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The Origins of Leprechauns: Where Did They Come From

Updated on March 14, 2017

Origin of Leprechauns

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

Leprechauns are most often thought of as those little men who hoard money and hide their pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. They are sometimes naughty, sometimes a little evil, many times a bit mean. It is said that anyone who finds that pot of gold and can trick it away from the leprechaun keeps the gold; however, leprechauns are very smart, and the human usually ends up the one who is tricked. The classic version wears a three-cornered hat, has pointed ears, green eyes, wiry red hair and beard, and wears green. They are rotund and have a prankster’s sense of humor.

Stories abound as to the origin of the leprechaun. The word leprechaun comes from the Irish “leipreachán" or "lucharachán” which comes from the Middle Irish "luchrapán, lupra(c)cán,” which is originally from the Old Irish ”lúchorp(án)” meaning "small body."

Leprechauns in Text

In Dekker's Text: The leprechaun first appears in texts in the 17th century as “lubrican” in Dekker’s The New Whore:

“As for your Irish Lubrican, that spirit
Whom by preposterous charms thy lust has raised.”

Where leprechauns came from before that is really anyone’s guess, and there is plenty of speculation on the subject.

The Fairy Shoe-Maker: The Oxford English Dictionary lists one of possible origins of the word as “leath bhrogan” which means shoe-maker. In Ireland, leprechauns are often fairy shoe-makers. Traditional portraits show leprechauns holding or working on shoes, and legend says they are excellent cobblers, making shoes for many different faerie communities.

Little Stooping Lugh: Another speculative origin comes from Irish mythology from the Tuatha De Danann, a race of mythological creatures said to be “the peoples of the goddess Danann”. The Tuatha De Danann were once human beings but have been immortalized over the centuries. Lugh was the High King, the great Sun God, patron of the arts and crafts, and an important god in the ancient pagan Celtic religions. In FAIRIES & FOLKTALES OF IRELAND, Yeats says the Tuatha De Danann were gods and followers of the gods of pagan Ireland. When they were no longer worshipped, they became small in size.

Where Do Leprechauns Come From?

A leprechaun is shown crafting shoes in this Engraving made in 1858.
A leprechaun is shown crafting shoes in this Engraving made in 1858.

Their Association With Gold

Leprechauns became associated with gold through a story dating back to the Danes’ invasion of Ireland. Legend states the Danes left the leprechauns in charge of their plundered wealth, which the little men put in crocks and pots and have hidden throughout Ireland. Leprechauns carry two pouches. One holds a silver shilling – a magical coin that returns to the pouch each time it is paid out. The other holds a single gold coin which the leprechaun uses to try to extricate himself from difficult situations. Once the gold coin has been paid out, it usually turns to leaves or ash. A leprechaun will reveal the location of his gold if questioned and if the person questioning him keeps an eye on him. Looking away from the leprechaun guarantees his disappearance as they can vanish in an instant.

Interestingly, leprechauns have never been the subject of myths themselves but rather one of the supporting characters. They are not the hero of a story but a helper (or hindrance) to the hero. Leprechauns are closely related to the cluricaun who steal and borrow nearly everything and are much surlier than leprechauns.

With spring rains approaching, keep an eye out for rainbows.  This and the sound of a cobbler’s hammer will give away the location of a leprechaun, and where there’s a leprechaun there is sure to be leprechaun’s gold.

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    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 7 years ago from South Africa

      Even though we are very far from Ireland we have a leprechaun living under the monstera in our garden. Not too sure how he got there! His name is Seamus and he frightens the children in the neighbourhood! Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it, LOL!

      Thanks for an interesting read.

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • cvanthul profile image
      Author

      cvanthul 7 years ago from Florida

      LOL! Thanks for sharing your leprechaun story, Tony. I'm sure Seamus is only frightening because he's so far from Ireland... ok, well, maybe that's why!

      Cris

    • hypnodude profile image

      Andrea 7 years ago from Italy

      Very good hub, well written and with many information. Do I have to say that they are my favorite faeries? Rated up and stumbled.

    • cvanthul profile image
      Author

      cvanthul 7 years ago from Florida

      Thanks, dude. Some of my favorites as well.

    • profile image

      BenjaminB 6 years ago

      Enjoyed reading this very much cvanthul.

    • Doc Snow profile image

      Doc Snow 6 years ago from Atlanta metropolitan area, GA, USA

      Fun hub!

    • profile image

      mikeq107 5 years ago

      "Interestingly, leprechauns have never been the subject of myths themselves but rather one of the supporting characters. They are not the hero of a story but a helper (or hindrance) to the hero. Leprechauns are closely related to the cluricaun who steal and borrow nearly everything and are much surlier than leprechauns."

      so what your saying is they are like politicans LOL

      Great read and coming from leprachuanville i have to agree with your reserch!!!

      Mike :0)

    • cvanthul profile image
      Author

      cvanthul 5 years ago from Florida

      LOL, Mike. Yes, very much like politicians. Thanks!

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      hftfth 5 years ago

      lol omgh i wave this

    • profile image

      cat 4 years ago

      stupid little men!

    • profile image

      Trudy 4 years ago

      BELIEVE!!!!!

    • profile image

      mary-anna reggin 3 years ago

      hi does anyone know where the leprechaun lives?

    • cvanthul profile image
      Author

      cvanthul 3 years ago from Florida

      I don't think anyone really knows, mary-anna. They are incredibly difficult to catch and can disappear quickly if you don't keep your eyes on them.

    • profile image

      Bob j 2 years ago

      Have people caught a leprechauns face on tape

    • cvanthul profile image
      Author

      cvanthul 2 years ago from Florida

      I haven't found any real leprechaun photos or videos so I'd have to say, probably not.

    • profile image

      alice 2 years ago

      ive only seen real leprachuns as midgits or children in costumes

    • profile image

      matt 2 years ago

      OMG you are so smart

    • profile image

      carlonbow 2 years ago

      i actualaly found the end of the r

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