IRISH LEPRECHAUN

Students: Evgeny Zhiltsov, Irina Erakuleva, Lvovsky School №4, Podolsk, 

Teacher: O.V. Travkina 

 

Irish folklore is very ancient and rich. It has a lot of peculiar features and unique characters. One of such characters is the Leprechaun. He is so popular that it has become a national symbol of Ireland. We wanted to know who he is.

The purpose of our research is to define the essence of this folk character and to point out the Irish features. The object of the study is the Irish folklore. The subject of the study is the tales and legends about Leprechauns. The tasks of the research are

1.To find and study different pieces of folk literature on this topic.

2. To analyze their peculiarities and to define the essence of these folk characters.  

3.To try to find similar characters in the literature of different countries and to point out their common and distinctive features.

4. To find out the attitude of learners of English in our school to them.

We suppose that the historical background formed this character and there must be a lot of Irish traits in his outlook. 

The working methods are:

1.The study of Irish folk pieces;

2.A definition of the essence of the Leprechaun;

3.The comparison with some other mythological characters;

4.A survey of students;

5.An analytical study.

The relevance of the work is conditioned on the fact that knowing the folklore of a nation can help mutual understanding and communication that is especially important nowadays.

The results of the study may be used at the lessons of English and for extracurricular activities.

According to Irish legends an tales the Leprechaun is a small adult man about 2-3 feet tall. His face is wrinkled.  His skin is white. His nose is red and his beard is red too. He is said to be ugly and funny at the same time. However, on the Irish souvenirs he looks quite attractive. 

The Leprechaun’s clothes are green. This colour is traditional to Ireland. He wears a short jacket with big shiny buttons, long blue stockings; a high cocked hat, the obligatory leather apron; high boots with huge silver buckles.

Leprechauns are quick-witted, highly intelligent, and they will do anything to escape capture from humans. They are also greedy, vindictive and mischievous. The older the Leprechaun, the more malicious he is. Leprechauns love gold. They are said to get into people’s houses and pinch small pieces of gold from their coins. Thus, they become richer every day. Because of their love for gold Leprechauns are often depicted with a pot of gold. They are cunning. Leprechauns always have two purses with them - one with silver coins, the other with gold coins. They are special for cheating people. If a Leprechaun pays with silver coins, they immediately return to his purse. If he pays with a gold coin, it turns into a leaf. 

The legends about Leprechauns’ gold are known to all the seekers of wealth. It is said that if you catch a Leprechaun, he must give you his gold. However, it is hardly possible and nobody was able to do it. Leprechauns know a lot of tricks to cheat a man. In one tale a Leprechaun was caught by a boy. He said he had hidden his gold under a bush and made a boy go for a spade. Not to lose a bush they tied a piece of cloth to it. But when the boy returned, there were pieces of cloth on each bush. So the boy could not find the gold.

Leprechauns are very careful and sly and know a lot of artful dodges to escape. Besides, they think that people are silly, greedy and evil. Thus, if their gold is in the hands of a man, it disappears in the air. So, there is no point to hunt for their gold. 

If you do not offend a Leprechaun, he is funny and friendly. Otherwise, he will revenge the offender by no means. People try to appease the Leprechaun. They put a saucer with milk at the door. Moreover, the Leprechaun can become angry because of the barbaric attitude to nature. They are environmentally friendly. 

. Leprechauns are said to love national Irish music and traditional dance.  They play the tin whistle, the fiddle, the Irish harp very well. Their favourite hobbies are also fox hunting, smoking and drinking Irish whiskey. They are able to drink the whole barrel of whiskey. That is why they are always drunken. Their tobacco is strong and stinking. They always have a pipe in the mouth.

Of the legendary magic underground people the Leprechaun is the only to have a trade. Leprechauns make shoes. The famous Irish writer and poet, W.B. Yeats wrote, “Because of their love of dancing they (the Fae) will constantly need shoes“. In one of his tales a woman was abducted by the Faeries. Seven years later she was returned.  She had no toes. She had danced them off. The Leprechaun’s job is proved by a leather apron, which is put on him all the time. However, he is said to be seen making only the left shoe, never a pair. By the way, “leprechaun” means a one shoe maker. It is easier to hear the Leprechaun than to see him. If you are out in the rural countryside and hear a “tap, tap, tap”, it’s usually the sound of them hammering nails into the soles of shoes. But it is almost impossible to find whoever is making this noise.

Leprechauns can be found only in Ireland. They live in deep caves, thick forests and cellars. You can see a Leprechaun on the rainbow. He is said to hide his gold at the end of it. However, physicists claim that nobody can reach the end of a rainbow. It is an optical effect and the rainbow will always be in front of you.

Leprechauns are considered to belong to the people of Tuatha de Dannan. They were the second to invade Ireland and came on ships. There was even a fleet but they burnt their ships not to be found and not to retreat. Although they are mythological people, they remind us of the four periods of invasion to Ireland by the Vikings as they came from the islands in the north. There had been several severe battles before Ireland was divided. The Tuatha de Danann were to live under the ground. Deprived of offerings and affection they shriveled until they became small. As they had learned magic they were called Faerie Folk. However, they are told to have reached Ireland before the Celts. Moreover, some authors claim that they are the true Irish natives who were descended from Irish royalty. 

The second interconnection with the Vikings is their gold. It is said that Leprechauns preserve the Vikings’ ancient treasures.

We can make a conclusion that some historical facts could influence the legends about Leprechauns. As for the legends themselves, John and Caitlin Matthews found out that they date back to the eighth century. However, then they were water spirits called “luchorpán”, which meant “a small body”. It is written in their book “Elementary Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures”. Nevertheless, some researchers asure that the name originated from the Irish Leath bhrogan meaning a shoemaker.

