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Clever Tom and The Leprechaun

Oliver Tom Fwich-(i.e. Fitz)pathrick, as people used to call him, was the eldest son o' a comfortable farmer, who lived nigh hand to Morristown-Lattin, not far from the Liffey. Tom was jist turned o' nine-an'-twinty, whin he met wid the follyin' advinthur, an' he was as cliver, clane, tight, good-lukin' a boy as any in the whole county Kildare. One fine day in harvist (it was a holiday) Tom was takin' a ramble by himsilf thro' the land, an' wint sauntherin' along the sunny side uv a hidge, an' thinkin' in himsilf, whare id be the grate harm if people, instid uv idlin' an' goin' about doin' nothin' at all, war to shake out the hay, an' bind and stook th' oats that was lyin' an the ledge, 'specially as the weather was raither brokin uv late, whin all uv a suddint he h'ard a clackin' sort o' n'ise jist a little way fornint him, in the hidge. "Dear me," said Tom, "but isn't it now raaly surprisin' to hear the stonechatters singin' so late in the saison." So Tom stole an, goin' on the tips o' his toes to thry iv he cud git a sight o' what was makin' the n'ise, to see iv he was right in his guess. The n'ise stopt; but as Tom luked sharp thro' the bushes, what did he see in a neuk o' the hidge but a brown pitcher that might hould about a gallon an' a haff o' liquor; an' bye and bye he seen a little wee deeny dawny bit iv an ould man, wid a little motty iv a cocked hat stuck an the top iv his head, an' a deeshy daushy leather apron hangin' down afore him, an' he pulled out a little wooden stool, an' stud up upon it, and dipped a little piggen into the pitcher, an' tuk out the full av it, an' put it beside the stool, an' thin sot down undher the pitcher, an' begun to work at puttin' a heelpiece an a bit iv a brogue jist fittin' fur himsilf.

Well, by the powers!" said Tom to himsilf, "I aften hard tell o' the Leprechauns, an', to tell God's thruth, I nivir rightly believed in thim, but here's won o' thim in right airnest; if I go knowin'ly to work, I'm a med man. They say a body must nivir take their eyes aff o' thim, or they'll escape."

Tom now stole an a little farther, wid his eye fixed an the little man jist as a cat does wid a mouse, or, as we read in books, the rattlesnake does wid the birds he wants to inchant. So, whin he got up quite close to him, "God bless your work, honest man," sez Tom. The little man raised up his head, an' "Thank you kindly," sez he. "I wundher you'd be workin' an the holiday," sez Tom. "That's my own business, an' none of your's," was the reply, short enough. "Well, may be, thin, you'd be civil enough to tell us, what you've got in the pitcher there," sez Tom. "Aye, will I, wid pleasure," sez he: "it's good beer." "Beer!" sez Tom: "Blud an' turf, man, whare did ye git it?" "Whare did I git it, is it? why I med it to be shure; an' what do ye think I med it av?" "Divil a one o' me knows," sez Tom, "but av malt, I 'spose; what ilse?" "'Tis there you're out; I med it av haith." "Av haith!" sez Tom, burstin' out laughin'. "Shure you don't take me to be sich an omedhaun as to b'lieve that?" "Do as ye plase," sez he, "but what I tell ye is the raal thruth. Did ye nivir hear tell o' the Danes?" "To be shure I did," sez Tom, "warn't thim the chaps we gev such a lickin' whin they thought to take Derry frum huz?" "Hem," sez the little man dhryly, "is that all ye know about the matther?" "Well, but about thim Danes," sez Tom. "Why all th' about thim is," said he, "is that whin they war here they taught huz to make beer out o' the haith, an' the saicret's in my family ivir sense." "Will ye giv a body a taste o' yer beer to thry?" sez Tom. "I'll tell ye what it is, young man, it id be fitther fur ye to be lukin' afther yer father's propirty thi'n to be botherin' dacint, quite people wid yer foolish questions. There, now, while you're idlin' away yer time here, there's the cows hav' bruk into th' oats, an' are knockin' the corn all about."

