Myth Monday: Owen and the Leprechaun (Irish Folktale)
(I couldn't let March go by without a single Myth Monday--and it's Irish themed, complete with awesomely Irish slang!)
Myth Monday: Owen and the Leprechaun
Owen was knackered. More than just knackered, he was knackered and hungry enough to eat a farmer’s arse through tennis racquet. Working in the fields was murder, breaking his back, blistering his hands and for what? A few coins, most of which vanished into paying taxes and whatnot, and what little left made him so depressed that he often found himself in town at the pub for a drink … and that often left him right ossified, since he got to thinking about his rotten luck, which just led to more drinking.
Times like this Owen wondered if his mother was right. The oul’ wan would get on his back about how if he hadn’t been so lazy as a boy, if he had just done his studies and hadn’t mitched so much at school, he could have been well learned by now, and rich. Owen did his best to convince her that he hadn’t needed schooling, that he would do fine by just his wits. Of course, Mum would always eat his head off and chase him out of the house, shouting a gansey load of curses and insults after him.
Owen tried to not let it bother him. He was going to be rich, he knew it …
All he needed was a leprechaun.
Of course, Owen had learned to stop saying that to his mum. He mentioned it once, and she got on a face like a smacked arse and then wasted no time in smacking his arse. Owen told her it was her fault for giving him the notion, she was the one who said that if one were to catch a leprechaun, it had to hand over all its gold in exchange for its freedom. Furious, she had howled at him, “’Tis easier to gain a job than to catch a leprechaun, ye buck eedjit ye!” and whapped him another one.
Still, Owen didn’t give up hope. No one had seen a leprechaun around in these parts for years, but Owen was sure that one day he’d chance upon one.
Owen crossed the old stone bridge, following the rutted dirt road around the bends and weaves, up along the edge of the forest before his home. He as trudging along, staring down at the ground, thinking about how rotten his luck had been when he heard the whistling.
Curious, Owen looked up, wondering who it could be. It was highly rare to meet anybody on the road at this time of day—anybody with any sense … or who could afford a horse or even a newfangled auto would have been home by now and settling in for dinner, or else back at the pub, which was where he’d rather be at the moment.
When Owen saw who was whistling, he stopped dead in his tracks, wondering if he had had a bit too much of the black stuff earlier. His eyes already bugging out of his head, Owen raised his balled fists and ground hard at the sockets, then looked again, certain that he couldn’t actually be seeing what he was seeing.
But, bloody hell, there it was, stepping along, whistling merrily, the tails of his dark red frock coat flipping gaily in the wind …
IT WAS A BLEEDING LEPRECHAUN!
Owen stood there, his mouth agape, watching the little fellow walking along—the damned thing had to have been only as tall as Owen’s knee. He wore a pair of snappy black leather shoes, white wool socks up to his knees, tan-colored britches, a white shirt and green vest and the red frock coat, and a broad-brimmed hat on his head, which was balding, save for a wreath of red hair around the sides of the skull. Pausing in his walk, the leprechaun sighed happily, reached into his coat pocket and withdrew pair of tiny bifocals, fitting them onto his craggy nose. Humming to himself, he reached inside his frock coat and fished round in a pocket, drawing out a long white clay pipe and, after digging further still, a minute bag of tobacco.
Owen stood there, watching the leprechaun filling his pipe. This couldn’t have been real … Owen couldn’t actually be seeing a fecking leprechaun, and honest to God leprechaun? But no matter how many times Owen blinked, he could still see him, standing there, his back to him, apparently unaware of the petrified human standing just a few strides behind …
Filling the bowl of his pipe, the leprechaun returned the tobacco pouch to his coat, then proceeded to pat his coat and britches, perhaps searching for a match. Mumbling to himself around the pipe clenched in his teeth, the leprechaun glanced down and swept the coat aside, unveiling a golden pocket watch, sparkling in the late sunlight.
Seeing the watch, Owen’s eyes bugged further. That’s right—gold! Leprechauns hoarded gold!
All Owen had to do now …
His heart racing ninety to the dozen, Owen took a slow step forward, then another, emboldened when he realized that as he drew nearer, the leprechaun still didn’t seem to notice him, so engrossed he was in finding his matches. Discovering the lost pack, the leprechaun chuckled in relief, pulled a stick out of the box and flicked it cross the coarse surface—
Owen lunged, both his hands outstretched, clapping down on the leprechaun’s warm, wiry body. “Gotchya!”
“Janey MACK!” the leprechaun shrieked, the match and pipe flying through the air. Horrified, the little fairy man twisted like a cat in Owen’s grip, kicking his wee legs and waving his fists round in a blur. “Put me down, ye bleeding gobshite!”
“Nothin’ doin’! Not until ye give me yer gold, ye maggot!”
