Leprechauns have always been the unofficial mascot of St. Patrick’s Day, but if you bring them up to actual Irish people, chances are that you’ll get laughed out of the pub.
So we decided to do our best to trace everyone’s favorite tiny, red-bearded men back to their origins. We’ll pinpoint their journey from mythological creatures to breakfast cereal mascots. Here are all the facts we know about leprechauns.
1. The word leprechaun comes from the Old Irish word luchorpán, which is a compound of the roots lú (short) and corp (body).
2. The luchorpáns first appeared as water fairies, but eventually evolved into the heavily drinking creatures we know today.
3. The first account of true leprechauns was in the medieval story of Fergus mac Léti, King of Ulster. While he was sleeping, three small, bearded fairies attempted to drag him into the ocean.
4. In addition to playing practical jokes, leprechauns are said to love cobbling shoes.
5. Legends say that if you catch a leprechaun, he will grant you wishes. Others claim the creatures carry gold. Even William Butler Yeats described them as “treasure-crocks.”
6. The classic green leprechaun coat is a relatively new thing. Before the 20th century, leprechauns were known to wear red.
7. Leprechauns vary in appearance according to where in Ireland they’re from. For instance, Kerry leprechauns are fat, Tipperary leprechauns carry a sword, and leprechauns from the North wear pointed hats.
8. A typical leprechaun trick involves a very unsound deal. In a Carol Rose story, a leprechaun tells a man where his treasure is buried, but because the man doesn’t have a shovel, he wraps a red scarf around a tree to mark it. When he returns with a shovel, every tree in the forest has a red scarf.
9. Much like Smurfs, female leprechauns are extremely rare or nonexistent. Traditionally, leprechauns are bearded little men with a penchant for smoking pipes.
10. The Irish believe the leprechaun has morphed into a subtle dig at their culture. Modern portrayals include offensive stereotypical elements such as heavy drinking, fighting, obsession with wealth, and silly dancing.
So while it’s a fun change to dress the office up in clovers for March, just know that leprechauns are the equivalent of Jar Jar Binks to Star Wars fans…they may be the most well-known characters in Irish mythology, but they’re also the most annoying.
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