Tom was taken so by surprise wid this, that he was jist an the very point o' turnin' round, whin he recollicted himsilf.[Pg 375] So, afeard that the like might happin agin, he med a grab at the Leprechaun, an' cotch him up in his hand, but in his hurry he ovirset the pitcher, and spilt all the beer, so that he couldn't git a taste uv it to tell what sort it was. He thin swore what he wouldn't do to him iv he didn't show him whare his money was. Tom luked so wicked, an' so bloody-minded, that the little man was quite frightened. "So," sez he, "come along wid me a couple o' fields aff, an' I'll show ye a crock o' gould." So they wint, an' Tom held the Leprechaun fast in his hand, an' nivir tuk his eyes frum aff uv him, though they had to crass hidges an' ditches, an' a cruked bit uv a bog (fur the Leprechaun seemed, out o' pure mischief, to pick out the hardest and most conthrairy way), till at last they come to a grate field all full o' bolyawn buies,[442] an' the Leprechaun pointed to a big bolyawn, an' sez he, "Dig undher that bolyawn, an' you'll git a crock chuck full o' goulden guineas."

Tom, in his hurry, had nivir minded the bringin' a fack[443] wid him, so he thought to run home and fetch one, an' that he might know the place agin, he tuk aff one o' his red garthers, and tied it round the bolyawn. "I s'pose," sez the Leprechaun, very civilly, "ye've no further occashin fur me?" "No," sez Tom, "ye may go away now, if ye like, and God speed ye, an' may good luck attind ye whareivir ye go." "Well, good bye to ye, Tom Fwichpathrick," sed the Leprechaun, "an' much good may do ye wid what ye'll git."

So Tom run fur the bare life, till he come home, an' got a fack, an' thin away wid him as hard as he could pilt back to the field o' bolyawns; but whin he got there, lo an' behould, not a bolyawn in the field, but had a red garther, the very idintical model o' his own, tied about it; an' as to diggin' up the whole field, that was all nonsinse, fur there was more nor twinty good Irish acres in it. So Tom come home agin wid his fack an his shouldher, a little cooler nor he wint; and many's the hearty curse he gev the Leprechaun ivry time he thought o' the nate turn he sarved him

The Leprechaun in the Garden

There's a sort o' people that every body must have met wid sumtime or another. I mane thim people that purtinds not to b'lieve in things that in their hearts they do b'lieve in, an' are mortially afeard o' too. Now Failey[445] Mooney was one o' these. Failey (iv any o' yez knew him) was a rollockin', rattlin', divil-may-care sort ov a chap like—but that's neither here nor there; he was always talkin' one nonsinse or another; an' among the rest o' his fooleries, he purtinded not to b'lieve in the fairies, the Leprechauns, an' the Poocas, an' he evin sumtimes had the impedince to purtind to doubt o' ghosts, that every body b'lieves in, at any rate. Yit sum people used to wink an' luk knowin' whin Failey was gostherin', fur it was obsarved that he was mighty shy o' crassin' the foord o' Ahnamoe afther nightfall; an' that whin onst he was ridin' past the ould church o' Tipper in the dark, tho' he'd got enough o' pottheen into him to make any man stout, he med the horse trot so that there was no keepin' up wid him, an' iv'ry now an' thin he'd throw a sharp luk-out ovir his lift shouldher.

Well, one night there was a parcel o' the neighbours sittin' dhrinkin' an' talkin' at Larry Reilly's public-house, an' Failey was one o' the party. He was, as usual, gittin' an wid his nonsinse an' baldherdash about the fairies, an' swearin' that he didn't b'lieve there was any live things, barrin' min[Pg 377] an' bastes, an' birds and fishes, an' sich like things as a body cud see, an' he wint on talkin' in so profane a way o' the good people, that som o' the company grew timid an' begun to crass thimsilves, not knowin' what might happin', whin an ould woman called Mary Hogan wid a long blue cloak about her, that was sittin' in the chimbly corner smokin' her pipe widout takin' the laste share in the conversation, tuk the pipe out o' her mouth, an' threw the ashes out o' it, an' spit in the fire, an' turnin' round, luked Failey straight in the face. "An' so you don't b'lieve there's sich things as Leprechauns, don't ye?" sed she.

