THE Leprechaun–that flash from elf-land–was perched comfortably upon the west window ledge, high up in Ardmore Tower. Dawn was just beginning to send misty, gray lights over the rolling land. Winds that have blown since the world began were blowing around the old Irish tower. It was the south wind, this morning, that was blowing the strongest–the wind from the good sea that washed the coast of Ardmore and the high-lands of Ireland. The strong, stone tower, tapering skyward, stood, as it stands today, like a silent sentinel on the “hill of the sheep”–the “great hill.” Below its conical top, two windows, east and west, looked out, and it’s on the ledge of the west one–mind you–that the Leprechaun was sitting. He had been sitting there since sundown. An iron bar, inside the tower, goes from the top of the west window to the top of the east window, and once, no one knows how long ago, seven small bells hung from this bar under the pinnacle. They are gone now, but in the old days they used to ring often.
(“That’s so,” said the Leprechaun. He was always saying “That’s so,” to agree with himself or other people–himself oftenest.)
This little elf, in red jacket and green breeches who spends most of his days and some of his nights making shoes for the fairy folk, has been working the past night on a pair of riding boots for the fairy prince who wants the boots by sunrise. Tap, tap, tap–goes the Leprechaun’s tiny hammer. Whish, whish, go his swift fingers. Hum, hum-m-m-m-, goes his little singing tune, for the Leprechaun could no more work without singing than you could sleep without shutting your eyes.
(“That’s so!” said the Leprechaun.)
He is only six inches high, and harder to catch than a will-o’-the-wisp. If one could ever succeed in catching him, and then could keep looking at him, he might tell–though not a bit willingly–where a wonderful crock of gold is. But do you think you could keep looking at him and at him alone? Why, just as you think you are looking at nothing else, he, somehow, makes you look away from him, and, ochone, he is gone! He’s that clever.
(“That’s so,” said the Leprechaun.)
Many an enchantment the Leprechaun can perform, for all he appears so simple as he pegs away at the riding boots. Yes, himself it is that can blight the corn or snip off hair most unexpectedly.
When he sits, cross-legged at his work, whether on a cornice of a roof or on a twig of the low bushes, it’s just as well not to let him know you are watching him. The Irish fairy folk are all like that, and draw magic out of earth and sea and sky, or else draw it out of nothing at all.
(“Do you hear that?” said the Leprechaun.)
Now this misty, windy dawn of a morning, thousands of days and nights ago, as the Leprechaun, up there on the gray, stone tower, tapped, tapped with his hammer, to finish the prince’s boots, promised by sunrise, his elfin mind capered around with many thoughts. The mists were beginning to shine in the dim light of early morning, and the Leprechaun’s thoughts, freshened by the south wind, were wafted over the whole land of Erin that stretched beyond the bogs and swamps, beyond the mounds and cromlechs, beyond the hills. He could tell you the colours of all the winds of Ireland. This south wind was white; the north wind, full of blackness; the west wind pale yellow, and the east wind was always a stirring, purple wind. The lesser winds, too, had their colours–yellow of furze, red of fire, gray of fog, green of meadow, brown of autumn leaves, and three more colours that mortals could not see. The Leprechaun, whenever he wished, could travel lightly on whatever wind was blowing and sing a tune as loud as any of them. This morning, in the misty dawn, it was his heart that did the travelling and it was his thoughts that sang tunes to match. When his eyes glanced from his work, toward the sea, his thoughts flew to Manannan Mac Lir, the old sea-god, riding along in his chariot, with thousands of his steeds shaking their manes as they galloped with him. For many a century, the great, slender, round tower had watched these steeds and the spirited charioteer. On many a moonlit night, it had seen invading bands crawl quietly to shore and stealthily march right up to the base of the tower with bad plans to surprise the unprotected people. Again and again the men of Ardmore had gathered their families, with provisions, safely, into the tall tower, barring the narrow door that was many feet high above the ground. There the weak ones and the women and children had lived, for days, until the invaders had been driven away. The Leprechaun laughed aloud as he thought of one stormy day when the old sea-god, Manannan Mac Lir, had bidden his horses keep the invaders from reaching the shore and the tower. The lively horses shook their manes and obeyed–ochone, but they obeyed!
Tap, tap, tap! The south wind, thought the Leprechaun, will be a strong one, this day! And the wind will draw music from the harps of all the Little Good Folk throughout Erin. As the Leprechaun, between his taps, looked westward, there was a break in the light morning vapor, like the gay snatch of song a maiden sings in the midst of her work; and, through the break, the elf’s long gaze swept across the river Blackwater, and beside Watergrasshill, over the moor-land to the Bochragh Mountains, and even as far as Mt. Mish. There was a tale about Mt. Mish that rushed in now upon his thinking–a tale about his ancestors, the Tuatha-de-Danann “the folk of the god whose mother is Dana.”
On a day, in the early age of the world, when gray moor-land and steep mountains began to blaze brilliant with purple heather and yellow furze, the Danaans, covering themselves with a fog, crept along the east coast to possess the country near Mt. Mish. Fiercely they fought with the inhabitants, the Firbolgs, and won. For a thousand years they held sway–these tall, fair-haired men of Greek descent who had come from the North. After the thousand years and one day more, new invaders, the Milesians, entering along the bank of the Inverskena River, swept up into the land, like the knowing conquerors that they were, to overcome the Danaans.
