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Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Leprechauns, Pechs, Picts and Lost Races

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The name leprechaun is derived from the Irish word leipreachán, defined by Patrick Drinneen as "a pigmy, a sprite, or leprechaun". The further derivation is less certain; according to most sources, the word is thought to be a corruption of Middle Irish luchrupán, from the Old Irish luchorpán, a compound of the roots lú (small) and corp (body). ["Pygmy" would be the primary meaning - DD] The root corp, which was borrowed from the Latin corpus, attests to the early influence of Ecclesiastical Latin on the Irish language. The alternative spelling leithbrágan stems from a folk etymology deriving the word from leith (half) and bróg (brogue), because of the frequent portrayal of the leprechaun as working on a single shoe. [And the portrayal is nothing less than the illustration of the Folk Etymology, Leprechauns originally having nothing to do with making shoes ordinarily. However, this could well be attached to the idea of working leather generally - DD]

Alternative spellings in English have included lubrican, leprehaun, and lepreehawn. Some modern Irish books use the spelling lioprachán. The first recorded instance of the word in the English language was in Dekker's comedy The Honest Whore, Part 2 (1604): "As for your Irish lubrican, that spirit / Whom by preposterous charms thy lust hath rais'd / In a wrong circle."

A modern stereotypical depiction of a leprechaun of the type popularised in the 20th century.The earliest known reference to the leprechaun appears in the medieval tale known as the Echtra Fergus mac Léti (English: Adventure of Fergus son of Léti). The text contains an episode in which Fergus mac Léti, King of Ulster, falls asleep on the beach and wakes to find himself being dragged into the sea by three lúchorpáin. He captures his abductors, who grant him three wishes in exchange for release.

The leprechaun is said to be a solitary creature, whose principal occupation is making and mending shoes, and who enjoys practical jokes. According to William Butler Yeats, the great wealth of these fairies comes from the "treasure-crocks, buried of old in war-time", which they have uncovered and appropriated. According to McAnally the leprechaun is the son of an "evil spirit" and a "degenerate fairy" and is "not wholly good nor wholly evil".

The leprechaun originally had a different appearance depending on where in Ireland he was found. Prior to the 20th century, it was generally held that the leprechaun wore red, not green. Samuel Lover, writing in 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.

According to Yeats, the solitary fairies, like the leprechaun, wear red jackets, whereas the "trooping fairies" wear green. The leprechaun's jacket has seven rows of buttons with seven buttons to each row. On the western coast, he writes, the red jacket is covered by a frieze one, and in Ulster the creature wears a cocked hat, and when he is up to anything unusually mischievous, he leaps on to a wall and spins, balancing himself on the point of the hat with his heels in the air."[15]

According to McAnally,

"He is about three feet high, and is dressed in a little red jacket or roundabout, with red breeches buckled at the knee, gray or black stockings, and a hat, cocked in the style of a century ago, over a little, old, withered face. Round his neck is an Elizabethan ruff, and frills of lace are at his wrists. On the wild west coast, where the Atlantic winds bring almost constant rains, he dispenses with ruff and frills and wears a frieze overcoat over his pretty red suit, so that, unless on the lookout for the cocked hat, ye might pass a Leprechawn on the road and never know it's himself that's in it at all."

People dressed as leprechauns on St. Patrick's Day in Trafalgar Square.This dress could vary by region, however. In McAnally's account there were differences between leprechauns or Logherymans from different regions:

The Northern Leprechaun or Logheryman wore a "military red coat and white breeches, with a broad-brimmed, high, pointed hat, on which he would sometimes stand upside down".
The Lurigadawne of Tipperary wore an "antique slashed jacket of red, with peaks all round and a jockey cap, also sporting a sword, which he uses as a magic wand".
The Luricawne of Kerry was a "fat, pursy little fellow whose jolly round face rivals in redness the cut-a-way jacket he wears, that always has seven rows of seven buttons in each row".
The Cluricawne of Monaghan wore "a swallow-tailed evening coat of red with green vest, white breeches, black stockings," shiny shoes, and a "long cone hat without a brim," sometimes used as a weapon.
In a poem entitled The Lepracaun; or, Fairy Shoemaker, 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...

