Lord, I know the Irish hate us Irish-Americans for our leprechauns. It’s as though everything wrong with the Irish diaspora can be found in these little green-clad men. And perhaps it is because the leprechaun perfectly sums up everything we get wrong about Ireland: We have taken a minor figure from legend and made him a symbol of Ireland, forgetting all the other myths, and we have made him the perfect twee, twinkling, tiny Irishman, a Victorian creature moved to our time without a hint of modernity. I can imagine that sometimes Irish people look at the American conception of the leprechaun and think, oh, there, that’s exactly what they think we are.
Like it or not, Americans have seized on the leprechaun and aren’t likely to let go soon. So it isn’t a proper Irish-American home without one of these wee men about, even if the sight of it will make an Irish person shudder.
But we need not be tacky about it. There are plenty of leprechauns out there that anyone might proudly put in their home, and here are a few of my recommendations.
1. Hellboy Leprechaun by Mike Mignola
California cartoonist Mike Mignola’s character Hellboy has had a few run-ins with this leprechaun, and, as is generally the case with his stories, the creature is at once stranger and more perverse than the leprechaun of popular culture. Mignola has not made this print available for purchase yet; the moment he does it will be going up on my wall.
2. Vintage Postcards of Leprechauns
If you’re looking at Victorian postcards, pretty much every fellow looks like a leprechaun — they all wear the green top hats and swallow-tail coats. As we move forward into the 20th century, the leprechauns become a lot more distinct and a lot more whimsical, and any one of them would look terrific in the right frame.
3. Draw the Leprechaun
It’s likely that this will only appeal to me, but, when selecting a leprechaun, it’s useful to pick the images that speak to you. Here’s a little leprechaun cartoon that hopeful cartoonists were encouraged to duplicate to be accepted into a correspondence school called Art Instruction Schools. I have a long interest in this program, because both it and I are native Minneapolitans, and it has a secret history: Past instructors include fellow Minnesotan and “Peanuts” creator Charles Schulz.
4. Bell Telephone Leprechaun
This is a bit of a deep cut and is likely only to appeal to fans of early computing, but in 1958 Bell Telephone Labs came up with a computer for the US Air Force which they called the Leprechaun, perhaps because, for a 1958 computer, it was relatively small. Nowadays, if you can find one, it will mostly be a conversation piece, although if you can find a programmer that still knows the appropriate machine language, you might be able to program the thing to play a text-based, leprechaun-themed game.
5. “Leprechaun” memorabilia
While the “Leprechaun” film series isn’t terribly good, it’s hard not to be jealous of the collector who got his hands on this costume from the film, and, further, displayed it so well.