in many films, television shows, and commercials. The 1959 Disney classic Darby O'Gill and the Little People features a leprechaun king matching wits with a wily Irish grounds-keeper. The best-known leprechaun in modern times is Lucky the Leprechaun, the mascot for Lucky Charms breakfast cereal; Boston's NBA team, the Celtics, also has a leprechaun mascot, as does the college of Notre Dame, whose sports teams are known as the “Fighting Irish.”
Read, Write, Think, Discuss
Mythical and magical creatures are often used as mascots for products such as snack foods and breakfast cereals. Using the Internet, your own kitchen cupboards, television commercials, or any other resource you can think of, find three more product mascots that resemble creatures or beings found in myth and folklore. Why do you think advertisers use these creatures? Do you think they are effective? Why or why not?