By Ray Lenarcic
The mist enveloping Carrauntoohil Mountain hung so low that if you raised your hand above your head, it would disappear. As Liam looked around, he marveled at the beauty of it all-tree covered hills, a valley cut in half by a large bubbling brook and the freshest air he had ever smelled. “Come on, boys! Follow me.” The voice of the leprechaun startled Liam. He joined the other orphans, and together they began a journey that would change their lives forever.
Bridangobragh was the home of the “Little People.” Located at the far end of a narrow valley, the village consisted of a few dozen thatched-roof cottages and was home to some two hundred men and boys. They were all under four feet tall, dressed in red coats with green breeches buckled at the knee, and wore shiny black shoes curled at the toes while sporting tri-cornered hats. They had ruddy complexions, short beards, smoked clay pipes and seemed to talk a mile a minute. Their favorite pastime was constantly playing pranks on one another and, occasionally, the Irish people.
Originally, they were a group of orphans who had fled the horrible conditions and brutal headmaster of their orphanage in Dublin, ultimately finding sanctuary deep in the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks Mountains. It was said that St. Patrick himself had taken pity and blessed them with certain unusual characteristics, including long lives (50 years for every one of ours) and the ability to become invisible to other mortals. They remained the size of children but aged otherwise and displayed a sense of mischievousness that bordered on the ridiculous. They were given the name leprechauns-a word meaning “lovers of life.”
“Over here, boys. Time to eat.” Liam was one of a dozen new recruits taken from one of Dublin’s workhouse orphanages. Every ten years or so, the leprechauns had to replenish numbers diminished by retirements and deaths. The boys were randomly chosen, brought to Bridangobragh, and introduced to a new way of life. If they chose to stay, they underwent the changing ceremony and became “little people” for the rest of their lives. If they chose to leave, they were returned to the orphanage.
Liam and the others chose to stay. Mushroom stew, soda bread, a warm bed in a comfortable cottage, learning about Irish culture, singing songs by the fire, and looking forward to a long lifetime of running around the country playing pranks on the Irish people trumped by a lot working long hours, eating slop, enduring beatings and sleeping in a cold, crowded room.
Unfortunately for Liam, he soon discovered that everything was not what it seemed. His fellow leprechauns could be downright mean. Anyone who stood out in a certain way could be victimized by dirty tricks (e.g., opening a door and having a bucket of water fall on your head) and nonstop taunting. Because he was so small and shy, Liam soon became one of the victims. He was the butt of countless short jokes and was often not chosen to participate in games and activities. While the other newcomers were given menial tasks to perform, Liam was assigned the worst-cleaning outhouses. Despite the abuse and degradation, he tried to maintain his sunny disposition, but it was becoming harder and harder to do so.
In addition to the bullying, he was bothered by the older leprechauns’ insatiable appetite for gold-gold coins in particular. They earned their booty by making and selling shoes to the various fairy peoples inhabiting the Emerald Isle. The gold was stored in earthen pots and hidden at the end of rainbows. Early on, Liam often wondered why many leprechauns went running like crazy out of the village after a rainstorm. He later learned that they were heading to the end of the multicolored arc in order to protect their riches. Sadly, nothing caused more problems among leprechauns than disputes over and because of gold.
Finally, the gold craze and general mean-spiritedness were too much for the littlest of leprechauns to bear. One day, alone in the woods beyond the village, he sat down on a rock and, with tears flowing down his face, wished there was a way he could escape. Even though he knew that once you experienced the changing ceremony, your fate was sealed, he couldn’t imagine 300 more years of a life like this.
“What’s the matter, Liam?” The little leprechaun looked around and rubbed his eyes in disbelief. Standing before him was a man with a white beard and hair, and green eyes, dressed in the black garb of a priest and holding a shepherd’s staff in his right hand. “Who are you?” the boy asked. “I’m St. Patrick.” Liam was in the presence of the Patron Saint of Ireland. What was about to happen would change the lives of the leprechauns forever.
