Belfast Telegraph

Doubts over Irishness of leprechauns

Professor of Irish at Queen's, Greg Toner, led a team that spent five years poring over ancient manuscripts.
Professor of Irish at Queen's, Greg Toner, led a team that spent five years poring over ancient manuscripts.
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

The Irishness of leprechauns has been called into question by a Belfast academic.

Irish tourist shops around the world are filled with the mischievous green-clad sprites, but new research suggests their origins really belong to ancient Rome.

Hoping to find a linguistic pot of gold, the Professor of Irish at Queen's, Greg Toner, led a team that spent five years poring over ancient manuscripts.

They identified and defined 500 Irish words and unlocked the secrets of other misunderstood terms for an updated online dictionary of medieval Irish.

The word 'leipreachan' and the earlier form of 'lupracan' had been thought to have Irish origins, but the study now argues it's actually derived from Luperci, a group associated with the Roman festival of Lupercalia.

This included a purification ritual involving swimming, which may explain why the first known appearances of leprechauns in Irish literature are associated with water.

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