A leprechaun (Irish: leipreachán/luchorpán) is a diminutive supernatural being in Irish folklore, classed by some as a type of solitary fairy. They are usually depicted as little bearded men, wearing a coat and hat, who partake in mischief. In later times, they have been depicted as shoe-makers who have a hidden pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Leprechaun-like creatures rarely appear in Irish mythology and only became prominent in later folklore.
A Leprechaun Is Born
Long before we knew what a historic year 2019 would be for the Notre Dame leprechaun, University photographer Matt Cashore '94 and Notre Dame Magazine editor Kerry Temple '74 decided something: This year, the magazine should take an inside look at the auditions that produce our green-hatted mascots.
Cashore brought his gear to the tryouts and captured all the action as Samuel Jackson, Lynnette Wukie and Conal Fagan became the 2019-2020 leprechaun squad. Wukie will be the first woman in the role, and Fagan, who is entering his second year on the team, is the first native-born Irishman. Wukie and Jackson are also Notre Dame's second and third African-American leprechauns. Get a glimpse of the start to their history-making season below.
Due to increased demand for the leprechaun's appearance at events, the auditions this year (held in The Pit at the Joyce Center) were for three leprechauns: Gold, Blue and Green.
Suits can be custom-tailored for each leprechaun once he or she makes the squad, but at the audition, they are borrowed, leaving the contestants to choose the best fit for themselves. Here, Patrick Johnson chooses a suit from the makeshift dressing room in the boxing gym.
Conal Fagan, left, gets dressed as Wiett Sills helps Lynette Wukie tie her necktie, a skill she had not had much practice with in everyday life. Fagan was one of the three 2018-19 leprechauns but had to audition once again to keep the job.
Costume fully assembled, Lynnette Wukie takes a selfie.
The five contestants loosen up before the audition.
The five contestants have a private moment with 2018-2019 leprechauns Andrew Bub (in blue hat) and Jack Sheehan.
Samuel Jackson gathers his thoughts moments before the start of the official event.
All five contestants enter The Pit to audition before a panel of judges and a live audience.
The audition is held the evening before the annual Blue-Gold game and is open to the public. Hundreds of fans and friends attend.
Above and below, friends hold signs supporting their favorites.
The tryout starts with all five contestants together.
Next, each leprechaun contestant was asked to lead a pep rally while the other contestants were sequestered in the dressing room. Conal Fagan was first in line.
During his pep rally, Samuel Jackson showed off the skills he has acquired through formal ballet training.
Patrick Johnson leads the crowd in the Irish jig.
Wiett Sills engages with the audience.
Nearly an hour into the event, Lynette Wukie was the last of the five to take her turn pumping up the crowd.
Judges included head cheerleading coach Delayna Herndon (right) and Mike Brown (second from right), who held the leprechaun title from 1999-2001 and was the first African American in the role.
Ability to think on one's feet while remaining upbeat is a key component to the highly visible role of leprechaun. Here, 2018-19 leprechaun Jack Sheehan leads the mock interview section of auditions, asking Conal Fagan good-naturedly about his clean-shaven face. The contestants were also grilled on such controversial topics as payment of student-athletes.
The event ended with a pushup contest.
The Shillelagh, the traditional club carried by the leprechaun, is engraved with the initials of past holders of the role. Gold leprechaun Samuel Jackson posed with the club for his official team portrait.
Matt Cashore is one of Notre Dame's two University photographers and a regular contributor to this magazine.
THE LEPRECHAUN IN FOLKLORE
A leprechaun counting his coins, from an engraving, c. 1900. (Wikimedia Commons)
The earliest known reference to a leprechaun comes from the medieval tale called Adventure of Fergus, Son of Léti, and it’s a far cry from the benign representations we see in cartoons today. In the story, the King of Ulster falls asleep on the beach, only to awake shortly after to three leprechauns dragging him into the ocean in an attempt to drown him. He turns the tables on his captors, overpowering them, and they agree to grant him three wishes in return for their release: one is to gain the ability to breathe underwater, to prevent such a problem ever arising again.
The King of Ulster’s cunning wish is representative of a common old Irish belief—that leprechauns were practical jokers who would often achieve their goals by way of finding loopholes in any given rulebook. Their only true loyalty, most stories seem to suggest, is to themselves, an observation which prompted writer David Russell McAnally to posit that leprechauns were the sons of an “evil spirit” and a “degenerate fairy,” and is thus unable to be considered “wholly good nor wholly evil.”