Well, Failey luked rayther daunted, but howsumdivir he sed nothin'. "Why, thin, upon my throth, an' it well becomes the likes o' ye, an' that's nothin' but a bit uv a gossoon, to take upon yer to purtind not to b'lieve what yer father, an' yer father's father, an' his father afore him, nivir med the laste doubt uv. But to make the matther short, seein' 's b'lievin' they say, an' I, that might be yer gran'mother, tell ye there is sich things as Leprechauns, an' what's more, that I mysilf seen one o' thim,—there's fur ye, now!"

All the people in the room luked quite surprised at this, an' crowded up to the fireplace to listen to her. Failey thried to laugh, but it wouldn't do, nobody minded him.

"I remimber," sed she, "some time afther I married the honest man, that's now dead and gone, it was by the same token jist a little afore I lay in o' my first child (an' that's many a long day ago), I was sittin', as I sed, out in our little bit o' a gardin, wid my knittin' in my hand, watchin' sum bees we had that war goin' to swarm. It was a fine sunshiny day about the middle o' June, an' the bees war hummin' and flyin' backwards an' forwards frum the hives, an' the birds war chirpin' an' hoppin' an the bushes, an' the buttherflies war flyin' about an' sittin' an the flowers, an' ev'ry thing smelt so fresh an' so sweet, an' I felt so happy, that I hardly knew whare I was. Well, all uv a suddint, I heard among sum rows of banes we had in a corner o' the gardin, a n'ise that wint tick tack, tick tack, jist fur all the world as iv a brogue-maker was puttin' an the heel uv a pump. 'The Lord presarve us,' sed I to mysilf, 'what in the world can that be?' So I laid down my knittin', an'[Pg 378] got up, an' stole ovir to the banes, an' nivir believe me iv I didn't see, sittin' right forenint me, in the very middle of thim, a bit of an ould man, not a quarther so big as a new-born child, wid a little cocked hat an his head, an' a dudeen in his mouth, smokin' away; an' a plain, ould-fashioned, dhrab-coloured coat, wid big brass buttons upon it, an his back, an' a pair o' massy silver buckles in his shoes, that a'most covered his feet they war so big, an' he workin' away as hard as ivir he could, heelin' a little pair o' pumps. The instant minnit I clapt my two eyes upon him I knew him to be a Leprechaun, an' as I was stout an' foolhardy, sez I to him 'God save ye honist man! that's hard work ye're at this hot day.' He luked up in my face quite vexed like; so wid that I med a run at him an' cotch hould o' him in my hand, an' axed him whare was his purse o' money! 'Money?' sed he, 'money annagh! an' whare on airth id a poor little ould crathur like mysilf git money?' 'Come, come,' sed I, 'none o' yer thricks upon thravellers; doesn't every body know that Leprechauns, like ye, are all as rich as the divil himsilf.' So I pulled out a knife I'd in my pocket, an' put on as wicked a face as ivir I could (an' in throth, that was no aisy matther fur me thin, fur I was as comely an' good-humoured a lukin' girl as you'd see frum this to Ballitore)—an' swore by this and by that, if he didn't instantly gi' me his purse, or show me a pot o' goold, I'd cut the nose aff his face. Well, to be shure, the little man did luk so frightened at hearin' these words, that I a'most found it in my heart to pity the poor little crathur. 'Thin,' sed he, 'come wid me jist a couple o' fields aff, an' I'll show ye whare I keep my money.' So I wint, still houldin' him fast in my hand, an' keepin' my eyes fixed upon him, whin all o' a suddint I h'ard a whiz-z behind me. 'There! there!' cries he, 'there's yer bees all swarmin' an' goin' aff wid thimsilves like blazes.' I, like a fool as I was, turned my head round, an' whin I seen nothin' at all, an' luked back at the Leprechaun, an' found nothin' at all at all in my hand—fur whin I had the ill luck to take my eyes aff him, ye see, he slipped out o' my fingers jist as iv he was med o' fog or smoke, an' the sarra the fut he iver come nigh my garden agin."