The Leprechaun now sang, with a little humming chant, the words that Amergin, chief druid of the Milesians, sang when he set his right foot on the soil of Erin:
I am the Wind that blows over the sea,
I am the Wave of the ocean;
I am the Murmur of the billows;
I am the Ox of the seven combats;
I am the Vulture upon the rock;
I am the fairest of Plants;
When the Danaans had been conquered by the Milesians, they promised that they would dwell inside the hills or under the lakes, and that they would be invisible to mortals, except on rare occasions. This promise they had kept.
(“That’s so,” said the Leprechaun.)
The Leprechaun liked what the Danaans, his ancestors, had done next. The chief druid of the Danaans had raised his golden harp in the dazzling sunlight, the other druids had lifted their silver harps in the glittering morning air, and all the druids had played such deliciously enchanting melodies that the Danaans, in a long procession that seemed like a living green, had followed their leaders, laughing as they went, and singing like merry brooks or happy children. Into the mountains they had gone, disappearing before the very eyes of the Milesians. Forever afterwards they lived within the mountains and became the Ever-Living Living Ones in the Land of Youth.
The Leprechaun knew well that he, and all his elf kin, were descendants of those very Danaans, who still lived in their underground palaces that blazed with light and laughter. Hadn’t the drean–the wise, small wren–that druid of birds, often told him what was going on down there? Hadn’t he himself been below the tower of Ardmore, where, in a glorious hall that belonged to the Ever-Living Living Ones, the Danaans held many a gay carousal? Didn’t he hear, at times, their bells ringing under the bog, on a quiet evening? And hadn’t he, more times than once, rung the sweet bells of Ardmore–these bells which never had been rung except by one whose real home was in the Land of Youth? In the Land of Youth was the Leprechaun’s home. (Ochone, I should say!) There it had been since the day that Oisin, son of Finn, journeyed to that land. For, on the same day, without Oisin’s knowledge, the Leprechaun had sped from the green hills of Erin, through a golden haze, to the country of the Ever-Living Living Ones. Oisin was his hero, his great hero, whom he had helped, invisibly, more than he had helped anyone else. The most valiant Danaan of all was Oisin, and Oisin he would follow to the world’s end.
(“That’s so,” said the Leprechaun, as he began the fancy stitching on the prince’s riding boots.)
Now, for the thousandth time, he told himself the story of Oisin, for he liked this tale best of all: how Oisin, when hunting, met the maiden, Niam of the Golden Hair, riding her snow-white steed; how, after she sang to him a song of the enchanting “land beyond dreams,” Oisin had ridden with her to the Land of Youth (and the Leprechaun, in the shape of a butterfly, had perched on the horse’s mane); how, in the realm of her father, the king, fearless Oisin had had brave adventures.
He rescued a princess from a giant; subdued the three Hounds of Erin (helped by the Leprechaun who confused the hounds), and found the magic harp–a harp next in wonder to the Dagda’s harp whose strings, when touched, would sing the story of the one who last touched them. He had even tilted with the king’s cupbearer to win a gold-hilted sword, and had done other worthy deeds. No time at all, it seemed to Oisin, that magical time, in the Land of Youth, but, at last, his heart longed to see his old home. So Niam of the Golden Hair gave him her snow-white steed to ride, but charged him three times that, when he should reach the familiar places of Erin, he must not, once, set foot upon the ground or he would never be able to return to the Land of Youth. Oisin bade her farewell and, with the Leprechaun as a butterfly still on the horse’s mane, he began his homeward journey.
As he was riding along, once more, through a beautiful vale of Erin, he saw men, much smaller than himself, trying in vain to push aside a huge boulder that had rolled from the hillside down upon their tilled land. In pity for these weaklings, he instantly jumped from his saddle to the ground (not heeding the Leprechaun who, in his own form, clung with all his might, to remind him of Niam’s warning) and, with one push, he sent the boulder out of the way. Alas! Even as the men were shouting praises to their god-like helper, it seemed to Oisin that darkness bore him to the earth. When he opened his eyes, lo, he was an old man, feeble, gray-headed, gray-bearded! The men whom he had helped, had with one accord run away; but the Leprechaun, astride a twig close by, whispered words of cheer and sang part of the song of the Danaans when they went into the mountains. Oisin then roused himself and said faintly, “I hear the voice of bells.” Then he added in a resolute tone, “Whenever I shall hear sweet bells ring, young will be my heart.” Since that day, the Leprechaun had often rung bells, especially the bells of Ardmore Tower, because he knew that Oisin would hear them and feel young again.
Tap, tap, tap,–and the Leprechaun’s work is done. It’s little that anyone can tell about him making shoes, or about Ireland’s heroes, or about its grassy mounds of mystery. He stands up now and stretches himself. If he felt like it, he could blow a blast on the tiny, curved horn, hanging at his side, and call, from the Underland, as many merry-hearted Danaans as he chose. He could cast spells, too, on the sea, beyond the ninth wave from shore. Instead, he whisks from the west window into the tower and out again, through the east window. There he stands for a few moments–his feet braced on the highest circular cornice, his back leaning against the sloping roof top–watching the rim of the sun rise over a mountainous cloud.
The sky of gold is changing to the pink of a wild rose. The gray mists, over moorland and mound, are scattering as quickly as the men whom Oisin helped.
The Round Tower of Ardmore again greeted the sun, as the Leprechaun, hugging tightly the riding boots promised to the fairy prince at sunrise, swiftly slid down a sunbeam to the top of the oak tree, where the prince was waiting.
“Here they are, Your Highness,” said the elf, with a bow.
The prince smiled, as he took the boots, and gave the Leprechaun a piece of gold. “You’ve kept your promise,” he said.
“That’s so,” answered the Leprechaun. Then he sprang up on the rollicking south wind and flew away.