The Last Leprechaun

at

leprechaun

killough

From top: Leprechaun postcard, 1900; Nottingham Evening Post item on the Killough Leprechaun

Room for a little one?

Historical blogger Sibling of Daedalus writes:

We all know that Ireland is the home of the leprechaun but when was one last actually seen? Recent leprechaun sightings are few and far between in the newspaper archives, with the most recent one being almost one hundred years ago.

On Monday, 20 April 1908, the Irish Times reported a sighting at Killough, County Westmeath, of a little man of dwarfish proportions in a red jacket, suiting the traditional description of a leprechaun.

The news occasioned great excitement in the district, and a wholesale hunt for the man in the belief that his discovery would lead the finder to a crock of gold.

This search proved unsuccessful, and a subsequent letter-writer to the Times suggested that what had in fact been seen was a blue baboon which had recently escaped from a travelling circus in the neighbourhood.

However on August 13, 1908, it was reported that a ‘little man’ had in fact been captured in a wood near the town of Mullingar, and admitted as a (presumably non-simian) inmate to the local workhouse.

He was described as eating ‘greedily’ and communicating only in ‘a peculiar sound between a growl and a squeal

Very quickly thereafter, a representative of an American museum and theatre of varieties in Glasgow visited the workhouse, and, following an agreement with the supposed leprechaun and his father, took him to Glasgow by the midday train, apparently with a view to his appearing in a music-hall.

Although both parties were described as leaving ‘in the best of spirits,’ there are no further reports of the Killough leprechaun either in a music-hall or elsewhere.

Anyone?

Tales of Old Dublin (Sibling of Daedalus)

UPDATE:

Sibling of Daedalus writes:

In 1913, a tenant farmer in Tullamore was taken to court for having a filthy residence. It was stated in court that he was the leprechaun’s father and had sold him for £10. Some disapproval of this was expressed in light of the fact that the leprechaun had been ‘hardly tamed‘ at the time of his sale.

It appears that the purchaser was Mr Pickard, of the Panopticon Music Hall, Glasgow, who exhibited an Irish leprechaun there between 1908 and 1914. Also part of the show for some of this period was the young Stan Laurel, later to become famous as part of the double-act Laurel and Hardy. Perhaps the Leprechaun ended up in Hollywood too?

More as we get it.

27 thoughts on “The Last Leprechaun

  1. Kieran NYC

    Funny how reports of sightings of mythical beasts like Nessie, Sasquatches, aliens, etc tapered off with the rise in people carrying cameras everywhere

    1. Deluded

      Cameras have spawned their own myths and fantasies, the interweb is awash with bizaare interpretations of readily explainable events.
      (Perhaps a comparison could be made with astrology and “signs of the Zodiac”, surely a matter that should have been put to bed with Isaac Newton’s three laws of motion, yet they are printed everyday in all the best newspapers)
      I grew up reading all kinds of material on the fantastic and unexplained, I found this particular book very interesting:
      https://books.google.ie/books/about/UFOs_the_Final_Answer.html?id=UO-PQgAACAAJ&redir_esc=y
      … it sheds some light on universal themes of “little people”, abductions, changelings etc. across human cultures.

      1. Deluded

        (credit: I believe I read that point about newspapers and signs of the Zodiac in Nick Davies’ Flat Earth News or maybe it was a Monbiot.)

    2. Steph Pinker

      If neither of you have heard of the Sacred Texts site, then you can start here with a link to legendary creatures: http://www.sacred-texts.com/lcr/index.htm. There are loads of links under Index, which link to hundreds of texts about a multitude of topics, and the best part about it is many of the texts are transcribed from many languages and periods, and from different countries; It’s an amazing site and encyclopaedic in its detail and research.

      1. Deluded

        Thank you Steph, I will have a look.

        … an aside: some time ago we discussed slavery in Ireland and you mentioned Niall Noígíallach, Niall-of-the-Nine-Hostages.
        At this time “hostage” had a different meaning, rather than mere captives they could be part of an exchange between kingdoms, a living assurance of a treaty. In fact royal children might be raised and tutored by the foreign court with all the rights and privileges of their station. This review gives an outline of some of the circumstances and how they contrast with captivity and slavery: http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/1579

        1. Steph Pinker

          I agree and you make a good point, Deluded :) it did cross my mind to elaborate on the differences when I was writing the comment about Niall, but this is the internet so I didn’t think it would be appreciated; nevertheless, if you are not already au fait with any of Fergus Kelly’s books and if you want to learn more about early Irish laws and institutions (many of which include laws about fosterage, status, divorce, sureties and hostages, clientship, murder, rape etc…): Kelly’s book, A Guide To Early Irish Law, is an excellent, informative read and he covers law-texts from the 7th-8th centuries until the Brehon Laws of the 16th century. If you are already familiar with his books, then you will appreciate many of the Irish tales and folklore stories as transcribed and included on the Sacred Texts site.

