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St. Patrick's Day Symbols: The Leprechaun

By Yona Williams    2/27/10

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Yes, the leprechaun of Celtic folklore is the same creature depicted on the front of the breakfast cereal, Lucky Charms. Originally, the Irish called this "small-bodied fellow" a "lobaircin" or "luchorpan" when mentioned in folklore, but the symbol has become much more than something associated with the religious celebration of St. Patrick's Day. This article explores the background, meaning, and history of the leprechaun.

The leprechaun is an Irish fairy that resembles a small, old man that measures about two feet tall. Oftentimes, he is seen in the attire of a shoemaker – complete with a crooked hat and sometimes a leather apron. If you follow the legend of the leprechaun, then you already know that they are standoffish and not the friendliest of creatures. They prefer to live on their own and are believed to pass the time making shoes – although it's not clear what they actually do with these shoes. Leprechauns are also associated with often associated with a pot of gold.

In legends, people looking for treasure search for leprechauns by following the sound of his hammer when he's busy making shoes. If the leprechaun is captured, you can threaten him with violence to persuade him to reveal the whereabouts of the treasure, but you must watch his every move. He can easily slip away when someone isn’t looking.

The origin of leprechaun legends most likely came from the Celtic belief in fairies, as well as miniature men and women that possessed the ability to use their magical powers which could go either way – good or evil. The Celtic folktales portrayed the leprechauns as cranky, but responsible for mending the shoes of all the other fairies. In Celtic folklore, the leprechauns were known for being tricksters. They needed this trait as they were also known as the protectors of "hidden treasures."
 
In Ireland, leprechauns did not have anything to do with St. Patrick or the celebration of St. Patrick's Day – one of the Catholic holy days. However, after the release of a Walt Disney film and other associations, the leprechaun was completely transformed into a friendly, cheerful creature that became a favorite symbol for Americans regarding both St. Patrick's Day and Ireland.

A couple of Irish sayings and blessings centered on the leprechaun include:

"Leprechauns, castles, good luck and laughter
Lullabies, dreams and love ever after.
Poems and songs with pipes and drums
A thousand welcomes when anyone comes.
That's the Irish for you!"

"Near a misty stream in Ireland in the hollow of a tree
Live mystical, magical leprechauns
who are clever as can be
With their pointed ears, and turned up toes and little coats of green
The leprechauns busily make their shoes and try hard not to be seen.
Only those who really believe have seen these little elves
And if we are all believers
We can surely see for ourselves."

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