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Myth Of The Leprechaun’s Pot Of Gold - History

cropped view of leprechaun with pot of gold and hat sitting on green grass
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Of all the Irish myths that exist, the story of leprechauns and their pots of gold seems to have infiltrated American culture the most. You can’t go anywhere around St. Patrick’s Day without seeing posters of rosy-cheeked, red-haired fairies sliding down rainbows into cauldrons of gold coins. What’s the origin of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and where can you find the gold of your own?

The Origin Of The Pot Of Gold

Many old European stories are describing fictitious creatures that hoard treasures. Many brave souls have tried to find their fortunes under the belly of a sleeping dragon or even in the furthest depths of a mermaid’s sunken shipyard.

For those who might be fearful of fire and water, there is another fiery folk known for its vast stash - leprechauns. With a bit of cunning and a lot of luck, he will tell you where his pot of gold is hidden. Beware, however, as the leprechaun is smarter than the average wood nymph, and you may be tricked into looking for gold at the ever-elusive end of the rainbow.

The most well-known origin story of the leprechaun’s pot of gold at the end of the rainbow involves a couple of poor farmers in Ireland. When this husband and wife pulled their very last carrot out of their garden, they found a leprechaun dangling from the roots. Being captured, the leprechaun promised one wish in exchange for his freedom.

The husband and wife could not decide on just a single wish, so they began wishing for everything - new tools, a house, jewelry - and the list continued until the leprechaun interrupted them. Dismayed by their greed, the leprechaun told the couple they might have all they wished for and more if they could find his pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

The leprechaun winked and left the farmers to chase rainbow crafts forever, looking for a fictitious fortune. With St. Patrick’s Day activities just around the corner, many places are gearing up for a celebration of everything Irish.

Towns will soon be flooded with green shamrocks, red beards, and iconic wall decoration of a leprechaun sliding down a rainbow into a pot of gold. Why, out of all the Irish folklore, is the leprechaun’s story of deception the one that people perpetuate? Well, like all great fables, there is a moral to the story.

This cautionary tale reminds us that relying on luck, magic, and greed can be a recipe for disaster. Instead of working hard and making strategic moves to build financial stability, people can be tricked into wasting their precious time and resources searching - metaphorically - for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

green leprechaun hat with gold covered chocolate coins on dark wood background.

The earliest known reference to the leprechaun appears in the medieval tale known as the Echtra Fergus mac Léti (Adventure of Fergus son of Léti).

The Origin Of Leprechauns

When the Irish came to the land of opportunity, they brought with them many traditions and the firm belief that you should work hard for your fortune. From coast to coast, the Irish earned their “pots of gold” to benefit their lives and the generations that followed.

The Irish legacy is one reason the tale of the leprechaun’s promise of false fortune has become a fixture in almost every St. Patrick’s Day celebration. You may not believe in leprechauns, but if you want your pot of gold, you must do something to secure it for yourself.

The leprechaun has long been a beloved aspect of Irish lore. They are believed to be a part of another piece of famous folklore, as they are traditionally known to be members of the fairy family. Tales of these small creatures first emerged in the 8th century, when legends about tiny water-dwellers began circulating among the Celts.

Their name is thought to come from the word “luchor-pan,” meaning a small body. No surprise as they are said to be only 2-3 feet tall. Where do these folks live? To hide from humans, they are known to dwell in tiny underground caves or hollow tree trunks.

They are famous for being the cobblers of the fairy world and their name is associated with the old term “leath bhrogan” meaning shoemaker. This profession is what earns them their iconic pots of gold.

While we think of these creatures as imaginary, belief in them and other closely related fairies were actually widespread throughout Ireland. This is one of the reasons that this icon is now so ingrained into Irish culture, even today.

Over the years, the history of leprechauns has become associated with everything green and they are now often depicted as old men in a hat and suit of this color, wearing buckled shoes or smoking a pipe. However, this was not always the case.

In fact, you may be surprised to know that they were originally depicted as wearing red and were thought of as being dressed in this color for many years. Over time, they have evolved into the gree-wearing guys we have come to know and love today.

