In Irish mythology, a leprechaun (Irish: leipreachán) is a type of male faerie said to inhabit the island of Ireland. They are a class of "faerie folk" associated in Irish mythology and folklore, as with all faeries, with the Tuatha Dé Danann and other quasi-historical peoples said to have inhabited Ireland before the arrival of the Celts.
Leprechauns and other creatures of Irish mythology are often associated with "faerie forts" or "faerie rings" — often the sites of ancient (Celtic or pre-Celtic) earthworks or drumlins.
Leprechauns usually take the form of old men who enjoy partaking in mischief. Their trade is that of a cobbler or shoemaker. They are said to be very rich, having many treasure crocks buried during war-time. According to legend, if anyone keeps an eye fixed upon one, he cannot escape, but the moment the gaze is withdrawn, he vanishes.
The supposed wealth of leprechauns is noted in popular folklore. They are said to like to hide their gold in secret locations, which can only be revealed if a person were to actually capture and interrogate a leprechaun for its money. Another popular belief is that you may find a leprechaun and his pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
There are a number of possible etymologies of the name "leprechaun". One of the most widely accepted theories is that the name comes from the Irish word leipreachán, defined by Dinneen as "a pigmy, a sprite, a leprechaun; for luchorpán"; the latter word Dinneen defines as "a pigmy, a leprechaun; 'a kind of aqueous sprite'"; this word has also been identified as meaning "half-bodied", or "small-bodied". This is the etymology given in the Collins English Dictionary.
The word which is widely believed to be the root and one of the ones quoted by the Oxford English Dictionary is luchorpán. An alternative derivation for the name and another one quoted by the Oxford English Dictionary, is leath bhrógan, meaning shoe-maker — the leprechaun is known as the fairy shoemaker of Ireland and is often portrayed working on a single shoe. Another derivation has the word "leprechaun" deriving from luch-chromain, meaning "little stooping Lugh", Lugh being the name of a leader of the Tuatha Dé Danann.
The word leprechaun was first recorded used in the English language in around 1605 in Dekker's The Honest Whore, Part 2 as lubrican. The original meaning was of some kind of spirit and not specifically associated with the Irish mythological character:
"As for your Irish Lubrican, that spirit
Whom by preposterous charms thy lust has raised."
Some alternative spellings of the word leprechaun that have been used throughout the ages are: leprechawn, lepracaun and lubberkin. The word leprehaun has also been used.
The leprechaun originally had a different appearance depending on where in Ireland he was found. Prior to the 20th century, it was generally agreed that the leprechaun wore red and not green. Samuel Lover, writing in the 1831 describes the leprechaun as,
... quite a beau in his dress, notwithstanding, for he wears a red square-cut coat, richly laced with gold, and inexpressible of the same, cocked hat, shoes and buckles.
Yeats, in his 1888 book entitled Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry describes the leprechaun as follows:
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.
In a poem entitled The Lepracaun; or, Fairy Shoemaker, the 18th century Irish poet William Allingham describes the appearance of the leprechaun as:
...A wrinkled, wizen'd, and bearded Elf,
Spectacles stuck on his pointed nose,
Silver buckles to his hose,
Leather apron - shoe in his lap...
Some commentators accuse Allingham of leaving the legacy of the modern image of the leprechaun described below.
The modern image of the leprechaun is almost invariant: he is depicted as having red hair (often with a beard), wearing an emerald green frock coat, and bestowed with the knowledge of the location of buried treasure, often in a crock of gold.
One school of thought suggests that the popular image of the leprechaun is an entirely American invention, its roots being in anti-Irish cartoons of the nineteenth century.
Films, television cartoons and advertising have popularized a specific dim-witted image of leprechauns which bears scant resemblance to anything found in the cycles of Irish mythology. Irish people can find the popularized image of a leprechaun to be little more than a series of offensive Irish stereotypes. However, a very good modern story involving a Leprechaun is The Woods Out Back by R.A. Salvatore. The Leprechaun in the story uses illusionary magic to very good effect.
Some of the Leprechauns mythical power's include magical control over the intricate workings of the Earth and the materials that reside there i.e. gold, silver... In several Irish myths Leprechauns have a power of hypnotism or trickery that confuses their target, either allowing the Leprechaun to escape or just to play tricks on unsuspecting victims.