How to Spot a Leprechaun

While in Ireland this last week, I was amazed by the hospitality and friendliness of every Irishman and woman I encountered. From cab drivers to B&B owners to complete strangers, it was an absolute joy to navigate the country. With only ten days under my belt, I may be overstating my expertise, but I’m going to go ahead and give you some pointers on how to spot a leprechaun. In my own short experience, I believe I encountered a total of four.

7 Points on How to Spot a Leprechaun

  1. You won’t spot them, they’ll spot you. Only after you’ve engaged in conversation will they really show their true (green) colors.
  2. Chances are, they speak native Irish (Gaelic). If not, they will still have a strong Irish brogue that is downright charming.
  3. Vocabulary and phrasing will be straight out of storybooks. They will be quick to compliment you with a “good on ye” or a brilliant, contagious smile and a crystal clear laugh.
  4. They are inherently tiny folk. Or, I’m just a tall American. I’ll also note that although the ones I met were older in age, they were not world-weary, but positively full of life.
  5. A history lesson is an addendum to any conversation. Leprechauns are well versed in the history of the world, their country and their people. The best part is their willingness to share this with you. They are never condescending or better than you, they just want you to be informed.
  6. Are you lost? Tired? Need a suggestion? Have a question? Help is on the way. Leprechauns employ a divine radar that tunes them in to exactly your problem, whether you voice it or not.
  7. Like a true fairytale character, they are quick to appear and disappear. Often, leaving you wondering if they ever existed at all.

For my own leprechaun encounters – one was famous, two were nameless and one presented a business card so I can prove his existence. The famous one is known affectionately by locals as Michael D., and officially as Michael Daniel Higgins, President of Ireland. He and his wife Sabina joined the Forum on Education Abroad conference last week, and he shared some beautiful thoughts on the future of education, and the Irish language. He walked through the crowd (at just under shoulder-height) and shook hands with everyone. When I mentioned him to locals, everyone knew his personal history from grade school to lecture at NUIG. Damn sure, Michael D. is a leprechaun.

The business card is from a gentleman in Belfast who revealed to me one of the latest secrets of Queen’s University. The recently appointed McClay Library boasts a C.S. Lewis Reading Room, including a replica of the wardrobe door to Narnia, and a map on the table within. My bookishness was made more obvious by the copy of the Cloud Atlas in my lap, but it did take a bit of leprechaun’s intuition to point me in the right direction. Thank you, Alan!

The two nameless leprechauns were both tied to transportation: one waiting for me at a bus stop, another waiting for me on a bus itself.
– The first, a soft-spoken woman with a lilting accent and an affection for travelers. En route from Donnybrook to the outskirts of Dublin, she pointed out buildings and recited local history just above the roar of the engine. Before I knew it, she was off the bus and I pressed myself to the window like a child – trying to find her on the sidewalk (failed).
– The second, at the 8 o’clock hour en route from Galway to Dublin. A quiet old man with a taste for storytelling and a patience for my questions. How do I prove his existence? He wrote out Irish phrases for me, at my request. His smile stayed with me as I boarded the plane, and remains in strong cursive on a notebook page.

Irish Gaelic

Go raibh maith agat to my Irish friends .. mythical and otherwise.

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