The Irish are a Celtic people with a rich history of legends and mythology. Leprechauns, fairies, pots of gold, and rainbows are just a few of the iconic symbols of the Emerald Isle.
The Irish Fairy
Fairies have a long history in the stories of Ireland. The stories vary, but a favorite is that the fairies were believed to be the Tuatha de Danann, a tribe of people who were the first inhabitants of Ireland. They were said to be magical and secretive. Other tribes invaded and defeated the Tuatha de Danann in battle, but the Tuatha de Danann would not leave their beloved home. Instead, they used their magic to shrink themselves and live underground!
Fairies can be mischievous, so it is best to leave them be. It is considered bad luck to disturb their fairy villages. They do, however, love children—and if children are good to them, they might be offered a wish!
Irish Legends of the Leprechaun
Leprechauns, or “Leath bhrogan,” are a popular cultural icon of Ireland. These little tricksters were said to live in Ireland long before humans and are part of the fairy family.
At between 2 and 3 feet high, leprechauns are said to live in little underground caves or hollow tree trunks. They are cobblers, or shoemakers, and must be very skilled—after all, this profession has long brought them heaping pots of gold!
When you think of the Irish legend of leprechauns, you might imagine an old, long-bearded man smoking a pipe and dressed in a green hat with a buckle, a suit of green, and buckled black shoes. Because leprechauns are associated with all things green, especially the shamrock, you might be surprised to learn that originally, leprechauns were depicted wearing red!
Capturing a wee leprechaun is said to bring you luck and three wishes. You may even be able to secure their pots of gold. But beware; leprechauns are known to be tricky and somewhat deceitful. Your wishes may not be exactly what you hoped for.
Pots of Gold at the End of the Rainbow
Have you ever heard the Irish legend of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? Irish mythology says that every leprechaun has a pot of gold coins. The leprechauns hide their treasures and are given magical powers by fairies to help protect their fortune.
Like many tales over time, the legend of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow varies from place to place. One of the better-known origin stories goes like this:
Once upon a time, an old farming couple in Ireland were working in their garden. They were pulling up the last carrot when they found a leprechaun hanging from the roots. Now that the wee leprechaun was captured, he promised them one wish in exchange for his freedom.
Like most people, the farmer and his wife couldn’t decide on just one wish. Instead, they started wishing for everything! A new house, new tools, clothes, food, and more. The leprechaun was very disappointed in their greed, and he told them they could have all they wished for and more if they could find his pot of gold he had hidden at the end of the rainbow. Of course, the couple ran off searching for rainbows only to find they could never quite reach the end and the pot of gold.
The Irish Shamrock
You might associate the four-leaf clover with the Irish holiday of St. Patrick’s Day, but it is actually the three-leaf clover that symbolizes the day. The three-leaf clover, called a shamrock, has its origin in the Irish legend of the spread of Christianity. St. Patrick ministered to the Celts and tried to teach them of the Holy Trinity, but they could not understand him. He used the three-leaf clover to explain the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as one. In this way, the shamrock secured a special place in Irish history.
So why do we associate four-leaf clovers with Irish myth and legend? Better Homes and Gardens says that for every 10,000 three-leaf clovers, there is only one “lucky” four-leaf clover found. I’d say you’re pretty lucky if you find a four-leaf clover!
Here are some other fun facts about the four-leaf clover:
- The four leaves stand for faith, hope, love, and luck.
- Ireland is said to have more four-leaf clovers than any other country, therefore indicating that Ireland is a lucky place.
- A shamrock and a four-leaf clover are not the same thing. The shamrock only has three leaves.
- Sometimes, the fourth leaf is a slightly different shade of green.
All you lads and lassies may have other special Irish legends and stories of your ancestral family. Be sure to save them in the Memories section of FamilySearch.org, and leave a lasting legacy for generations to come.