In terms of appearance, the leprechaun varies depending on which region of Ireland (or, indeed, the world) he has been spotted. Most interestingly, the conventional belief that a leprechaun is always clad in green was a 20th century invention—before that, it was held that he favored red clothing. This idea was supported by Irish writer and famed mysticist W.B. Yeats, who believed that it was the custom of solitary fairies (or the magical “commoners”) to wear red, whereas green was reserved for the aristocratic trooping fairies, who travelled the length and width of Ireland in long processions by night. However, this is not to say that the trickster sprite in question took no pride in his appearance. 1831, Samuel Lover, an songwriter and novelist, wrote: “[The leprechaun is] 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.”
The leprechaun or clurichaun from T.C. Croker’s Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland (1862). (Wikimedia Commons)
Practicality, it seems, is also a concern among the fey folk. On the rainy west coast of Ireland, McAnally claimed, the leprechaun “dispenses with his [Elizabethan] ruff and frills and wears a frieze overcoat to protect his pretty red suit.” As such, unless passerby were to be on lookout for the signature cocked hat, a leprechaun walking down a country road might be overlooked entirely.
McAnally described many differences between leprechauns that could be found in different parts of Ireland, among which were:
The Northern Irish Leprechaun, who wore a “red military coat and white breeches, with a broad-trimmed, high-pointed hat, on which he would sometimes stand upside down.”
The Lurigadawne of Tipperary, with his “antique slashed jacket of red,” who was “also sporting a sword, which he used as a magic wand.”
The Luricawne of Kerry, “a fat, pursey little fellow whose jolly round face rivals in redness the cut-away jacket he wears, that always has seven rows of buttons in each row.”
The Cluricawne of Monaghan, classily-dressed in a “swallow-tailed evening coat of red with green vest, shiny shoes, and a long cone hat without a brim.”
You might note that McAnally’s descriptions appear to bastardize the word “leprechaun” to the point of unrecognizability. However, it’s likely that this Irish-American writer’s research became muddled over time with that conducted on the clurichaun, a different Irish fairy who is nonetheless similar to the leprechaun in that he is always solitary and always male. Known for his powerful love of alcohol and tendency to make his home in wine cellars, the folklore of the clurichaun is as amusing to read about as it is complex—however, some folklorists, including W.B. Yeats, have in the past suggested that the clurichaun is nothing more than a name for a leprechaun on a drinking spree. So much for the derogatory “drunken Irish leprechaun” stereotype—no matter who you believe they are, the real degenerates, it seems, are the rowdy clurichauns!
Irish Scientists Claim To Have Found “REAL Life Leprechaun Cave”
[Hmm. map w/ a rainbow? Sounds like a hoax to me. I wonder where the empty box of Lucky Charms cereal is hidden? Shouldn't there have been a pot 'o gold instead of only four gold coins? I'm checking further into this dubious claim. If true, it would cause a rather interesting debate among skeptics and believers alike. —chris]
Researchers at Trinity College Dublin have discovered a cave on Ireland’s northwest coast which they believe was once the actual home of a leprechaun. Scientific evaluation of the artifacts found in the small cave reveals that shoe-making equipment, maps and gold coins were apparently left behind by the leprechaun sometime between the years 1650 and 1700.
The initial discovery was made by two amateur cavers who are TCD students, on holiday in the fishing town of Killybegs. They heard myths recounted by locals about a small, mysterious cave hidden about 2 km up the shoreline, and set out to investigate. After several days of searching they found what appeared to be the entrance to a cave, well-camouflaged by large rocks and trees. The outcropping was engraved with what seemed to be a rudimentary form of Gaelic lettering. However, the cave was much too small for them to enter and explore, with the entrance only about 60 cm tall.
Upon their return to school, they notified the Speleological Union of Ireland and the Geography Department at Trinity College Dublin of their discovery. A team of researchers from TCD led by Professor Sean Thornton set out for the region the following month, with equipment which would allow them to remotely see inside the cave and extract samples. After obtaining the required permits, the team used robot-mounted, remote-controlled catadioiptic cameras to maneuver through a long winding entrance and obtain the first-ever view of the cave’s interior.
