But were they always this boring?
|"I sure could use a little rainbow in my life..."|
Leprechauns have a clear association with Irish mythology, as any first-grader can tell us. They first appear, from what I can tell, in Echtra Fergusa maic Léti (the Saga of Fergus mac Léti).
Fergus - likely a King of Ulster - encountered what was then called lúchorpáin, which translates as "little bodies" and were water sprites that tried to carry poor Fergus off the deep end - literally. They tried to carry him into the sea, but when his feet touched the cold water he awoke and grabbed three of them.
The water sprites then proclaimed "Anmain i n-anmain!". This translates in modern Irish as something like "Soul in their soul!", but was commonly used in old Irish tales to ask for quarter, generally in exchange for three wishes. This is also seen in other tales, including Fled Bricrenn and Táin Bó Regamna.
From that time forth, Leprechauns granted wishes once captured.
One of Fergus's wishes was to breathe underwater, which the Leprechauns apparently grant by stuffing herbs in his ears. I guess Old Irish storytellers weren't all that creative. Also, the tale has some crazy Old-Irish porn about the Leprechauns sucking on his breast but I'll let someone else analyze that.
In the end, Fergus dies after fighting Muirdris the sea monster, because those crazy Leprechauns didn't let the herb work in that water. Oops.
Another origin story comes from Douglas Hyde, who supposedly told Irish poet WB Yeats (as recorded in Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry) that the word "Leprechaun" comes from "leith brog", or "for shoe" - making them shoemakers of some sorts. Yeats goes on to describe them as "sluttish, slouching, jeering, mischievous phantoms" and says that they make fill their "treasure-crocks" by continuously making shoes. That's the origin of the modern pot of gold - I guess Leprechauns were like the Adidas of old Ireland.
There's also a theory that Leprechauns are actually Tuatha Dé Danann - the old Irish gods - but that when Christianity started to take over, these powerful beings were reduced in stature to short, colorful sprites as a way to mock them.
I most enjoy the Fergus mac Léti version, so here's a little supernatural item inspired by the story of Fergus and his pursuits.
Aquas Herb (rare herb)
As any Gnome can testify to, this supernatural herb has a nice overtone of briny spice.
When properly prepared and generously stuffed in both ears, the herb has a powerful chemical effect on the nasal passages, allowing for the breathing of water or seawater for an hour before wearing off. Gourmet Gnomish alchemists can achieve this effect in a tasty soufflé, although most alchemists rely on more mundane preparations.
Aquas Herb can generally only be found in cold, deep water; it grows from the remains of giant sea monsters. For reasons not entirely understood, the herb does not function properly when within a mile of its origin.