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Leprechaun ill artlibre jnl.png
A modern depiction of a leprechaun of the type popularised in the 20th century
Grouping Legendary creature
First reportedIn folklore
Habitat Moor, Forest, Cave, Garden

A leprechaun (Irish : leipreachán/luchorpán) is a type of fairy of the Aos Sí in Irish folklore. They are usually depicted as little bearded men, wearing a coat and hat, who partake in mischief. They are solitary creatures who spend their time making and mending shoes and have a hidden pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. If captured by a human, they often grant three wishes in exchange for their freedom.[ not verified in body ] Like other Irish fairies, leprechauns may be derived from the Tuatha Dé Danann. [1] Leprechaun-like creatures rarely appear in Irish mythology and only became prominent in later folklore.



The name leprechaun is derived from the Irish word leipreachán, defined by Patrick Dinneen as "a pigmy, a sprite, or leprechaun". The further derivation is less certain; according to most sources, the word is thought to be a corruption of Middle Irish luchrupán, [2] from the Old Irish luchorpán, a compound of the roots ("small") and corp ("body"). [3] [4] The root corp, which was borrowed from the Latin corpus, attests to the early influence of Ecclesiastical Latin on the Irish language. [5] However, research published in 2019 suggests that the word derives from the Luperci and the associated Roman festival of Lupercalia. [6] [7] [8]

The alternative spelling leithbrágan stems from a folk etymology deriving the word from leith (half) and bróg (brogue), because of the frequent portrayal of the leprechaun as working on a single shoe. [9]

Alternative spellings in English have included lubrican, leprehaun, and lepreehawn. Some modern Irish books use the spelling lioprachán. [3] The first recorded instance of the word in the English language was in Dekker's comedy The Honest Whore, Part 2 (1604): "As for your Irish lubrican, that spirit / Whom by preposterous charms thy lust hath rais'd / In a wrong circle." [3]


A leprechaun counts his gold in this engraving c. 1900 Leprechaun engraving 1900.jpg
A leprechaun counts his gold in this engraving c. 1900

The earliest known reference to the leprechaun appears in the medieval tale known as the Echtra Fergus mac Léti (Adventure of Fergus son of Léti). [10] The text contains an episode in which Fergus mac Léti, King of Ulster, falls asleep on the beach and wakes to find himself being dragged into the sea by three lúchorpáin. He captures his abductors, who grant him three wishes in exchange for release. [11] [12]

The leprechaun is said to be a solitary creature, whose principal occupation is making and mending shoes, and who enjoys practical jokes. According to William Butler Yeats, the great wealth of these fairies comes from the "treasure-crocks, buried of old in war-time", which they have uncovered and appropriated. [13] According to David Russell McAnally the leprechaun is the son of an "evil spirit" and a "degenerate fairy" and is "not wholly good nor wholly evil". [14]


Tourists with a novelty oversized Leprechaun in Dublin Menwithleprechaun.jpg
Tourists with a novelty oversized Leprechaun in Dublin

The leprechaun originally had a different appearance depending on where in Ireland he was found. [15] Prior to the 20th century, it was generally held that the leprechaun wore red, not green. Samuel Lover, writing in 1831, describes the leprechaun as,

... quite a beau in his dress, notwithstanding, for he wears a red square-cut coat, richly laced with gold, and inexpressible of the same, cocked hat, shoes and buckles. [16]

According to Yeats, the solitary fairies, like the leprechaun, wear red jackets, whereas the "trooping fairies" wear green. The leprechaun's jacket has seven rows of buttons with seven buttons to each row. On the western coast, he writes, the red jacket is covered by a frieze one, and in Ulster the creature wears a cocked hat, and when he is up to anything unusually mischievous, he leaps on to a wall and spins, balancing himself on the point of the hat with his heels in the air." [17]

According to McAnally

He is about three feet high, and is dressed in a little red jacket or roundabout, with red breeches buckled at the knee, gray or black stockings, and a hat, cocked in the style of a century ago, over a little, old, withered face. Round his neck is an Elizabethan ruff, and frills of lace are at his wrists. On the wild west coast, where the Atlantic winds bring almost constant rains, he dispenses with ruff and frills and wears a frieze overcoat over his pretty red suit, so that, unless on the lookout for the cocked hat, ye might pass a Leprechawn on the road and never know it's himself that's in it at all.