What the cameras revealed stumped Thornton and the entire exploration party at first. The cave was approximately one meter tall, almost perfectly round, and the size of a small shop. In the center of the floor was a rickety wooden table, on which were several scraps of withered leather material, four oddly-shaped pieces of rotted wood, a hammer and some rusty iron pegs. In one corner was a pile of moldy and tattered fabric which had obviously been gnawed by rodents at some point, covering two small rusty squares of iron. Along one side of the cave were two pieces of clay pottery with sludge caked on their bottoms. On the opposite wall was a large boulder, which apparently had hidden a recessed compartment before being pushed aside. Next to the opening, a map of some sort had been etched onto the wall. Finally, one of the cameras was able to get a view of the compartment’s interior, which contained four gold coins.
The inside findings were full documented on video, and arms attached to the robots were used to retrieve all of the items. They were then taken to Trinity College for evaluation and research, in consultation with experts from the Departments of History, Irish and Celtic Languages, and Natural Sciences, as well as archeologists from University College Dublin. Their combined findings stunned all involved.
All of the items dated to the period 1650-1700, according to both scientific dating techniques and expert evaluation (particularly of the gold coins which were discovered). The authorities were convinced by the shape and size of the wood pieces that they had been used as lasts, most likely used to make shoes with the leather material, hammer and nails found next to them. The sludge at the bottom of the pottery was identified as the remnants of dandelions or a similar flower, probably steeped in water which had been contained in the bowls. The moldy pieces of fabric and rusty squares were reconstructed to form what appeared to be a brightly-colored jacket and pointed, buckled hat. The coins were Irish double pistoles, struck in the year 1646. And while the map did not correspond to any of the known geographic features of the area during that period, the unmistakable image of a rainbow dominated one end.
The startling, hard-to-believe, but unanimous conclusion drawn by the experts – based on the artifacts and the size of the cave – was that it had once been home to a leprechaun. The shoe-making materials, dandelion tea, clothing, gold and map to the end of a rainbow, all housed in a living space in which no humans could fit, could be explained no other way according to the researchers. Their conclusion was supported by a linguist from TCD who was also on the expedition he believes the quasi-Gaelic inscription found at the entrance to the cave roughly translates to “Who Steals Me Gold Won’t Live Through The Night.”
Thornton and his team plan a return to the region later this year for further exploration, we will keep our readers informed of their findings.
Leprechauns Work Hard and Earn Well
Speaking of work, leprechauns are believed to serve as cobblers to other fairies. Therefore, they are said to always have a hammer in one hand, and a shoe in the other. Moreover, the noise made by leprechauns hammering nails into the soles of shoes are said to be audible by human beings. According to Irish folklore, fairies are very fond of dancing, and because of that, are in constant need of new shoes. Therefore, shoemaking is a lucrative trade in the fairy world.
‘Meadow Elves’ (1850) by Nils Blommér. ( Public Domain ) According to Irish folklore, fairies are very fond of dancing, so Leprechaun cobblers would be very wealthy.
One result of the leprechaun’s trade is that they are very wealthy fairies, and it is commonly believed that leprechauns keep the gold that they earn in pots hidden at the end of rainbows. Alternatively, it is believed that leprechauns are the bankers of the fairy world. In this case, the gold they keep may not be their own, but belong to other fairies who have entrusted the leprechauns with the safeguarding of their wealth.
Irish Poets Redefine the Leprechaun&aposs Appearance
The Irish take their legends and history seriously, and both were heavy influences on Irish literature, which, although not the birth mother, was the nurturing mother that developed the image of the leprechaun to that of a magical little imp or fairy.
Combined with the rise of Christianity in Ireland, (the church needed to diminish the power of magical legends), the physical bearing of a leprechaun became that of a rather small fellow, or even a relative of a fairy.
When Irish poets and story tellers started writing and talking about Leprechauns, they had to be a little more descriptive. One early example, as described by 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.
TRADITIONAL gREEN CLAD LEPRECHAUN
A later portrayal by William Yeats is similar in most ways, but describes them more as solitary fairies, that wear red jackets. He went on to say that "trooping fairies," (different from leprechauns), wear green. This may have been the start of "Irish green" becoming the color of the leprechauns.
Legacy of the Potato Famine
The exact role of the British government in the Potato Famine and its aftermath—whether it ignored the plight of Ireland’s poor out of malice, or if their collective inaction and inadequate response could be attributed to incompetence—is still being debated.
However, the significance of the Potato Famine (or, in the Irish language, An Gorta Mor) in Irish history, and its contribution to the Irish diaspora of the 19th and 20th centuries, is beyond doubt.
Tony Blair, during his time as British Prime Minister, issued a statement in 1997 offering a formal apology to Ireland for the U.K. government’s handling of the crisis at the time.
Leprechaun Engraving - History
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