Truly wee folk or folklore, leprechauns are entertaining—and sometimes—chilling to ponder.

While driving through Ireland in 2005, our guide pointed to a field, laughed, and said that is where the fairies live. I asked him to stop the car and let me walk there.

“No! We cannot do that! I told you, that is where the fairies live!” he said.

Initially, the driver may have been embarrassed to admit his concerns about fairies. But when it came down to the possibility of confronting the “mythical” creatures, he wasn’t about to take the risk.

Fairies are serious creatures in Ireland. In fact, 236 leprechauns believed to live in the caverns of Carlington Mountain are protected under EU law. The directive also protects their sanctuary including the animals and flora.

Protection was established after a man named P.J. O’Hare was tending his garden in 1989 and heard a scream. He rushed over to find small, charred skeletal remains, a tiny, green suit, hat, and several other items. O’Hare gathered everything and placed them in a glass box in his pub, and, except for the coins, the items remain there until today.

The coins went missing for a while and were later discovered in a purse in a stone wall under repair by a man named McCoillte. After the find, McCoillte had several encounters with leprechauns. On one occasion he met a leprechaun named Carriag who claimed to be the elder of 236 leprechauns living in the nearby mountain. Carriag said that millions of others died because people stopped believing in them.

McCoillte and a group of friends fought for the protection of the leprechauns and surrounding area. Protection was granted in 2009 since the court could not prove the “little people” did not exist.

The word “leprechaun” may come from the Gaelic luchorpan, meaning small body, or leath-bhrogan, for shoemaker. Leprechauns belong to the family of fairies living in forts or fairy rings under circular mounds of earth. In Ireland, more than 40,000 of these mounds can be found across the country and are not disturbed for fear of bad luck. Nor are hawthorn trees or holly bushes cut down in the event that fairies inhabit them. Numerous tales of misfortune serve to deter inquisitors from harming the wee ones.

Leprechauns, who are only males, may be the unwanted fairies tossed out of the fairy community and now live and work alone. Because their workmanship as shoemakers is in such demand among the fairies, they’ve accumulated great wealth, hence their pots of gold. They also are talented musicians who play whistles, fiddles, and Irish harps.

Typically dressed in bright green, a white frilly shirt, and soft leather shoes with gold buckles, the little guys top their red hair with a three-sided hat. They also wear a brown leather work apron.

Leprechauns are nearly impossible to find and even harder to catch. Should you get your hands on one, don’t take your eyes off of him for one second! Leprechauns are intelligent, quick-witted, and cunning. They can distract you and be gone in a blink of an eye.

And don’t believe a leprechaun if he promises to grant you wishes or give you his pot of gold. He’s likely to use you purely for his entertainment.

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