The Three Leprechauns

Mrs. L. having heard that Molly Toole, an old woman who held a few acres of land from Mr. L., had seen Leprechauns, resolved to visit her, and learn the truth from her own lips. Accordingly, one Sunday, after church, she made her appearance at Molly's residence, which was—no very common thing—extremely neat and comfortable. As she entered, every thing looked gay and cheerful. The sun shone bright in through the door on the earthen floor. Molly was seated at the far side of the fire in her arm-chair; her daughter Mary, the prettiest girl on the lands, was looking to the dinner that was boiling; and her son Mickey, a young man of about two-and-twenty, was standing lolling with his back against the dresser.

The arrival of the mistress disturbed the stillness that had hitherto prevailed. Mary, who was a great favourite, hastened to the door to meet her, and shake hands with her. Molly herself had nearly got to the middle of the floor when the mistress met her, and Mickey modestly staid where he was till he should catch her attention. "O then, musha! but isn't it a glad sight for my ould eyes to see your own silf undher my roof? Mary, what ails you, girl? and why don't you go into the room and fetch out a good chair for the misthress to sit down upon and rest herself?" "'Deed faith, mother, I'm so glad I don't know what I'm doin'. Sure you know I didn't see the misthress since she cum down afore."

Mickey now caught Mrs. L.'s eye, and she asked him how he did. "By Gorra, bravely, ma'am, thank you," said he, giving himself a wriggle, while his two hands and the small of his back rested on the edge of the dresser.

"Now, Mary, stir yourself, alanna," said the old woman, "and get out the bread and butther. Sure you know the misthress can't but be hungry afther her walk."—"O, never mind it, Molly; it's too much trouble."—"Throuble, indeed![Pg 380] it's as nice butther, ma'am, as iver you put a tooth in; and it was Mary herself that med it."—"O, then I must taste it."

A nice half griddle of whole-meal bread and a print of fresh butter were now produced, and Molly helped the mistress with her own hands. As she was eating, Mary kept looking in her face, and at last said, "Ah then, mother, doesn't the misthress luk mighty well? Upon my faikins, ma'am, I never seen you luking half so handsome."—"Well! and why wouldn't she luk well? And niver will she luk betther nor be betther nor I wish her."—"Well, Molly, I think I may return the compliment, for Mary is prettier than ever; and as for yourself, I really believe it's young again you're growing."—"Why, God be thanked, ma'am, I'm stout and hearty; and though I say it mysilf, there's not an ould woman in the county can stir about betther nor me, and I'm up ivery mornin' at the peep of day, and rout them all up out of their beds. Don't I?" said she, looking at Mary.—"Faith, and sure you do, mother," replied Mickey; "and before the peep of day, too; for you have no marcy in you at all at all."—"Ah, in my young days," continued the old woman, "people woren't slugabeds; out airly, home late—that was the way wid thim."—"And usedn't people to see Leprechauns in thim days, mother?" said Mickey, laughing.—"Hould your tongue, you saucy cub, you," cried Molly; "what do you know about thim?"—"Leprechauns?" said Mrs. L., gladly catching at the opportunity; "did people really, Molly, see Leprechauns in your young days?"—"Yes, indeed, ma'am; some people say they did," replied Molly, very composedly.—"O com' now, mother," cried Mickey, "don't think to be goin' it upon us that away; you know you seen thim one time yoursilf, and you hadn't the gumption in you to cotch thim, and git their crocks of gould from thim."—"Now, Molly, is that really true that you saw the Leprechauns?"—"'Deed, and did I, ma'am; but this boy's always laughin' at me about thim, and that makes me rather shy in talkin' o' thim."—"Well, Molly, I won't laugh at you; so, come, tell me how you saw them."

