March 15, 2013

Poetry Friday--"The Lepracaun Or Fairy Shoemaker"

Sunday is St. Patrick's Day, so today I'm going to start the celebration with a poem about a leprechaun, which I found in two anthologies of tales, Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, edited by William Butler Yeats, and The Irish Fairy Book edited by Alfred Perceval Graves. (The illustration is from the latter book).

The Lepracaun Or Fairy Shoemaker
by William Allingham


Little Cowboy, what have you heard,
   Up on the lonely rath's green mound?
Only the plaintive yellow bird
   Sighing in sultry fields around,
Chary, chary, chary, chee-ee!--
Only the grasshopper and the bee?--
      "Tip tap, rip-rap,
   Scarlet leather, sewn together,
      This will make a shoe.
   Left, right, pull it tight;
      Summer days are warm;
   Underground in winter,
      Laughing at the storm!"
Lay your ear close to the hill.
Do you not catch the tiny clamour,
Busy click of an elfin hammer,
Voice of the Lepracaun singing shrill
      As he merrily plies his trade?
        He's a span
        And a quarter in height.
Get him in sight, hold him tight,
        And you're a made


You watch your cattle the summer day,
Sup on potatoes, sleep in the hay;
   How would you like to roll in your carriage,
   Look for a duchess's daughter in marriage?
Seize the Shoemaker--then you may!
      "Big boots a-hunting,
      Sandals in the hall,
   White for a wedding-feast,
      Pink for a ball.
   This way, that way,
      So we make a shoe;
   Getting rich every stitch,
Nine-and-ninety treasure-crocks
This keen miser-fairy hath,
Hid in mountains, woods, and rocks,
Ruin and round-tow'r, cave and rath,
   And where the cormorants build;
        From times of old Guarded by him;
        Each of them fill'd
        Full to the brim
          With gold!


I caught him at work one day, myself,
   In the castle-ditch, where foxglove grows,--
A wrinkled, wizen'd, and bearded Elf,
   Spectacles stuck on his pointed nose,
   Silver buckles to his hose,
   Leather apron—shoe in his lap--
        "Rip-rap, tip-tap,
      (A grasshopper on my cap!
        Away the moth flew!)
      Buskins for a fairy prince,
        Brogues for his son,--
      Pay me well, pay me well,
        When the job is done!"
The rogue was mine, beyond a doubt.
I stared at him; he stared at me;
"Servant, Sir!" "Humph!" says he,
   And pull'd a snuff-box out.
He took a long pinch, look'd better pleased,
   The queer little Lepracaun;
Offer'd the box with a whimsical grace,--
Pouf! he flung the dust in my face,
      And, while I sneezed,
          Was gone!

Yeats provided a little explanation of leprechauns:
"The name Lepracaun," Mr. Douglas Hyde writes to me, "is from the Irish leith brog--i.e., the One-shoemaker, since he is generally seen working at a single shoe. It is spelt in Irish leith bhrogan, or leith phrogan, and is in some places pronounced Luchryman, as O'Kearney writes it in that very rare book, the Feis Tigh Chonain."

The Lepracaun, Cluricaun, and Far Darrig. Are these one spirit in different moods and shapes? Hardly two Irish writers are agreed. In many things these three fairies, if three, resemble each other. They are withered, old, and solitary, in every way unlike the sociable spirits of the first sections. They dress with all unfairy homeliness, and are, indeed, most sluttish, slouching, jeering, mischievous phantoms. They are the great practical jokers among the good people.

The Lepracaun makes shoes continually, and has grown very rich. Many treasure-crocks, buried of old in war-time, has he now for his own. In the early part of this century, according to Croker, in a newspaper office in Tipperary, they used to show a little shoe forgotten by a Lepracaun.
So now you know.

Head over to Check It Out for the Poetry Friday Round-Up. Have fun this weekend, and a word of warning--don't drink the green beer--the dye may not agree with you! You're better off with a Guinness, Smithwick's, Murphy's, or Kilkenny!


  1. Thanks, Diane. I didn't know the history of the leprechaun. The poem reminds me of the story we used to learn in Brownies. In it, some children secretly help their cobbler parents, much like the leprechaun in the poem you posted. The parents thought they'd been visited by "Brownies."

  2. I like the musical lines like these: "Rip-rap, tip-tap,
    (A grasshopper on my cap!
    Away the moth flew!)

    I also like Yeats's description of the fairies as "most sluttish, slouching, jeering, mischievous phantoms." I now how to look up the etymology of "sluttish."

  3. I'm back! I checked the Online Etymology Dictionary and found this: "Chaucer uses sluttish (late 14c.) in reference to the appearance of an untidy man."

  4. Thank you for the leprechaun trivia -- fascinating.

  5. Yes, it is, Katya. I've always been intrigued by leprechauns. I even wrote a picture book about a leprechaun many years ago, but I wasn't able to sell. :-(

  6. So interesting, Diane, thanks for sharing!