We have questions for the leprechaun creatures of Ireland.
Ever since Irish friends gave me a little toy leprechaun to carry in my purse as a good luck charm, I have felt the urge to know more about these mystical creatures. Are they fairies, wood spirits, part of the ample treasure trove of Irish folklore–or is there more to leprechauns? A man who certainly believes them to be very real is Kevin Woods, well known in Ireland as the “Leprechaun Whisperer.” Woods hails from Carlingford in the Cooley Mountains, less than two hours from Dublin. I got in touch with him to learn his story and all I could about Ireland’s leprechauns.
At first, Woods admits he was skeptical about the existence of leprechauns. The Cooley Mountains are where tales and legends of spirits and fairies abound, until an event in 1989 made him more curious than he already was. In that year, a local pub owner named PJ O’Hare found a small green suit, some tiny bones, and a few gold coins on one of his walks in the mountains. He knew the story about the leprechauns and how they are said to be 18 inches tall, wear green top hats, jackets and trousers, and black pointed shoes with a gold buckle. Could these remains belong to a leprechaun? O’Hare showed his findings to his friend, Woods.
The little folks—as leprechauns are sometimes known—are fairies that carry out a trade, such as shoe-making. They love to dance and wear the soles of their shoes out pretty often, so they need to make new ones. They are rewarded for their labor with gold coins, which they hide in a pot of gold deep under the earth. They also live in caverns connected by tunnels. The find of the little suit, bones, and coins prompted Woods to investigate further and instigate a leprechaun hunt around Carlingford and the legend-heavy Slieve Foye Mountain.
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Though many people participated in the hunt, but no leprechaun materialized or was caught.
The legend further states that if you catch a leprechaun, he will grant you three wishes, and you might even get the pot of gold. This well explains the interest in the hunt. After a while of fruitless searching, the interest died down, but for Woods, it sprang into a new life when in 2002, he found four gold coins close to a stone wall on Ghan Road, Carlingford.
Once upon a time, the human spirit was closely connected to a belief in leprechauns , but the more affluent modern Irish society became, the more that belief died and them with it. Leprechauns need someone to fight for them, and that person has become Woods.
This find, together with the first one, was proof enough for Woods that leprechauns exist. On other solo walks, several leprechauns presented themselves to him. He was and still can communicate with their elder, called Carraig.
“I have the gift of communicating with them, and so do others who are true believers,” explains Woods. “It is an out-of-body experience, but it is very real.”
Through his conversations with the leprechauns, Woods learned that there are only 236 leprechauns left alive of the many thousands that once existed all over Ireland. The remaining leprechauns now live in a cavern under the Cooley Mountains, according to that research. Wood’s mission is to be a custodian of leprechauns and save them from extinction. He has spent 19 years campaigning for leprechauns and, in 2002, petitioned the EU Habitat Directive—which protects flora, fauna, and wild animals—to include leprechauns as a protected species.
Kevin runs the Last Leprechauns of Ireland enterprise in Carlingford, which organizes a National Leprechaun Hunt in the village every May. The enterprise aims to tell tales and legends about the little fairies, conduct a cavern tour, and exhibit a vast collection of leprechaun paraphernalia. “For me, this is not a business,” says Woods. “I want to maintain the belief of leprechauns in the Irish people because that is the only way they will survive.”
What Would You Ask a Leprechaun?
Because Woods can communicate with leprechauns, we, of course, had a few questions for them. The first was how do leprechauns feel about their depiction and perception in modern society? Through Woods, they replied that their primary concern was survival. Once upon a time, the human spirit was closely connected to a belief in them, but the more affluent modern Irish society became, the more that belief died and them with it. Leprechauns need someone to fight for them, and that person has become Woods.
Our next question for the leprechauns was whether they are immortal? The short answer is no. As one only sees images and effigies of male leprechauns, we also wanted to know if there are female leprechauns, and the answer is yes! Lastly, we were curious about what other magical creatures leprechauns interact with? As it turns out, leprechauns connect with quite a few other supernatural beings, including shrieking banshees and Will-o’-the-Wisp. The former is a malevolent spirit that manifests itself in the form of flickering lights over bogs and swamps and misleads wanderers and hikers, sometimes leading them to their death.
Leprechauns can be mischievous and play pranks on humans, but they are fun and music-loving and generally benevolent, as shown in their willingness to fulfill three wishes if caught. They make gifts of gold coins, and they can show you the end of the rainbow for good luck. And, of course, they are only found in Ireland. While Wood’s dedication is convincing, it is difficult to prove the existence of leprechauns. After all, seeing is believing. But for the affable Woods and the people of Carlingford, this subculture brings an undeniable joy and upholds an endearing part of Ireland’s folklore. In the meantime, I will keep my toy leprechaun in my purse for good luck—just in case.