          1. Jess

            Fergus Kelly is my hero.

            I’ve been reading about the medieval period and mythology in Ireland for years but after reading his Early Irish Law I felt as though I should go back and re-read everything. It completely transforms and clarfies the entire social framework about medieval Ireland and makes so much that happens in mythology and haeigeography clearer. His Bethbrecha and Marriage disputes are also excellent.

            and of course since it hasn’t been mentioned in this thread:

            https://www.ucc.ie/celt/ an excellent online resource

            and if, like me, you prefer reading them in books. DIAS (Dublin institute of advanced studies) and The Irish Texts society are my go to publishers

        1. Steph Pinker

          My pleasure, and I sincerely mean that because there’s so much to read and it’s so varied, and so well written – the internet truly is a wonderful invention!

          1. Steph Pinker

            … and further to your link about UFOs, here’s one from the Sacred Texts site: http://www.sacred-texts.com/ufo/rufo/index.htm, it was written by a former US Air Force pilot:
            “‘This is Edward J. Ruppelt’s memoir of his role in the seminal US Air Force UFO study projects: Projects Sign, Grudge and Blue Book. According to this account, he coined the acronym ‘UFO’ and put many of the official procedures for reporting and studying UFOs in place. An enjoyable read, this book captures the feel of working for the mid-20th century US military. He describes the changing attitudes of the USAF about UFOs during the early 1950s: wobbling between denial, ridicule, paranoia, and genuine inquiry.”

  2. Collywobble

    To hear about the last leprechauns in Ireland visit yer man in Carlingford. He’s brilliant. You’ll need to bring a kid so you don’t look like a weirdo.

  3. Jess

    The last sighting is interesting but also the antiquity is important. The first fleshed out appearance is in the medieval tale of Echtra Fergus mac Léti, but the earliest reference I’ve seen is in the Metrical Dindsenchas, the 12th century verse history of Ireland

  4. Sibling of Daedalus

    My own theory was that the ‘leprechaun’ was in fact a man suffering from Donohue syndrome.

    https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/donohue-syndrome

    It results in reduced size and distinctively elfish features (google syndrome for photos).

    The fact that he was mentioned as having a ‘father’ who consented to his going to Glasgow supports this.

    Perhaps his existence was kept quiet because his family did not want people to know of his condition (a bit like the Glamis Castle monster, who clearly suffered from some sort of genetic condition) or maybe his family had recently moved to the area.

    It sounds like they were not well off however if he ended up in the workhouse. I hope he was treated well and not exploited by the Glasgow ‘showman’ (if indeed that was what he was, and not something more sinister).

    I suspect that the reason leprechaunism may be associated with Ireland is because the genetic quirk causing the syndrome originated here.

    1. Deluded

      An interesting idea. Oliver Sacks’ The Island of the Colorblind explores the incidence of genetic traits amplified by isolation. (In introduction he references the numbers of deaf peoplr among some Dutch communities of the American North East.
      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martha%27s_Vineyard_Sign_Language)

      Your comments below call to mind how certain people become the focus of local magical traditions, as with, for instance, exorcisms, which have reportedly increased across Europe.

      1. Sibling of Daedalus

        A small update is on the way. The leprechaun did appear to have a human father… of course, from a different perspective, the father might be someone who had simply caught a magical being and was passing him off as his son…

          1. Sibling of Daedalus

            Poverty and lack of education, very sad.

            The dialogue with the Dad in court was very sad also. He said he’d like to get his cottage cleaner, had been looking for a wife but couldn’t get one. Yes I know he could possibly have done the cleaning himself, but maybe he was worked to death trying to earn money to survive? He sounded a sad character, and half-witted.

            The system now is not good but then was worse.

  5. Jim

    Jeepers. A cute story about a leprechaun descends into a one about the abduction of a non-verbal child from a state run institution. I hope the Irish Times would write up this case differently nowadays … :-o

    1. Sibling of Daedalus

      Indeed, Jim, as with my previous post ‘The Dollar Millionaire’, where after publishing the post I came across an Irish Times report that the boy in question was to be sent to the Christian Brothers’ run Christian-run St Vincent’s Orphanage. The paper appeared to regard it as a very satisfactory solution, and thanked the generous people who had made this possible by taking an interest in the kid.

      I was very worried until one intrepid reader reassured me by pointing out Luke was still living with his family at the time of the 1911 census some months later…

  6. Sibling of Daedalus

    One of the reasons I try to share these stories with readers is because I think they are very good examples of how a shift in perspective can cause things to be seen entirely differently by societies in different eras. Sometimes the truth is hidden by the assumptions by which a particular society lives their lives e.g. that all people involved in charitable work are good. Often these assumptions are because society cannot afford to think otherwise or they would go mad e.g. reports of abuse by charitable institutions really only came out when society was confident enough (through an alternative social welfare system etc) to deal with them.

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