We have all come to know and love the red bearded little trickster sprite that sits perched on a mushroom guarding his pot of gold. But the Leprechaun has not always been a wee humorous wizened old man smoking a pipe.
Originally known as the “Luchorpán,” (which means little body) the leprechaun was a water spirit who appeared in the 8th-century story “The Death of Fergus mac Leiti.”
Some scholars believe that the modern day Leprechaun is a combination of the Luchorpán and a household fairy being known as the Cluricaune. The Cluricaune has the appearance of a little old man who dresses all in green. And though a household fairy, they are known to not do much work, but rather sit alone in the wine cellar drinking until every drop of wine is gone.
It is also believed that the Leprechaun is named after the Irish god, Lugh, who is one of the “Three Golden Shoemakers.” This could be why they are known as both cobblers and guardians of gold.
In most tales the Leprechaun seems to be a solitary fairy with no mention of any female companionship. However in the 13th century version of the tale of “The Death of Fergus mac Leiti” there is mention of a Leprechaun Queen named Bebo.
However, since Queen Bebo, the Leprechaun appears to have remained the bachelor shoemaker; dressed in green and wearing a leather apron, smoking a pipe, tapping on a single shoe with his little hammer or walking with his shillelagh.
He hides his pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, or sometimes buries it under a bush. If a mortal is lucky enough to catch a Leprechaun, the wee sprite must reveal the location of his gold. However the Leprechaun is a very tricksy fairy and it’s rare that a mortal ever actually claims the treasure.
In one tale a farmer manages to catch a Leprechaun and forces him to reveal the hiding place of his gold (which is buried beneath a bush). The man, having no tools for digging, ties the bush with one of his red socks, and quickly sets off for home for a shovel. When he returns he finds that every bush in the field is tied with a red sock!
The Leprechaun eventually migrated to North America (most likely with the Irish during the 19th century) where he is known as the Leprocaun. Most popularly known to the lumberjacks in the North West (namely Wisconsin and Minnesota) as a Fearsome Critter, the Leprocaun may not have supplied a pot of gold, but certainly supplied lonely workers in lonely areas with fodder for tall tales shared around the campfire.