Ireland has a leprechaun problem. Maybe they were always here and I didn’t see them…anyhow, I see them now, they’re everywhere and must be breeding like rabbits because they’ve made their way into our most holy of holy places.They’ve invaded Yeats’ Tower at Ballyturn, near Gort, a castle keep which the poet restored and where he lived for some time. It’s a national monument now and run by Fáilte Ireland West. A few years ago it had a small tea room which was a gentle place to linger and soak up a bit of the atmosphere. Nowadays that space has been taken over by leprechauns. They’re all over the shop. Leprechaun key rings, bookmarkers, clocks, socks, tea cosys, leprechaun chocolate, Action Men, Ken and Barbie O’Leprechaun. They’ve come from China and Taiwan and set up camp at the entrance to the Tower, where Yeats forged immortal verse. Who let the leprechauns take over his old home? Have they visas? Could the Czars of Irish tourism have got it as wrong as the other suits— the builders, developers, bankers and clerics? Are the leprechauns keeping people away, sort of like Feng Shui in reverse? Is that why tourist numbers are way down this year?
There’s a nasty leprechaun situation in Clare, in above all places, the Bunratty Folk Park. Now, let it be said from the onset that The Bunratty Folk Park is an authentic experience and Shannon Heritage can take a well deserved bow for the great work they have done in the design, layout and replication of Old Ireland. It’s the prize place, has the look, feel and smell of times past. The staff are friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. It’s a place poor Yeats would be happy to visit, in the twilight, of course. You could see him huddling between the thatch cottages, clutching at snatches of folk wisdom and stories about warriors and golden deeds. Maybe see him alone in the tea room, pecking at apple pie and cream and eavesdropping on the staff. I doubt he’ll venture there ever. It’s a pity, because he’d be a great attraction to the place.
The problem is in the village print shop at the Folk Park. This would seem to be run by a private concern and not by Shannon Heritage. The space is plastered with broadsheets and copies of Cuala Press little prints — famous woodcuts which were published by the Yeats sisters. They have the great WB verses with illustrations by brother Jack.
In pride of place, hanging beside Yeats’ poem The Salley Gardens are sachets of Leprechaun Poo. Yes, it’s disgusting, but regrettably true. They’re for sale…sachets of shit…100% organic leprechaun shit, shoulder to shoulder with the work of our greatest poet. You read the lines Down by the Salley Gardens, my love and I did stray and your eyes stray to the hideous packets of leprechaun dung…Where is the mind of the person who put Poet and Poo together? What tourist could not be impressed by such an example of the schizoid duality of the Irish mind? When my companion pointed out that there was a basket of Leprechaun Poo on the counter, I bolted from the place, feeling it was infested by them.
There’s colonies in Killarney of course and all sorts of leprechaun paraphernalia for sale. I was especially taken by the Talk to a Leprechaun business cards on notice boards around the town. And of course Killarney is a natural stop for the leprechaun inspired green Paddy Wagon tour busses. There something going on at Ladies View on the Kenmare road as well.
Dingle would want to watch it. This once proud Gaelteacht town has a real bad leprechaun infestation. They’ve taken over most of the joint and have brought a seediness with them and a stench that is much worse than the smell of rotting fish. Sorry, poor Dingle is jaded, commercialised and tardy. I almost had a Jesus in the Temple moment there when I came on a display of leprechauns accordion-synching Irish music, accompanied by monkeys on bicycles…Sharon Shannon bleating from the leprechaun’s speakers and a gold crock awaiting for punter’s coins. Poor Yeats would have a seizure if he knew. When I turned around, I saw a man in a massive leprechaun hat posing for a photo beside a bronze monument to Fungi the dolphin. Heaven and Hell collide in DIngle.
Out west in Dun Chaoin there are no leprechauns. The Irish speakers there are vigilant and they probably have traps set. We did meet a dreaded Paddy Wagon on the coast road though…on the narrow windy stretch by the head…he could have moved in but didn’t. It was a tight squeeze between the bus and my car and the driver rolled down his window and glared at me. Fuck you, I thought and asked,
“How’re you Paddy?”
Even lovely Annascaul has been invaded…there’s a pub there called The Randy Leprauchaun…across the road from Dan Foley’s famous pub, which is up for sale. Sign of the times.Back in West Clare, my cousin Gerry listened patiently to my leprechaun report, shaking his head now and then. Eventually he said,
“Well sure it’s a sign of the times. You’d never see a leprechaun when the times are good. It’s like, now everyone is hoping for a crock of gold. Everyone is looking for leprechauns, that’s why they’re here. It’s the recession. You only see leprechauns when things are up the creek…”
Are we there yet?
photos: Kathleen Sullivan
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