"Well, ma'am, you see it was whin I was jist about the age of Mary, there. I was comin' home late one Monday[Pg 381] evenin' from the market; for my aunt Kitty, God be marciful to her! would keep me to take a cup of tay. It was in the summer time, you see, ma'am, much about the middle of June, an' it was through the fields I come. Well, ma'am, as I was sayin', it was late in the evenin', that is, the sun was near goin' down, an' the light was straight in my eyes, an' I come along through the bog-meadow; for it was shortly afther I was married to him that's gone, an' we wor livin' in this very house you're in now; an' thin whin I come to the castle-field—the pathway you know, ma'am, goes right through the middle uv it—an' it was thin as fine a field of whate, jist shot out, as you'd wish to luk at; an' it was a purty sight to see it wavin' so beautifully wid every air of wind that was goin' over it, dancin' like to the music of a thrush, that was singin' down below in the hidge.[446] Well, ma'am, I crasst over the style that's there yit, and wint along fair and aisy, till I was near about the middle o' the field, whin somethin' med me cast my eyes to the ground, a little before me; an' thin I saw, as sure as I'm sittin' here, no less nor three o' the Leprechauns, all bundled together like so miny tailyors, in the middle o' the path before me. They worn't hammerin' their pumps, nor makin' any kind of n'ise whatever; but there they wor, the three little fellows, wid their cocked hats upon thim, an' their legs gothered up undher thim, workin' away at their thrade as hard as may be. If you wor only to see, ma'am, how fast their little ilbows wint as they pulled out their inds! Well, every one o' thim had his eye cocked upon me, an' their eyes wor as bright as the eye of a frog, an' I cudn't stir one step from the spot[Pg 382] for the life o' me. So I turned my head round, and prayed to the Lord in his marcy to deliver me from thim, and when I wint to luk at thim agin, ma'am, not a sight o' thim was to be seen: they wor gone like a dhrame."—"But, Molly, why did you not catch them?"—"I was afeard, ma'am, that's the thruth uv it; but maybe I was as well widout thim. I niver h'ard tell of a Leprechaun yit that wasn't too many for any one that cotch him."—"Well, and Molly, do you think there are any Leprechauns now?"—"It's my belief, ma'am, they're all gone out of the country, cliver and clane, along wid the Fairies; for I niver hear tell o' thim now at all."

Mrs. L. having now attained her object, after a little more talk with the good old woman, took her leave, attended by Mary, who would see her a piece of the way home. And Mary being asked what she thought of the Leprechauns, confessed her inability to give a decided opinion: her mother, she knew, was incapable of telling a lie, and yet she had her doubts if there ever were such things as Leprechauns.

How the Shoemaker’s Daughter became the Queen of Tara.—

‘In olden times there lived a shoemaker and his wife up there near Moat Knowth, and their first child was taken by the queen of the fairies who lived inside the moat, and a little leprechaun left in its place. The same exchange was made when the second child was born. At the birth of the third child the fairy queen came again and ordered one of her three servants to take the child; but the child could not be moved because of a great beam of iron, too heavy to lift, which lay across the baby’s breast. The second servant and then the third failed like the first, and the queen herself could not move the child. The mother being short of pins had used a needle to fasten the child’s clothes, and that was what appeared to the fairies as a beam of iron, for there was virtue in steel in those days.

‘So the fairy queen decided to bestow gifts upon the [Pg 35]child; and advised each of the three servants to give, in turn, a different gift. The first one said, “May she be the grandest lady in the world”; the second one said, “May she be the greatest singer in the world”; and the third one said, “May she be the best mantle-maker in the world.” Then the fairy queen said, “Your gifts are all very good, but I will give a gift of my own better than any of them: the first time she happens to go out of the house let her come back into it under the form of a rat.” The mother heard all that the fairy women said, and so she never permitted her daughter to leave the house.

‘When the girl reached the age of eighteen, it happened that the young prince of Tara, in riding by on a hunt, heard her singing, and so entranced was he with the music that he stopped to listen; and, the song ended, he entered the house, and upon seeing the wonderful beauty of the singer asked her to marry him. The mother said that could not be, and taking the daughter out of the house for the first time brought her back into it in an apron under the form of a rat, that the prince might understand the refusal.

