Leprechauns appear in many stories and books, even films, such as the Hallmark Classic Darby O’Gill And The Little People; which, I have to confess is my personal favourite. Also, Leprechaun, and the long series of sequels, which personally, I found creepy and utterly disturbing. I still kind of shudder at the sight of a rainbow. Leprechauns featured in Irish folktales are fairly neutral, however, neither good nor evil, and vary in personality. The appearance and style of a leprechaun, also his personality, seem to depend upon where in Ireland he was found. When Yeats wrote Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry in 1888, he described the leprechaun thus:
“He is something of a dandy, and dresses in a red coat with seven rows of buttons, seven buttons on each row, and wears a cocked-hat, upon whose pointed end he is wont in the north-eastern counties, according to McAnally, to spin like a top when the fit seizes him.”
He’s described similarly by other writers in the eighteenth century, such as the poet William Allingham, who describes a leprechaun with little difference:
” …A wrinkled, wizen’d, and bearded Elf,
Spectacles stuck on his pointed nose,
Silver buckles to his hose,
Leather apron – shoe in his lap…”
Allingham is accused of influencing the modern description of the leprechaun in his poem. Naturally, this aggravates the Irish; the stereotypical image of the leprechaun is cheerful, fat animated, and dressed entirely in green, etc. “Leprechaun language” is a pejorative for the Irish language, basically an insult. In a popular story containing leprechauns, is the farmer or young boy who finds a leprechaun and bids him to tell him where his treasure is buried to barter for his freedom. The leprechaun acquiesces, and tells him that the treasure is buried in an open field, beneath a ragwort plant. The man or boy then ties a red ribbon to the plant, and lets the leprechaun go. He sets the leprechaun free, and when he retrieves his shovel to dig up the treasure, he comes back to the field and discovers it full of ragwort plants with red ribbons tied to each.
In a different story, a young girl finds the leprechaun instead. She captures and keeps him in her hand, and bids him to tell her where he’s hidden his gold. The leprechaun guides her, until suddenly she hears a loud buzzing behind her. The leprechaun shouts that she’s being chased by a swarm of bees. When the girl looks back, there is nothing there, and when she turns back to where she held the leprechaun, he’s escaped. Other stories tell of leprechauns riding cattle, sheep, or dogs at night, causing the animals to go stir crazy, get lost, or be overly anxious.