Liam poured out his heart to the kindly icon. He mentioned how sad he was, how he was bullied, and how many of the leprechauns took pleasure in playing cruel tricks on each other and humans and were interested only in hoarding their gold coins. He wished he could do something to change things-to create a place where kindness, love, friendship, and compassion prevailed, not only in Bridangobragh but throughout Ireland, where greed, selfishness, and distrust harmed relationships among people. “I agree with you, Liam. And I think it’s time I did something about it.” St. Patrick then took his leave, and Liam returned home wondering what was going to happen.
The next morning when he walked to the community hall for breakfast, he noticed that things just weren’t the same. The usual yelling, screaming, and running around had been replaced by small groups of leprechauns engaged in quiet conversation. Laughter also could be heard. Some of the wee ones were still joking around but in fun, harmless ways. Liam sat down next to his best friend, Seamus, and asked him what was going on.
The boy then told the most amazing story. During the night, a storm passed through, and at the crack of dawn, the older leprechauns left the village in the direction of the rainbow’s end to check their pots of gold. But when they reached their destination, they discovered that the pots were no longer filled with gold coins. Instead, they contained a pinkish liquid. It looked good and smelled good, so one of the more ornery leprechauns took a sip. Instantly, a face normally frozen in a perpetual grimace now featured the brightest smile you’d ever want to see. And his usually sour disposition was gone. “You’ve got to try this. One taste, and you’ll feel better than you ever had before.” The others followed suit, and soon they were all laughing and dancing around. They had forgotten all about their gold.
The leprechauns brought the pots of magic potion back to their village, and soon everyone, including Liam, sampled the elixir. The littlest leprechaun had never felt happier and, for the first time, was made to feel wanted by others. There would be no more taunting or bullying, or mean pranks. Instead of arguing and fighting, leprechauns would henceforth be whistling while they worked. And there’d be no more obsession with gold.
Before getting some shut-eye that night, one of the men asked out loud, “What’s happened? Where’d that potion come from?” “I’ll tell you.” In the middle of the village square stood St. Patrick. He told the leprechauns about his meeting with Liam and how sad he was and how he wished the others would be nice to him and to each other. St. Patrick then decided that he’d grant Liam’s wish. He determined that the best and quickest way to bring peace and harmony to the leprechauns would be to replace their obsession with gold with something more constructive. So he created the potion.
“If you enjoy feeling this way, and it seems you do, then every year on my special day you must take another drink of my joy juice. If you’re running out of it, just go to the end of the nearest rainbow, and more will be waiting. Also, I want each of you to take a bucketful and while they’re sleeping, visit humans who need their misery and meanness replaced with happiness and joy. And I want you to keep on doing your pranks, the ones that make people laugh. Between the potion and the pranks, you’ll be making Ireland a better place in which to live.”
After St. Patrick left, the leprechauns gathered around their littlest member, thanking him and patting him on the back. Liam Dougherty had never been more happy and was about to enjoy three centuries of absolute bliss.
That year so long, long ago on St. Patrick’s special day, March 17th, the leprechauns arose earlier than usual, wolfed down soda bread and biscuits, gulped down some magic potion, and rushed off to do the Saint’s bidding. Liam went directly to the Dublin Home for Orphan Boys. After entering, he made his way up to the headmaster’s room, took a cup of potion, opened Mr. Dimwitty’s mouth, and poured it in. The tyrant sat straight up. Liam couldn’t believe it. He was smiling. In one magical moment, the lives of the orphans would be changed for the better forever. The reformed brute would now provide the boys with better food, clothing, working conditions, and rooming, along with initiating a movement to improve the quality of life in orphanages throughout the land. Liam then ran outside to join the others in spending the rest of the day pranking, laughing, and singing.
In the decades to come, and with St. Patrick’s blessing, the leprechauns would introduce the magic potion to people throughout the world. Of course, to do so, they needed help. So they enlisted volunteers in the form of people, young and old, who were nice as can be, to begin with. Once on board, these leprechauners and leprechaunettes went about each March 17th, giving a sip of the potion to those in need of such. In case you’re wondering who they are, just look around you-they’re the ones who are always nice, kind, loving, and smiling. And the next time you see a rainbow, remember that at its end Liam Dougherty and his friends will be but a footstep away.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!