Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>neo-traditional Irish
Subject: leprechaun
Culture: Irish diaspora
Setting: St. Patrick's Day

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* editors 2024-03-04 online
​"Up until the mid-19th century, most Irish immigrants in America were members of the Protestant middle class. When the Great Potato Famine hit Ireland in 1845, close to 1 million poor and uneducated Irish Catholics began pouring into America to escape starvation.
    "Despised for their alien religious beliefs and unfamiliar accents by the American Protestant majority, the immigrants had trouble finding even menial jobs. When Irish Americans in the country’s cities took to the streets on St. Patrick’s Day to celebrate their heritage, newspapers portrayed them in cartoons as drunk, violent monkeys.
    "The American Irish soon began to realize, however, that their large and growing numbers endowed them with a political power that had yet to be exploited. They started to organize, and their voting bloc, known as the “green machine,” became an important swing vote for political hopefuls. Suddenly, annual St. Patrick’s Day parades became a show of strength for Irish Americans, as well as a must-attend event for a slew of political candidates.
    "In 1948, President Harry S. Truman attended New York City‘s St. Patrick’s Day parade, a proud moment for the many Irish Americans whose ancestors had to fight stereotypes and racial prejudice to find acceptance in the New World.
​   "[....]   Today, people of all backgrounds celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, especially throughout the United States, Canada and Australia. Although North America is home to the largest productions, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated around the world in locations far from Ireland, including Japan, Singapore and Russia. Popular St. Patrick’s Day recipes include Irish soda bread, corned beef and cabbage and champ. In the United States, people often wear green on St. Patrick’s Day.
    "In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day has traditionally been a spiritual and religious occasion. In fact, up until the 1970s, Irish laws mandated that pubs be closed on March 17. Beginning in 1995, however, the Irish government began a national campaign to use interest in St. Patrick’s Day to drive tourism and showcase Ireland and Irish culture to the rest of the world. 
    "One icon of the Irish holiday is the Leprechaun. The original Irish name for these figures of folklore is “lobaircin,” meaning “small-bodied fellow.” Belief in leprechauns probably stems from Celtic belief in fairies, tiny men and women who could use their magical powers to serve good or evil. In Celtic folktales, leprechauns were cranky souls, responsible for mending the shoes of the other fairies.
    "Though only minor figures in Celtic folklore, leprechauns were known for their trickery, which they often used to protect their much-fabled treasure. Leprechauns have their own holiday on May 13 but are also celebrated on St. Patrick's, with many dressing up as the wily fairies."

* Combs 2019-02-01 online
"St. Patrick’s Day is a cultural and religious holiday held annually on March 17. Named after the patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick, the day celebrates Irish heritage with food, parades, drinks, Irish lore, and an assortment of green-colored things—green beer, anyone?
    "Today the holiday is celebrated around the world, with much of the modern traditions inspired by Irish expatriates in the United States.
    "[....]  On St. Patrick’s Day, cities across the world turn iconic monuments green: the Sydney Opera House, the Pyramids at Giza, and the Eiffel Tower are all lit with green lights. The Chicago River is dyed bright green. In the U.S., people who don’t wear the color green on St. Patrick’s Day are pinched.
    "Green is the color of St. Patrick’s Day, but why?
    "According to some scholars, the color green only became associated with Ireland and St. Patrick’s Day during the Irish Rebellion in 1798. Before then, Ireland was known for the color blue since it featured prominently in the royal court and on ancient Irish flags.
    "During the rebellion against Britain, however, Irish soldiers chose to wear green—the color that most contrasted the red British uniforms—and sang, “The Wearing of the Green.” This firmly established the link between Ireland and the color green."


* Harrold/Legg 1978 p63 (describing Irish dance costume)
"Green is the most popular colour for both kilts and dresses as it reflects the green of Ireland as well as St. Patrick's emblem, the shamrock ....  [T]he man's plaid [is] fastened on the shoulder by a Tara brooch.  According to the dance, the shoes may be either soft of a specially made hard shoe."