Many theorize that is due to the general popularity of the color green throughout Ireland. This is, in part, because of its prominence on the Irish flag, as well as the widely-used name, the Emerald Isle. Whatever the reason, green has become printable, synonymous with leprechauns and St. Patrick’s Day alike. Legend also says that there are no female leprechauns, and their seemingly impossible origins only add to their magical and mysterious qualities.

The Traditions And Beliefs About Leprechauns

One key component of the leprechaun story is their famous pots of gold. They are known to possess and hoard their prized pots and traditionally hide this treasure at the end of a rainbow. This means that humans need to catch them in order to find this fortune, as it is impossible to actually locate the end of this natural phenomenon.

The leprechaun story says capturing these secure creatures will secure a little bit of buck in addition to three wishes. With this in mind, they have become associated with the “luck of the Irish,” which is one of the reasons they are so popular today.

Many looking for fortunes also seek to gain their gold but beware - these tiny men are also known to be tricksters. They are said to deceive humans and serve as a warning against greed. Some even believe that they hide their gold simply in order to lure in the unsuspecting and when granting their captors three wishes, they often instead lead them astray.

Keep your ears open - they often can be heard tapping their tiny cobbler hammer in the distance, which signals listeners that they are near. They can also be heard dancing away to traditional Irish music and are even known to play instruments while doing a little jig.

Today, the leprechaun story has evolved and they have gained fame for their portrayals in popular culture, from the cheery man on cereal boxes to the scarier variety in movies. Yet, their roots are inevitably Irish and many visiting Emerald Isle can capture a bit of this magic themselves.

On and around Patrick’s day crafts, many dress up as them, but searching for these fairies is a fun activity all year round. Whether you head to Limerick on the lookout for these small creatures or visit the National Leprechaun Museum in Dublin to see this legend come to life, there are many amazing things to do to celebrate these creatures today.

Pot with gold coins, hat and clover leaves on table

The pot of gold story is about a poor young man who finds a leprechaun and thinks his luck has turned for the better.

The Pot Of Gold At The End Of The Rainbow

Every time you see a rainbow, do you look to see where it begins and ends? We’ve all heard the “pot of gold” story since we were young, but where does the legend come from? It dates back to Old Europe, where the Irish will tell you “fairies put a pot of gold at the end of each rainbow with leprechauns guarding it.”

It’s folklore that has become part of the symbolism of St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th, when many celebrate Irish culture and count themselves as “Irish” just for wearing a little bit of “the Green.” Clearly, Irish culture and folklore appreciate and recognize the value of gold and the lure of the precious yellow metal.

Of course, few of us will find a literal pot of gold during our lifetime, but many people will have an extra bit of scrap gold and other precious metals around their homes and businesses. The best way to reap the benefits and gain the Luck of the Irish at any time during the year is to turn in your scrap precious metals for remelting and then recirculate that value into your business and the economy.

It takes any “luck” out of the equation in your success because you’re reaping the benefits of your own hard work. Dating back to Old Ireland, the legend of the pot of gold is claimed eagerly by the Irish. They’ll tell you tales of fairies putting gold there and that leprechauns guard it against us, humans. The leprechauns decided that humans could not have the gold because of what our greed would make us do.

There are also stories of when the Vikings inhabited Ireland. They stored hordes of treasures all over the land. According to the legends, when they left, they forgot to take several amounts of gold with them. The “wee folk” found the gold and divided it among themselves. However, they knew the riches of the Vikings had been collected through wicked deeds, and this deepened their mistrust of humans.

Leprechauns stored the coins in pots and buried them deep underground where humans could not find them. However, according to the stories, a rainbow will end where a leprechaun has hidden his pot of gold. If, perchance, you are lucky enough to find the rainbow’s end, to greet you will be a little fellow who then will decide if you are worthy of the coins.

Leprechauns On St. Patrick’s Day

Today, St, Patrick’s Day is a transcontinental celebration of Irish culture, filled with festive foods and traditions. Amidst the millions of people that don green and celebrate the Irish few know the reasoning behind many popular St. Patrick’s Day traditions. Have you ever wondered why we all wear green, tell stories of leprechauns, display shamrocks, and pinch our friends on St. Patrick’s Day?

