I had started writing something completely different in preparation for 17 March and then I found the object pictured below. Isn’t it perfect? It was in an op shop, in a dusty plastic bag. It cost me $3.99. Which may have been over-investment in what is essentially some plastic tat and a cheap golden candle. But leprechauns! There is no point of origin marked anywhere – Ireland, China, Germany, it’s a mystery. These leprechauns materialised all by themselves in Adelaide and I have to say that when I washed off the dust they were even better than I expected. First of all, there are four of them. Usually, the leprechaun is a solitary creature. Secondly, two of them are using the candle to pole dance; this is not something I have ever encountered before, it’s certainly not a tradition I’ve come across in my research. And thirdly, the cauldron of gold and shamrocks of green are quite perfectly formed and heavy for their size. Class!
The rest of the family is not so enamoured. ‘Donate them back’, I was told. ‘They’re embarrassing.’ ‘They have no place in a modern Irish Australian home.’ A compromise was reached and they are now confined to the study, banned from appearing anywhere else in the house. ‘And you have to donate them back soon.’ ‘Of course’, I lie. Because by now I’m quite fond of them.
The leprechaun is probably the most widely known Irish mythological creature. Traditionally, he is the fairy shoemaker, banker and guard of the fairy treasure. In fact, his very name comes from one of his occupations – leprechaun, according to Douglas Hyde (first President of Ireland and scholar) via W.B. Yeats (poet and collector of Irish legends), comes from the Irish leith bróg, the one-shoemaker, as the leprechaun is usually spotted working on a single shoe. If you encounter a leprechaun and keep a hold of him, he is obliged to show you the location of his gold hoard. Which, when you think about it, doesn’t seem like quite the right action by us mortals. If he’s essentially the fairy banker, the pot of gold belongs to the fairies or good people; it’s not ours to steal. And I for one wouldn’t want to get on their bad side. Leave well alone I say. If you meet a leprechaun while out and about, exchange good wishes, mention the weather, wish each other good health and safety in these Covid times, and go about your business.
I think these four leprechauns who have taken up residence in our house may stay for a while. And then they’ll probably move on of their own accord. When they’re quite ready.
In the meantime, I’m sure they’ll join with me in wishing everyone a happy, safe and socially distanced Saint Patrick’s Day in 2021.
White, Carolyn 2008 A History of Irish Fairies. Cork: Mercier Press.
Yeats, W.B. (ed.) 1986  Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry. New York: Avanel Books.