* Curran 2000 p32
"Although the image of the 'wee man' on Irish or Irish-related products is fairly consistent -- a jolly little man all dressed in green (to symbolise the greeness and lushness of Ireland) -- folkloric accounts of the leprechaun vary greatly.
​    "[...]  [A]ll accounts agree that the leprechaun is usually an untidy and dishevelled being.  His clothing, reflecting the rather haphazard dress of the nineteenth-century Irish peasantry, is not at all stylish.  There is none of the co-ordination of freshly-laundered green clothes that appears in stereotyped pictures of him.  Instead, he will probably wear an old green (or bottle-blue) dress coat, red breeches buckled at the knee, thick wollen stockings and a wide-brimmed hat, generally slightly askew.  Sometimes he will wear an old 'claw-hammer' coat (an old type of formal dress coat which sports a forked tail, typically worn by what was once known as the 'down-at-heel gentry').  If he wears a shirt, it will be dirty and worn, tucked untidily into his broad belt to give him an unkempt appearance.  The overall sartorial impression is either that of the 'reduced Catholic former aristocracy' during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when leprechaun mythology began to develop in Ireland, or that of the itinerant working classes which proliferated throughout the countryside during the same period -- 'not rich enough to be comfortable, not poor enough to be destitute.'"

* Book of Irish weirdness 1995 p261-2 (DR McAnally, Jr., "The leprechawn" p259-69)
"In different county districts ... the dress ... varies.  The Lougheryman wears the uniform of some British military regiments, a red coat and white breeches, but instead of a cap, he wears a broad-brimmed, high, pointed hat, and after doing some trick more than usually mischievous, his favorite position is to poise himself on the extreme point of his hat, standing at the top of a wall or on a house, feet in the air, then laugh heartily and disappear.  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 cutaway jacket he wears, that always has seven rows of seven buttons in each row, though of what use they are has never been determined, since his jacket is never buttoned, nor, indeed, can it be, but falls away from a shirt invariably as white as the snow.  When in full dress he wears a helmet several sizes too large for him, but, in general, prudently discards this article of headgear as having a tendency to render him conspicuous in a country where helmets are obsolete, and wraps his head in a handkerchief that he ties over his ears.
​    "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.  When greatly provoked, he will sometimes take vengeance by suddenly ducking and poking the sharp point of his hat into the eye of the offender.  Such conduct is, however, exceptional, as he commonly contents himself with soundly abusing those at whom he has taken offence, the objects of his anger hearing his voice but seeing nothing of his person."

* Omelianuk/Allen 1999 p50
"[T]here is little reason to wear green on St. Patrick's Day" ...


* Hurley 2007 p63
"At some undetermined point in time, the Irish stick -- the shillelagh -- ... became the stereotypical trademark of the Irish.  Two of the best known 'modern' Irish cultural icons, the 'leprecaun' and his vaudevillian counterpart, the 'stage Irishman', have become almost synonymous with the shillelagh.  Whatever the ultimate origins of the shillelagh, there can be no doubt that there is a native, Gaelic Irish cultural affinity with the stick."

* Barth 1977 p55
"The shillelagh is the old Irish word for a short, stout, oak club or cudgel.  As a symbol of the Irish, it has a place in St. Patrick's Day.
    "Shillelagh was the name of a famous oak forest that once stood in County Wicklow.  A club or cudgel cut from one of the oaks was known as a 'sprig of shillelagh.'  Later, the name was given to any cudgel made of oak.​  A man in Dublin once said that the Irish of early times must have lived 'under the greenwood tree.'  As proof, he pointed out that an Irishman would not walk or wander without a shillelagh.  Away from home, he would beg, borrow, or steal one.  In a game of hurling, he played with a shillelagh.  At a fair or market, he wouldn't buy or sell without the stout oak stick in his hand."  

Eagleton 1999 p154-155
"SHILLELAGH  A village in County Wicklow.  Not a traditional Irish cudgel.  There's no ancient Irish weapon of that name, whatever the tourist shops may claim.  The village of Shillelagh, a well-forested spot, used to produce oak walking sticks which were sometimes used for fighting; but the blackthorn cudgel sold today as a shillelagh has no tradition behind it at all.  Shillelaghs are as fraudulent as the belief that the Irish are a particularly belligerent lot."

 * Barth 1977 p57
"In the United States and in Ireland, in the nineteenth or twentieth century, a kind of stage Irishman was born.  Dressed in the style of the Irish countryside, he sang Irish airs, swinging a shillelagh to add flourish.
    ​"...  Today, tourists bring back mock shillelaghs made of blackthorn bound with green ribbons as souvenirs of the Emerald Isle.  In St. Patrick's Day parades, officials in top hats often carry blackthorn walking sticks.  Children on the sidelines, some of them only toddlers, clutch toy shillelaghs made of green plastic.  All are symbols of the staunch spirit of the Irish."