“Go and ask me arse!” the leprechaun roared, taking a swing at Owen’s nose, only to have Owen just extend his arms further away. “Give you my gold?! I will in me arse!”
“Jaysus, ye got a mouth on ye.”
“Ye manky bastard. Lookin’ fer a dig in the snot locker, are ye?” Enraged and desperate, the leprechaun took a couple more furious swings at Owen’s face.
Owen didn’t know whether to be impressed by the wee lad’s obstinacy or amused. “Boy, ye’re as tight as a camel’s arse in a sandstorm, ain’t ye?”
“And ye’re as thick as cow’s arse.” Seeing that there was no way he could possibly reach Owen with his fists, the leprechaun began pounding and prying on his fingers instead. “Put me down, I’m tellin’ ye …”
His eyes narrowing, Owen gave the leprechaun a little shake. “Not until ye hand over that gold.”
Grabbing frantically at his hat and glasses, the leprechaun looked at Owen in disbelief. “Are ye bollixed?”
“I want that gold, damn ye! I’m right sick of livin’ in a kip.”
The leprechaun cocked a suspicious eyebrow at Owen. “I see nothin’ wrong with ye. Why dontchya work instead of robbing innocent leprechauns like me?”
Owen frowned. “I … that’s none of your concern.”
“Aye, ye look about as useful as tits on a bull anyways.” Grimacing, the leprechaun peered down past Owen’s clenched hands, at how high he was off the ground. “So that’s yer game, ye cute hoor? Ye gonna just hold me like this until he get me gold?”
“That or I’ll soften yer cough some,” Owen threatened. He tightened his grip around the little man’s ribcage. “Serve ye a knuckle supper!”
“Now, hold yer whist, there’s no need to be doin’ that.” The leprechaun glanced up at Owen. He actually looked worried. “The Bright Folk and the humans, we had no problems of late and I donna plan to be startin’ anything now. If I show ye where I hide me gold will ye set me loose then?”
“Wonderful.” The leprechaun smiled and pointed to the road. “Let me down and I’ll show ye the way.”
Owen smiled savagely. “Nothin’ doin’. I put ye down and ye’ll just leg it out of here.”
The leprechaun glared at him. “all right, ye bloody shite hawk, I see ye’re not as dense as I thought.” Sighing resignedly, the leprechaun pointed to the trees. “That way.”
“Ye aren’t gonna pull any tricks?”
“Not with ye bloody holdin’ me."
Any sense of caution was soon evaporated as Owen trudge in the woods, keeping he grumbling leprechaun extended out before him. They went quite a ways through the undergrowth until the leprechaun finally spat, “All right, ye ganky mulchie, ‘tis here, at the foot of this tree.”
“Brilliant!” Tossing the yowling leprechaun aside, Owen threw himself onto his knees and drove his fingers into the ground, clawing wildly at the earth.
Muttering savagely, the leprechaun sat up in the knot of weeds he had landed in. “Lousy skiver.”
Hearing him, Owen briefly glanced up from his digging to glare at the fairy man. “Away with ye, and don’t ye be puttin’ the mockers on me.”
The leprechaun wrinkled his nose. “Gladly! I’ll be as scarce as shite from a rocking horse!” he shouted, then spun around on his heel and stomped off into the woodland.
“Good!” The leprechaun immediately forgotten, Owen began to dig again, only to realize that the gold was likely down further than he could get at. Owen reluctantly stood, resolving to return in the morning with a shovel. To be sure he could find the spot again, Owen pulled out his bright red handkerchief and knotted around the slender tree above his treasure. Pleased, Owen swaggered off home to dream of his riches.
The next morning Owen shot out of his bed as soon as the rooster crowed, grabbed up a shovel and raced back out to the woods. Finding the path he had trampled the day before, Owen ran into the forest, congratulating himself for being so clever as to mark the tree …
Owen didn’t make it six steps into the woods before a horrifying sight greeted him. His blood running cold, Owen staggered to a stop, staring with shocked disbelief.
Every single tree in the forest had a red handkerchief tied around it!
The shovel slipping from his grasp, Owen’s hands flew to the top of his head and he howled in despair; that damned leprechaun had come back in the night and tied a red handkerchief around every tree … and Owen hadn’t taken the time to really look at his tree, so he had no idea where it was. Every tree looked the same!
Hoping against hope, Owen wandered around the woods with his shovel, checking every tree before he finally gave up and trudged home. For a few days afterwards, Owen kept an eye out for the leprechaun, but he never did see the fecking thing again. After a proper piss-up at the pub, Owen resolved to stop being a sleeven and earn money the right way, by learning and working hard. It made his mum happy, even if Owen did have a continual puss on him for much of his days afterwards.