This dress could vary by region, however. In McAnally's account there were differences between leprechauns or Logherymans from different regions: [18]

In a poem entitled The Lepracaun; or, Fairy Shoemaker, 18th century Irish poet William Allingham describes the appearance of the leprechaun as:

...A wrinkled, wizen'd, and bearded Elf,

Spectacles stuck on his pointed nose, Silver buckles to his hose,

Leather apron — shoe in his lap... [19]

The modern image of the leprechaun sitting on a toadstool, having a red beard and green hat, etc. is clearly more modern invention or borrowed from other strands of European folklore. [20]

A life-size balloon leprechaun at Boston's St Patrick's Day Parade in 2018. Balloon leprechaun at Boston's St Patrick's Day Parade in 2018.jpg
A life-size balloon leprechaun at Boston's St Patrick's Day Parade in 2018.

The leprechaun is related to the clurichaun and the far darrig in that he is a solitary creature. Some writers even go as far as to substitute these second two less well-known spirits for the leprechaun in stories or tales to reach a wider audience. The clurichaun is considered by some to be merely a leprechaun on a drinking spree. [21]

In politics

In the politics of the Republic of Ireland, leprechauns have been used to refer to the twee aspects of the tourist industry in Ireland. [22] [23] This can be seen from this example of John A. Costello addressing the Oireachtas in 1963: "For many years, we were afflicted with the miserable trivialities of our tourist advertising. Sometimes it descended to the lowest depths, to the caubeen and the shillelagh, not to speak of the leprechaun. [23]

Films, television cartoons and advertising have popularised a specific image of leprechauns which bears little resemblance to anything found in the cycles of Irish folklore. It can be considered that the popularised image of a leprechaun is little more than a series of stereotypes based on derogatory 19th-century caricatures. [24] [25] Many Celtic Music groups have used the term Leprechaun LeperKhanz as part of their naming convention or as an album title. Even popular forms of American music have used the mythological character, including heavy metal celtic metal, punk rock and jazz []

Nobel Prize-winning economist, Paul Krugman coined the term "leprechaun economics" to describe distorted or unsound economic data, which he first used in a tweet on 12 July 2016 in response to the publication by the Irish Central Statistics Office (CSO) that Irish GDP had grown by 26.3%, and Irish GNP had grown by 18.7%, in the 2015 Irish national accounts. The growth was subsequently shown to be due to Apple restructuring its double Irish tax scheme which the EU Commission had fined €13bn in 2004–2014 Irish unpaid taxes, the largest corporate tax fine in history. The term has been used many times since.

See also


  1. Squire, Charles (1912). Mythology of the Celtic People . London. p.  403. ISBN   0091850436.
  2. Gloss by Windisch's (W. O. E.) Compendium of Irish grammar tr. by J. P. M'Swiney 1883 in "leprechaun" The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., 1989, OED Online, Oxford University Press, (subscription needed) 16 July 2009.
  3. 1 2 3 "leprechaun" The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., 1989, OED Online, Oxford University Press, (subscription needed) 16 July 2009
  4. Patrick S. Dinneen, Foclóir Gaedhilge agus Béarla (Dublin: Irish Texts Society, 1927).
  5. "leprechaun" The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed., 2004, Dictionary.com, Houghton Mifflin Company, 16 July 2009.
  6. Leprechaun 'is not a native Irish word' new dictionary reveals, BBC, 5 September 2019.
  7. Lost Irish words rediscovered, including the word for ‘oozes pus', Queen's University Belfast research for the Dictionary of the Irish Language reported by Cambridge University.
  8. lupracán, luchorpán on the Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language (accessed 6 September 2019)
  9. (O'Donovan in O'Reilly Irish Dict. Suppl. 1817) in "leprechaun" The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed, 1989, OED Online, Oxford University Press, (subscription needed) 16 July 2009.
  10. Koch, p. 1059; 1200.
  11. Koch, p. 1200.
  12. D. A. Binchy (ed. & trans.), "The Saga of Fergus mac Léti", Ériu 16, 1952, pp. 33–48
  13. Yeats, Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, 80.
  14. McAnally, Irish Wonders, 140.
  15. "Little Guy Style". Archived from the original on 29 July 2007. Retrieved 30 August 2016.
  16. From Legends and Stories of Ireland
  17. From Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry.
  18. McAnally, Irish Wonders, 140–142.
  19. William Allingham – The Leprechaun Archived 1 May 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  20. A dictionary of Celtic mythology
  21. Yeats, Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, 321.
  22. "Dáil Éireann – Volume 495 – 20 October, 1998 – Tourist Traffic Bill, 1998: Second Stage". Archived from the original on 15 May 2006.
  23. 1 2 "Dáil Éireann – Volume 206 – 11 December, 1963 Committee on Finance. – Vote 13—An Chomhairle Ealaoín". Archived from the original on 12 March 2007.
  24. Venable, Shannon (2011). Gold: A Cultural Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 196–197.
  25. Diane Negra, ed. (22 February 2006). The Irish in Us: Irishness, Performativity, and Popular Culture. Duke University Press. p. [ page needed ]. ISBN   0-8223-3740-1.


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