One of the most famous of Ireland’s faeryfolk is popping up more and more in stories and shows, and demanding quite a bit more respect. Instead of the stereotypical image of diminutive mischief-makers, leprechauns are becoming the fan-favorite action heroes (or villains) of the fairy world.
With St. Patrick’s Day this month, what better time to try our luck finding 17 fun and geeky facts about these feisty fellows:
1. The term Leprechaun, has evolved through the years, but one of the earliest is the Old Irish “luchorpán,” a compound word meaning “small body.” One of the earliest references is from an Irish legend about a king, Saga of Fergus mac Léti. King Fergus encounters them as “water sprites” who try to drag him into the sea.
2. It is almost certain any depiction of a leprechaun in modern advertising will give them a green suit, but in some areas of Ireland, they were portrayed as wearing red. Some people say the green they wear now is so they can easily hide among the Emerald Isle’s landscape.
3. In Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, the towering leprechaun Mad Sweeney was guardian of the sacred rock for more than 3,000 years, and came to America from Ireland accompanying an indentured servant girl from Bantry Bay. The name “Mad Sweeney” comes from the medieval tale Buile Suibhne (The Frenzy of Sweeney). The idea of the leprechaun as short is considered a joke, as they are actually very tall. Actor Pablo Shreiber, who portrays the character in the Starz television version of American Gods, is 6’5.” Viewers can get a good look at his coming to America in Episode 7 of Season 1, “A Prayer for Mad Sweeney.”
4. The famous Notre Dame Leprechaun is one of college sports’ most recognizable logos, but the Leprechaun wasn’t voted official mascot of the university until 1966. Its mascot was a terrier, but in 1960 a student walked on the field dressed as a leprechaun. One year later, the school adopted a sideline leprechaun yell leader, before making it official five years later. Each season three lucky students get to don the green leprechaun costumes (tailored specifically for them) after undergoing an intense tryout process.
5. Another famous leprechaun mascot, the Boston Celtics’ “Lucky The Leprechaun,” is wildly athletic and performs stunts and acrobatic dunks during home games. He wears “Lucky Number 18,” representing the next World Championship the Celtics will win.
6. In the bestselling Artemis Fowl book series by Irish writer Eoin Colfer, the green shorts and shillelagh-wielding leprechaun image is long gone in the fairy world. The well-trained fairies known by humans (Mud Men) as leprechauns are actually part of the Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance division, aka LEPrecon. Fowl, an adolescent evil genius, learns their strength when he kidnaps “Recon” Captain Holly Short for ransom. People can see the LEPrecon force in action this August when Artemis Fowl comes to the big screen from Disney.
7. Actor Warwick Davis, who has found fame in successful fantasy and science film like the Star Wars and Harry Potter series, made his mark in the horror genre by originating the title role in 1993’s Leprechaun about a homicidal leprechaun out to get his gold back. This film spawned several sequels, taking the Leprechaun everywhere from outer space to the inner city ‘Hood, with such co-stars through the years as Jennifer Aniston (in her first movie role) and Ice-T.
8. WWE professional wrestler Dylan Mark Postl is best known for fighting under his ring name “Hornswoggle,” the leprechaun partner of northern Irish wrestler Finlay. He’s been known to play rough, as the meaning of hornswoggle is to “swindle, cheat, hoodwink, or hoax.” Postl played an entirely different leprechaun in the horror reboot Leprechaun: Origins in 2014.
9. Disney’s 1959 live-action film Darby O’Gill and the Little People, where an Irishman has to face off with a community of leprechauns, is based loosely on books by Hermione Templeton Kavanagh. The movie marks the first leading role for Sean Connery, who would go on to become the first to portray Ian Fleming’s James Bond in Dr. No in 1962. No, Connery did not play a leprechaun.
10. Star Trek: Voyager alumnus Robert Picardo portrayed a leprechaun posing as an alien hunter under the name Wayne Whittaker Jr. in season six of the WB’s Supernatural. The leprechaun was summoned by a man who didn’t realize summoning this type of fairy would result in all the abduction of the entire town’s first-born. The leprechaun seemed human in appearance but bled green when he was shot.
11. The Lucky Charms mascot, Lucky the Leprechaun (no relation to the Boston mascot), was voiced for nearly 30 years by the Shakespearean trained actor Arthur Anderson, who worked extensively with director Orson Welles in many projects.
12. The 1947 musical Finian’s Rainbow, about an Irishman who travels to America to bury his pot of gold near Fort Knox, was made into a 1968 movie starring Fred Astaire. The play was actually more than just a lively musical, as it addresses the issues of racism and corruption. The leprechaun Og, played by early British teen idol Tommy Steele in the movie, tries to open the mind of a bigoted senator by changing his race.
13. During the Quidditch World Cup in Harry Potter and the Goblet of fire, Fred and George Weasley were paid in Leprechaun gold-galleons when they won a bet against Ludo Bagman that Ireland’s team would beat Bulgaria. Although leprechauns (also called “Claricorn” in the Wizarding World) are listed as beasts with the Ministry of Magic, the only depiction of them seen in the movie or in the book series is as a fireworks display from team Ireland before the World Cup.
14. Portland, Oregon boast the only “official leprechaun colony” in the United States, Mill Ends Park, also considered the “World’s Smallest Park.” This little two-feet wide patch of park in the median of a parkway is said to be home of to a small colony headed by leprechaun “Patrick O’Toole.” Writer Dick Fagan, who first talked about them in the 1940s, said he was the only one could see them. The little part is still the site of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
15. According to IrishCentral, leprechauns or (little people) may be an endangered species. A group of lobbyists in Ireland’s Carlingford County created a directive to preserve the biodiversity of the “The Sliabh Foy Loop” for “flora, fauna, wild animals, and leprechauns.” As a local businessman, P.J. O’Hare, heard a scream and in the area and upon investigation found a little hat, jacket, and trousers and four gold coins. This Naked Leprechaun’s clothes can be seen on display at P.J O’Hare’s Pub in Carlingford, but the leprechaun is still out there. The sign on the loop warns “hunters and fortune seekers will be prosecuted.”
16. One of newest books featuring leprechauns, Ronan Boyle and the Bridge of Riddles, was just released in February by comic actor and writer Thomas Lennon. The title character is the youngest recruit of Garda Special Unit of Tir Na Nog, the “Irish police force that handles the crimes of leprechauns and other wee folk.” Lennon said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly he always loved the ideas of leprechauns and their mischief.
“(Especially) when it comes to tricking humans, swapping babies for logs,” he said. “I really love the not-cute version of leprechauns: hard-drinking, pipe-smoking swindlers who will steal your nose right off of your face if they could.”
17. Finally, as X-men fans look forward to seeing Dark Phoenix this summer, it’s worth mentioning the first appearance of Phoenix was in the story arc Uncanny X-Men #101-#103 by Chris Claremont and featured a group of leprechauns. The story started with Jean Grey emerging from the water to become Phoenix. Then, naturally, they all go the vacation at Cassidy Keep in Ireland, the ancestral home of superhero Banshee. They find it taken over by a Black Tom and Juggernaut. As luck would have it, the castle turned out to be home to several leprechaun families. These little faerie folk joined the X-Men in fighting the baddies, finally tossing them off the roof of the castle. The Leprechauns of Cassidy Keep have made a couple of later appearances in X-Men stories.
They likely won’t appear in the upcoming Dark Phoenix film… or will they? Leprechauns can be awfully tricky.