‘This enchantment, however, did not change the prince’s love for the beautiful singer; and he explained how there was a day mentioned with his father, the king, for all the great ladies of Ireland to assemble in the Halls of Tara, and that the grandest lady and the greatest singer and the best mantle-maker would be chosen as his wife. When he added that each lady must come in a chariot, the rat spoke to him and said that he must send to her home, on the day named, four piebald cats and a pack of cards, and that she would make her appearance, provided that at the time her chariot came to the Halls of Tara no one save the prince should be allowed near it; and, she finally said to the prince, “Until the day mentioned with your father, you must carry me as a rat in your pocket.”

‘But before the great day arrived, the rat had made everything known to one of the fairy women, and so when the four piebald cats and the pack of cards reached the girl’s home, the fairies at once turned the cats into the four most [Pg 36]splendid horses in the world, and the pack of cards into the most wonderful chariot in the world; and, as the chariot was setting out from the Moat for Tara, the fairy queen clapped her hands and laughed, and the enchantment over the girl was broken, so that she became, as before, the prettiest lady in the world, and she sitting in the chariot.

‘When the prince saw the wonderful chariot coming, he knew whose it was, and went out alone to meet it; but he could not believe his eyes on seeing the lady inside. And then she told him about the witches and fairies, and explained everything.

‘Hundreds of ladies had come to the Halls of Tara from all Ireland, and every one as grand as could be. The contest began with the singing, and ended with the mantle-making, and the young girl was the last to appear; but to the amazement of all the company the king had to give in (admit) that the strange woman was the grandest lady, the greatest singer, and the best mantle-maker in Ireland; and when the old king died she became the Queen of Tara.’

After this ancient legend, which Owen Morgan heard from the old folks when he was a boy, he told me many anecdotes about the ‘good people’ of the Boyne, who are little men usually dressed in red.

The ‘Good People’ at New Grange.—Between Knowth and New Grange I met Maggie Timmons carrying a pail of butter-milk to her calves; and when we stopped on the road to talk, I asked her, in due time, if any of the ‘good people’ ever appeared in the region, or about New Grange, which we could see in the field, and she replied, in reference to New Grange:—‘I am sure the neighbours used to see the good people come out of it at night and in the morning. The good people inherited the fort.’

Then I asked her what the ‘good people’ are, and she said:—‘When they disappear they go like fog; they must be something like spirits, or how could they disappear in that way? I knew of people,’ she added, ‘who would milk in the fields about here and spill milk on the ground for the [Pg 37]good people; and pots of potatoes would be put out for the good people at night.’ (See chap. viii for additional New Grange folk-lore.)


The most remarkable of the Fairy-tribe in Ireland, and one which is peculiar to the country, is the Leprechaun. This is a being in the form of an old man, dressed as he is described in one of the following tales. He is by profession a maker of brogues; he resorts in general only to secret and retired places, where he is discovered by the sounds which he makes hammering his brogues. He is rich, like curmudgeons of his sort, and it is only by the most violent threats[Pg 372] of doing him some bodily harm, that he can be made to show the place where his treasure lies; but if the person who has caught him can be induced (a thing that always happens, by the way) to take his eyes off him, he vanishes, and with him the prospect of wealth. The only instance of more than one Leprechaun being seen at a time is that which occurs in one of the following tales, which was related by an old woman, to the writer's sister and early companion, now no more.

Yet the Leprechaun, though, as we said, peculiar to Ireland, seems indebted to England, at least, for his name. In Irish, as we have seen, he is called Lobaircin, and it would not be easy to write the English Lubberkin more accurately with Irish letters and Irish sounds. Leprechaun is evidently a corruption of that word.[439] In the time of Elizabeth and James, the word Lubrican was used in England to indicate some kind of spirit. Thus Drayton gives as a part of Nymphidia's invocation of Proserpina:

By the mandrake's dreadful groans;
By the Lubrican's sad moans;
By the noise of dead men's bones
In charnel-house rattling.
That this was the Leprechaun is, we think, clear; for in the Honest Whore of Decker and Middleton, the following words are used of an Irish footman:

As for your Irish Lubrican, that spirit
Whom by preposterous charms thy lust has raised.
We thus have the Leprechaun as a well-known Irish fairy, though his character was not understood, in the sixteenth century.

Fairies, Fairy Tales, Fairy Books


Fairies, Fairy Tales, Fairy Books