In his book “Irish Wonders” McAnally wrote that the Leprechaun is a son of a fairy and an evil spirit. That is why we cannot say that he is either kind or evil. 

While reading Leprechaun tales we can find a lot of common features with the Irish. The native Irish are considered to be red. And the Leprechaun has a red beard. There is a lot in common in their characters. They are brave, merry and quick – witted. They are tricky when they want to escape or to save their gold. And they are kind if you do not want it.

Both Leprechauns and the Irish love dancing. In the fairy tale “Niamh” the girl started to dance with Leprechauns and she danced for many years. Nobody could find her till she returned herself. She was still young and thought that she had been dancing for twenty minutes. In reality several years had passed.

Both Leprechauns and the Irish can play traditional musical instruments and are wonderful musicians. In the tale “The Fairy Lios” Leprechauns agreed to forgive Connor’s sister because he had pleased them by playing the tin whistle (the feadog). Just before he got the idea to play for Leprechauns, he had been surprised that the little people “should have the same music as mortals”. They had the same instruments and loved the same tunes. Moreover, they were wonderful musicians themselves.

Another common feature is their love to nature. They preserve it and their attitude to nature is very careful and caring. In many tales (for example, in “The Fairy Lios”, “The new house”, etc.), people are punished for destroying woods, flowers or nests.

Besides, the Leprechaun usually wears a top hat with a shamrock on it. A shamrock is the symbol of Ireland.  The Irish colour is green. And the leprechaun’s clothes are green. 

Thus, it is evident that the leprechaun is a truly Irish character that demonstrates features similar to the native people.

There is little resemblance between the Leprechaun and any other fairy character. We have found a few. Being captured, the Leprechaun must either give his gold or fulfil three wishers of a man. In Russian tales we have a pike in the folk tale “By pike's command” and a goldfish (“The Tale of a Goldfish” by Pushkin) that should do the same. In Arabian tales there is a Jinnee. Leprechauns are also often compared with fairies. However, they are all quite different in appearance. 

In Irish folklore there is another similar character the Cluricaun. The Cluricaun is a drunken creature who loves to cause chaos around Ireland during the night. However, leprechauns are not drunkards, although they are fond of drinking Irish whiskey. Moreover, a tipsy leprechaun instantly becomes sober as soon as it comes to treasures.

In different European folklore pieces there are such fairy characters as gnomes. Gnomes are also small. In different countries they have different names. In Germany there is a “kaukis”, in France and Switzerland there is a “barbegazi”, in Iceland there is a “vuttir”. The last is so respected that native people changed routes while building roads. They did not want to disturb the vuttirs’ habitat. We can even find the similar creatures in Japanese tales. There they are called “tengu” and have wings. We tried to compare leprechauns and gnomes (table 1).

Table 1.

The Comparison of the Leprechaun and the Gnome.

Item

Similarity

Difference

Appearance

They are both small elderly  men with a beard.

The colour of the beard is different: The leprechaun has a red one, while the gnome has a white beard.

The leprechaun is smaller.

Habitat

They both mainly live under the ground, in caves or in the mountains

 

Character

They are extremely touchy, quarrelsome and capricious.

Gnomes are usually kind and open – hearted, while leprechauns are not very friendly and it is better not to meet them.

Job

 

Leprechauns are shoemakers while gnomes are miners and goldsmiths.

Attitude to men

They both suffered or suffer from a man’s greediness, so they try to avoid meeting people.

 

Treasures

They both keep treasures.

The Leprechauns’ treasures are in the pots, while the Gnomes’ treasures are in the mountains.

Knowledge

 

Gnomes are considered to keep knowledge and secrets

 

We were interested what the pupils of our school know about Leprechauns. We conveyed a survey. 105 pupils of our school took part in it. Almost 34 % of our pupils have never heard of Leprechauns. And 34% gave a right definition describing Leprechauns as folk or fairy characters. Some definitions were really funny (diagram 1). We continued to ask questions to those who gave a correct answer.

Diagram 1.

45% of the pupils are aware that Leprechauns are from Irish tales and legends. According to them they live only in Ireland. Some students have heard the legend that Leprechauns hide the gold they preserve at the end of the rainbow. Thus their answer to the question “Where do Leprechauns live?” was “Under the rainbow” (diagram 2).  

 

Diagram 2

Nobody knows what Leprechauns do. It is the evidence that very few people have read tales and legends about Leprechauns in our school. However, students know that Leprechauns preserve gold, hide from people and can fulfil wishes. But they do not know under what conditions Leprechauns can do it.

Our students tried to compare Leprechauns with different folk characters ((diagram 3). 32% of the pupils could not find any to compare with. Among those who managed, 21% consider Leprechauns to have much in common with dwarfs. 16% think them to be similar with elves. There were those who compared them with Russian folk character “leshy”.

 

Diagram 3.

To sum it up, the Leprechaun is a unique and original folk character. The Leprechaun has a lot in common with the Irish. It has a lot of traits peculiar to the Irish people. The historical background resembles the Vikings’ and some events that took place in Ireland. This fairy character is a truly Irish one. The Leprechaun has no equivalent in any other folklore. However, the nearest fairy character to him is the gnome. 

The Leprechaun is a fairy character with a strong moral essence. They warn from the desire to become rich fast without hard work. They warn from taking somebody’s belongings in order to become rich. They have their trade and work hard. 

We can make a conclusion that our hypothesis was correct.

Sources:

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