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Don't expect to see photos of leprechauns—little bearded men, dressed in green, carrying pots of gold—in Dublin's Leprechaun Museum. According to manager, Craig Burnett, these leprechaun images were imported into Ireland in the 1950s.

National Leprechaun Museum sign with logo of person reaching for pot of gold under a rainbow.
National Leprechaun Museum sign with logo of person reaching for pot of gold under a rainbow.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

"Walt Disney made the leprechaun famous," he said. After Disney's leprechaun movie, Darby O'Gill and the Little People became popular, Hollywood created another leprechaun film, Finian's Rainbow, which became a Broadway show.

Wee folk

What are leprechauns? Irish people call leprechauns "wee folk" or "wee people," an English translation of the Irish/Gaelic name Lu Chorpain, which means "a small-bodied person," according to Burnett.

The first documented evidence of a leprechaun sighting goes back to an 8th-century text by the King of Ulster, Fergus McLeti.

Irish mythology

Leprechauns, or wee people, comprise only one part of Irish mythology, we learned on our tour of the National Leprechaun Museum. Creative and entertaining, the museum draws both adults and children.

At the entrance, an actor met us to dispel leprechaun myths. "The cheery green-garbed characters on boxes of Lucky Charms cereal have nothing to do with Ireland," he said.

Leprechaun Museum tour

After the interactive entrance presentation, tours of the Leprechaun Museum are self-guided. Feeling like Alice in Wonderland, we traveled through a wooden-slat tunnel from the world of humans into the world of giants.

At the end of the tunnel, a sign read: "The power of lines was thought to be very strong, especially the circle. It was said that you could see fairies if you held a ring to your eye."

Celtic myths

We emerged under a wooden replica of the hexagonal basalt columns of Giant's Causeway, in Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland. Our first encounter with Irish mythology (which is also Celtic mythology, according to Craig Burnett) reminded us of the Irish giant, Finn McCool.

Legend claims that Fionn mac Cumhaill (his Irish/Gaelic name) built the Giant's Causeway by flinging clumps of earth to make a pathway to challenge a Scottish giant. "Stories say Finn McCool also went to Greece to fight giants," explained Burnett.

Couple sit on chair in Giant's Room.
Couple sit on chair in Giant's Room.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

"Irish mythology combines both Celtic mythology and Greek mythology. While Greek and Roman mythology remain the same, Irish mythology is infinitely adaptable, changing with the storytellers, as they add their personalities to the stories."

The Otherworld

Our tour of the Leprechaun Museum progressed to the Giant's Room. Sitting on a massive chair, next to an enormous coffee table holding a large tea cup, allowed us to experience a leprechaun's view of a giant's home.

Walking through the giant's fireplace, we found ourselves in a darkened room with an illuminated 3D Map of the Otherworld. As the map pinpointed mythical places in Ireland, a female voice explained their significance in the Otherworld.

Having just completed a Ring of Kerry tour, we were interested in the mythological explanation of Loch Lein (Lough Leane), the great lake of Killarney. According to the map, the cairn of Sidheaain, on the west bank of Loch Lein, was the home of a giant fairy bronzesmith.

Wishing well with pot of gold in museum.
Wishing well with pot of gold in museum.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Pot of gold

In the Leprechaun Museum's Rain Room, upside-down umbrellas catch the water drops. After walking under dangling colored fringes, representing a rainbow, we discovered the leprechaun's pot of gold.

Why are leprechauns associated with pots of gold? Many Irish people believe that the wee folk are very wealthy.

Legend says that they hide their crocks of gold underwater or underground, at the end of a rainbow. If you catch a leprechaun, he is obligated to show you where he hid his gold.

Catching leprechauns

It is not easy to catch one of the wee people, because they will disappear if you take your eyes off of them. Many Irish folk tales describe leprechaun tricks used to prevent people from stealing their gold.