The modern image of the leprechaun sitting on a toadstool, red beard, green hat, etc., are clearly inventions or borrowed from European folklore.
[The point generally is that Leprechauns are supposed to have an antiquated appearance. The various costumes that they are supposed to wear have one point in common: the styles are old-fashioned at the time the descriptions were made-DD]

Related creaturesThe leprechaun is related to the clurichaun and the far darrig in that he is a solitary creature. Some writers even go as far as to substitute these second two less well-known spirits for the leprechaun in stories or tales to reach a wider audience. The clurichaun is considered by some to be merely a leprechaun on a drinking spree

Popular culture‎

Films, television cartoons and advertising have popularised a specific image of leprechauns which bears scant resemblance to anything found in the cycles of Irish folklore. Irish people can find the popularised image of a leprechaun to be little more than a series of offensive Irish stereotypes.

Since I customarily wore a full bushy beard of reddish brown in my younger days, and I was regularly told on St. Paddy's day "If you were just three feet high you'd make the perfect Leprechaun", I can certainly vouch for the veracity of that statement personally.

Tattoo Designs Pict Warriors Painting by Santa Ana, California artist Jeane Granada Coutts.

One of the mostly-forgotten theories about the Leprechauns and Little People generally was that they were a pre-Indo-European Lost Race, hiding out in the time of the later settlers and ekeing out a precarious existance by hunting and fishing in the privacy of the forests and living in caves or dugout sod houses(equated toburial mounds by the superstitious) The chief exponent of this idea was Scottish Folkorist David Mac Ritchie

David MacRitchie
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

David MacRitchie (April 16, 1861 - January 14, 1925) was a Scottish folklorist and antiquarian...David developed a fascination with traditional lore relating to vanished people, notably Romani people (Gypsies) and legendary dwarf people and ancient peoples in Scotland, who, it was claimed, lived underground.


WorksPublications by MacRitchie include:

Ancient and Modern Britons, a Retrospect, 1884
Accounts of the Gypsies of India, 1886
The Testimony of Tradition, 1890
The Ainos, 1892
The Underground Life, 1892
Fians, Fairies and Picts, 1893
Scottish Gypsies under the Stewarts 1894
Pygmies in Northern Scotland, 1892
Some Hebridean Antiquities, 1895
Diary of a Tour through Great Britain, (editor) 1897
The Northern Trolls, 1898
Memories of the Picts, 1900
Underground Dwellings, 1900
Fairy Mounds, 1900
Shelta, the Caird's Language, 1901
Hints of Evolution in Tradition, 1902
The Arctic Voyage of 1653, 1909
Celtic Civilisation, No date
Druids and Mound Dwellers, 1910
Les Pygmies chez les Anciens Egyptiens et les Hebreux (with S.T.H. Horowitz), 1912
Les kayaks dans le nord de l'Europe, 1912
Great and Little Britain, 1915
The Celtic Numerals of Strathclyde, 1915
The Duns of the North, 1917
The Savages of Gaelic Tradition, 1920
The Aborigines of Shetland and Orkney, 1924

One of the other websites gave this summary of MacRitchie's theories:

'From all indications, the ancient dwellers of the British Isles and Ireland, like the Kymry (one of the names given to the earliest inhabitants, from whom the Picts and Scots descended), were a lost race of Pygmy stature. David Mac Ritchie has provided substantial evidence in his two-volume work, Ancient and Modern Britons that the Picts as well as the ancient Finns were this lost race.

'The Partholans, Formorians, Nemeds, Firbolgs, Tuatha De Danann, Milesians of Ireland and the Picts of Northern Scotland were all Pygmies. The Firbolgs are believed to be so-called pygmies or Goblins. They are the dwarfs, dark elves or leprechauns in Irish History. MacRitchie is convinced that the Tuatha-de-Danann, who came to Ireland, were of the same race and spoke the same language as the Fir-Bogs and the Formorians...'

And for those of you who might be interested, here is a free link to a public-domain site with the entire text of one of Mac Ritchie's major expositions of the theory.

Another point of interest is that Robert E. Howard drew his depictions of his own Lost Race of Picts in the Conan and Kull stories from MacRitchie and basically described them as a mix of Neanderthaloid submen and American Indians.

Writers in cryptozoology such as Boris Porshnev have a different point of view: to them, Leprechauns, Pygmies, Pechs or Picts of folklore are simply the smallsized variation of the European wildmen and functionally the same as Brownies, Hobs or Kobs (Hobbits or Hobgoblins and Kobolds), Bogles, Sprites or Imps. Porshnev is co-author (With Bernard Heuvelmans) of L' Homme de Neanderthal Est Toujours Vivant (The Neanderthal Man Still Lives)

Woodwoses to the Left

Wildmen 1470 Below

1 comment:

  1. One more thing: the Irish Gaelic transcription for "Picts" is "Cruithne"

    Best Wishes, Dale D.


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