Ask any Boston school child what color a leprechaun wears, the answer will be green. Heck, ask almost any American school child and the answer will be green. I would bet a good Guinness that most lads and lassies with only a drop of Irish blood in them would tell you no self respecting leprechaun would ever be seen in any color but green.
But if they did, they would be wrong. Traditional leprechauns wore red. I kid you not.
Leprechauns have been in Ireland well before the arrival of the Celts, but the first mention in any of written history was in a medieval tale known as Saga of Fergus mac Léti. This Fergus, who happened to be king of Ulster, fell asleep on a beach. He awoke to find himself captured by Leprechauns! Well, in his time they were called lúchorpáin or "little bodies", and were more related to water sprites than anything land dwelling, but this is believed to be the first ever human-leprechaun encounter.
Fergus made out well, by the way. He overpowered the three small creatures who, in turn, granted him three wishes for their release.
The next time the little men show up in written history, and the first time it is used as an English word, is in an Elizabethan play called, well, The Honest Whore (part 2), by Thomas Dekker. One of the characters is referred to as an 'Irish lubrican'. Other Elizabethan spellings of the word were leprehaun, lepreehawn and lioprachán. I am hoping all four words meant the same thing.
Then comes the years of the 19th Century, when poets and historians alike wrote the secrets of the leprechawns, er, leprechauns. Folklorist David Russell McAnally wrote a book called Irish Wonders in 1888, in which he discloses that leprechauns from different parts of Ireland go by different names and different dress.
In different country districts the Leprechawn has different names. In the northern counties he is the Logheryman; in Tipperary, he is the Lurigadawne; in Kerry, the Luricawne; in Monaghan, the Cluricawne. The dress also varies.
The Logheryman wears the uniform of some British infantry regiments, a red coat and white breeches, but instead of a cap, he wears a broad-brimmed, high, pointed hat.
The Lurigadawne wears an antique slashed jacket of red, with peaks all round and a jockey cap, also sporting a sword, which he uses as a magic wand.
The Luricawne is a fat, pursy little fellow whose jolly round face rivals in redness the cut-a-way jacket he wears, that always has seven rows of seven buttons in each row, though what use they are has never been determined, since his jacket is never buttoned.
The Cluricawne of Monaghan is a little dandy, being gorgeously arrayed in a swallow-tailed evening coat of red with green vest, white breeches, black stockings, and shoes that "fur the shine av 'em 'ud shame a lookin'-glass." His hat is a long cone without a brim, and is usually set jauntily on one side of his curly head.
Although McAnally put forth that the leprechawn was the offspring of a degenerate fae and an evil spirit, he still maintained they were "not wholly good nor wholly evil".
William Butler Yeats wrote on leprechauns and their fashion choices, further revealing that fairy creatures that tend to live solitary lives, as the leprechaun do, wear red, whereas any "trooping fairies" were in the habit of wearing green. The trooping fairies are also known as The Fairy Host or, in Gaelic, Tuath De Danān. Yeats wrote many books on the mythology and folklore or Ireland, but the best one on leprechauns is Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (or, download Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry to your Kindle app, like I did, for only 99 cents).
So where on Earth did we get this image of a green leprechaun? At sometime the stories started saying the leprechauns and the little people of Ireland were one and the same. Here is a line from the 1903 story by Herminie Templeton Kavanagh Darby O'Gill - His Misadventures Among the Good People and Fairy Folk of Knocknasheega, Also Known As "Leprechauns"
He landed among a lot of angry-faced little people, each no higher than your hand, everyone wearing a green velvet cloak and a red cap.
AHA! Is Darby O'Gill the culprit? Possibly. In my research, that is the earliest published account of a leprechaun wearing green. Now it seems they all do. Except the real ones. They're all still in hiding, back in Ireland.
About the Creator
I write about history, travel, and whatever crosses my mind. I love to explore and learn, and love history as much as science. I take a different view of the world, and do my best to convey that view when I write.