The Little People, Fact or Fiction?

As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, let’s get something straight. Leprechauns are real. My grandma told me that many years ago and she would never lie. Grandma had lived in Ireland and was an eyewitness. The “little people” she said were very active in County Sligo. Other reliable sources have reported on these mischievous pixies and the accounts don’t vary that much.

Leprechauns are always described as resembling little old men, about three feet tall, and skilled at mending shoes and practical joking. If on St. Patrick’s Day Eve you leave a pair of worn out brogans outside your front door with a wee drop of something to ward off the night chill, you might be rewarded in the morning with new soles and heels, a bright shine and an empty shot glass.

If you’re fast enough you’ll get a glimpse of the departing cobbler who can be recognized by his unique garb. Leprechauns are said to wear red or green swallowtail jackets and red breeches buckled at the knees. William Butler Yeats, the Nobelist poet who lived in Sligo, added a significant detail based on his sightings. Their jackets, he said, have seven rows of buttons with seven in each row.

This could be useful to another eyewitness besides Grandma and Yeats. If you brake suddenly to avoid hitting a wandering Leprechaun on St. Patrick’s Day, an accurate 49-button description would be an important detail in your report and might even make a breathalyzer test unnecessary especially if the investigating officer is Irish.

Never chase a Leprechaun, not even to thank him for the repaired brogans. He might think you’re after his hidden pot of gold which would change him from jolly to fiercely protective. Also, a captured Leprechaun would owe you three wishes, but be careful. They have a way of making you wish you hadn’t wished.

I may have had a leprechaun encounter of the fortunate kind. While touring the beautiful Ring of Kerry years ago, our guide Dennis announced, “We’ll be stoppin’ up the road a bit beside a peat bog. A little fellow will come out of the black thorn hedge and offer to sell you an ancient Irish beverage he calls “poteen”. It’s an old Gaelic word for “happy” I believe.”

I bought the beverage from the very little man in the green wool overcoat, but I didn’t know about the 49-button count then. Every St. Patrick’s Day I take a wee drop or three. It’s quite magical.

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