According to some accounts, blue was the first color associated with St. Patrick’s Day that started to change in the 17th century. Green is one of the colors in Ireland's tri-color flag, and it has been used in the flags of several Irish revolutionary groups throughout history.

Ireland is the “Emerald Isle,” so named for its lush green landscape. Green is also the color of spring, the shamrock, and the Chicago River, which the Midwestern city has dyed green on St. Patrick’s Day for the past 40-odd years.

This St. Patrick’s Day, millions of people will sit down to an authentic Irish meal of corned beef and cabbage. Or so they think. Though cabbage has historically been a staple of the Irish diet (along with potatoes), it was traditionally Irish bacon, not corned beef. Irish immigrants in America could not afford the bacon, so they substituted it with corned beef.

Forgot to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day? Don’t be surprised if you get pinched. No surprise, it’s an entirely American tradition that probably started in the early 1700s. On St. Patrick’s Day celebrations revelers thought wearing green made one invisible to leprechauns, fairy creatures who would pinch anyone they could see (not wearing green).

People began pinching those who didn’t wear green as a reminder that leprechauns would sneak up and pinch green abstainers. Just what does a mythical leprechaun look like and why are they so special? A leprechaun looks like a little old man and dresses like a shoemaker with a cocked leprechaun hat and leather apron.

According to Irish folklore, leprechauns were cranky tricksters who you wouldn’t want to mess with. They live alone and pass the time by mending the shoes of Irish fairies. According to the legend, the fairies pay the leprechauns for their work with golden coins, which the little people collect in large pots - the famous “pots of gold” often associated with leprechauns.

The legend says that if you catch a leprechaun, you can force him to tell you where he hid his pot of gold. Supposedly, this pot is hidden at the end of a rainbow in a rainbow pot. Because you can never find the “end” of the rainbow, you can’t get the pot of gold. To get the gold, you first get to catch the little leprechaun.

According to legend, St. Patrick chose a three-leafed clover or shamrock as a symbol of the church’s Holy Trinity because of its three leaflets bound by a common stalk. A shamrock is not a four-leaf clover, contrary to popular belief. Although clovers are most often found in nature with three leaves, rare four-leaf clovers do exist. Finding one is thought to bring someone extreme luck.

The folklore for four-leaf clovers differs from that of the shamrock due to the fact that it has no religious allusions associated with it. It is believed that each four-leaf clover represents something different: the first is hope, the second is faith, the third is love, and the fourth is happiness.

The good luck attached with the four-leaf clover predates Christianity in Ireland back to the ancient Druid priests. No St. Patrick’s Day celebration is complete without people dressed as leprechauns with lucky charms. These mythical creatures are the small fairy folk of Irish legends. They’re traditionally portrayed as snappy dressers in green suits with hats and buckled shoes.

How big are leprechauns? They’re quite small. Some pictures show them tiny enough to sit on your shoulder. Others claim they’re about the size of small children. Leprechauns are known to be practical jokers. They love to play tricks on humans.

Many stories depict them as mischievous. However, they tend to be mostly harmless. They are also said to be intelligent and clever creatures. Irish legends hold that leprechauns are shoemakers. They supposedly store all the gold coins they earn in a hidden pot at the end of a rainbow.

Conclusion

You may have heard the legend of the pot of gold before. It’s very popular. Many people have been known to chase leprechauns and their gold. Supposedly, if you catch a leprechaun, they will grant you three wishes in return for freedom.

St. Patrick’s Day festivities would not be the same without leprechauns. These creatures are known to be great musicians. What instruments might Irish leprechauns play? They’re said to master a variety of traditional Irish instruments. This includes tin whistles, the fiddle, and the Irish harp.

Where did the word “leprechaun” come from? No one is quite sure. Some believe it comes from the Old Irish words for “small” and “body.” Others say the term may have come from the Irish words for shoemaker. Have you ever dressed as a leprechaun? Would you like to hunt for the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow? Leprechauns may be mythical, but that doesn’t stop many people from dreaming of their riches!

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