Where do leprechauns get their gold? According to Irish mythology, they earn it by making dancing shoes for the fairies (si in Irish/Gaelic or sih in Old Irish). That is why you can often hear a leprechaun, tapping shoes with his hammer, before you can see him.

The pot of gold in the National Leprechaun Museum was surrounded by a wishing well, so we tossed in coins for good luck and continued to the next room.

Map of the Otherworld with mystical place names
Map of the Otherworld with mystical place names
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

As we relaxed on a platform, projected symbols from Newgrange (a 5,200-year-old passage tomb, near Dublin, Ireland) rotated around us. A storyteller entered the room and began telling us Irish mythology stories.

Irish folklore

We learned about fairy hills, which today's farmers, like their ancestors, refuse to touch. Construction workers divert roads around fairy hills.

Superstitious locals believe that fairy hills contain entrances to the Otherworld. In Ireland, the modern and ancient worlds are still entwined.

The Leprechaun Museum storyteller then recounted the salmon of knowledge legend, the source of the belief that fish improves memory.

Another fascinating Irish myth is about a creature of the Otherworld, the puca (also called puka, pooka and phouka). According to the storyteller, it takes the form of a goat or horse. "The puca will reward you if you don't fall for its tricks," he said.

Fairy information

A series of signs explained fairy myths and legends. Did you know that, in Ireland, people are careful not to build houses on fairy pathways?

To find a fairy path, Irish people leave a pile of twigs or straw on the potential building site. If the pile is broken or scattered overnight, it confirms that fairies have passed through.

Mythical people

Other signs in the Leprechaun Museum provide information about mythical people. Banba, Fodla and Eire, for example, were Irish goddesses.

The names, meaning women's fate, fine sword and fine land, respectively, were the three poetical names for Ireland.

Leprechaun books

Exiting the National Leprechaun Museum, we entered the gift shop. Besides T-shirts and other souvenirs, we discovered a collection of Irish mythology books.

Books in gift shop: Irish Tales from the Otherworld, Irish Leprechaun Stories, and Holy Wells of Ireland
Books in gift shop: Irish Tales from the Otherworld, Irish Leprechaun Stories, and Holy Wells of Ireland
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

We thumbed through Irish Leprechaun Stories, by Bairbre McCarthy, and Irish Tales from the Otherworld, by Bob Curran. "The shop is a reference room," said Craig Burnett. "If you have questions about fairy hills, the wee folk or Irish holy wells, after going through the museum, you can sit down at the tables and learn more about them."

Another book about Gaelic mythology that caught our interest was Children of the Salmon and Other Irish Folktales by Eileen O'Faolain. "In the 1950s, and early '60s, she went to Western Ireland and tape-recorded the stories told by old fellows in the pubs," explained Burnett. "This book is her English translation of the Gaelic folk stories."

We visited the National Leprechaun Museum, expecting to learn more about the wee folk. We left the Dublin museum, astounded by the richness of Irish mythology and Celtic culture, which includes not only leprechauns and fairies, but a whole realm of mythical people.

Directions to Leprechaun Museum

The National Leprechaun Museum is located in Twilfit House, at the corner of Jervis Street and Abbey Street in Dublin, next to the Luas (Red Line) Jervis Street stop.

The museum is a five-minute walk from The Spire on O'Connell Street. Cross the Ha'penny Bridge to get to the Leprechaun Museum from Temple Bar.


National Leprechaun Museum: www.leprechaunmuseum.ie

Dublin Tourism: www.visitdublin.com

Tourism Ireland: www.discoverireland.com

More things to see and do in Ireland:

Cahergall Stone Ring Fort - Cahersiveen Ireland

Southwest Ireland - Dowsing for Water and Earth Energy

Killarney Ireland Hiking Trail - Co. Kerry

Muckross Traditional Farms Tour - Killarney Ireland

Valentia Island Walking Tour - Geokaun Mountain, Fogher Cliffs and Slate Quarry