HEAD OUT on St Patrick’s Day and you are sure to encounter a leprechaun or two.
Known for their snappy green suits, complete with hat and buckled shoes, the mythical fairy folk are the stuff of Irish legend, often imitated by revellers keen to get in the spirit of the occasion.
The story goes that leprechauns are traditionally shoemakers who, for reasons unknown, store all of the gold coins they earn from their graft in a hidden pot at the end of the rainbow.
Find the end of a rainbow, they say, and you’ll find a pot of gold.
Better yet, catch a Leprechaun and you’ll be granted three wishes in return for his freedom.
The folklore surrounding these magical beings certainly makes for entertaining and imaginative reading – but could it all be based in more fact than fiction?
Back in 1989, what can only be described as a leprechaun suit was discovered on Carlingford mountain in County Louth, alongside some small bones and a collection of four gold coins.
It was a discovery that divided the wider public.
Sceptics saw it as part of an elaborate hoax, concocted by bored jokers after one too many pints of Guinness. To their way of thinking, this was just another example of Irish craic.
But handful believers saw it as something else; confirmation that some seed of truth existed underneath the centuries of fairytales and folklore.
Chief among them was Kevin ‘McCoillte’ Woods, a man known to many as Ireland’s last Leprechaun Whisperer.
Though still sceptical, Woods was determined to discover the truth and, that same year, led an organised leprechaun hunt in the region that sparked confusion and amusement alike.
It would ultimately prove a fruitless endeavour though, with no trace of the ancient Irish being discovered during their travails. Had the leprechauns gone into hiding? Died out? Did they ever exist in the first place?
For a while everything went quiet as interest in finding a real-life Leprechaun died down. People returned to normal life and the whole thing was laughed off.
But Woods was undeterred and in 2002 he came across another discovery that prompted similar bafflement.
Located close to a stone wall on Ghan Road in Carlingford he came across yet more gold coins. Had he planted the coins, in the hope of adding the mythology?
It’s unclear, though things took a turn for the strange when Woods then revealed that the coins had apparently given him the ability to communicate with the “Carraig” an elder being who apparently served as the elder of the 236 surviving leprechauns, secretly living in the region.
A baffling twist with its origins in as much fiction as fact, quite whether the truth about the existence of leprechauns will ever emerge is unclear.
But every year, on the second Sunday in May, Woods leads the annual Carlingford National Leprechaun Hunt through the Irish village.
In 2009 the 236 surviving Leprechauns in Ireland were afforded protection under the European Habitats Directive.
According to the legend, they live at the Slate Rock below Foy Mountain which is part of the Cooley Mountains in Co Louth.
As a mark of appreciation to the people of Carlingford for getting them protected as a species, the little people leave 2000 cauldrons around the streets of Carlingford for the “hunters” to collect.
Leprechauns may not exist. The whole thing may have been a hoax. But try telling that to this Irish community during hunting season. They might just tell you otherwise.