by Judith Allen
A short story just in time for St Patrick's Day. Ireland, leprechauns and luck.
|The Littlest Leprechaun
O'Brien ordered another pint of Guiness. He placed his elbows on the well-worn table in front of him and pushed his Dublin Rebels cap back on his head revealing a wisp of red hair, rapidly fading to grey and settled in for the night. He was soon distracted by the blast of cold air which invaded the pub when the door was opened unceremoniously and the McDonald and McDougall brothers noisily made their presence known, pushing their way to a table in the corner while calling out orders to Ian at the bar.
O'Brien narrowed is eyes and leaned across to his companion at the table and growled, "I don't much like them lads coming down from Glasgow and taking up space at The Dirty Rooster. Looks like they could go somewhere back across the water." He started to order another pint and was thinking about going over and making his feelings known, when O'Banion just chuckled and moved his considerable bulk between O'Brien and the source of his irritation and assured his dear friend that they had nothing to worry about from the table across the way.
Ian brought another pitcher for the table, which also included their new, young friend from America. O'Reilly was there to visit his ancestral home. He neglected to say that his mother was a MacGregor for fear of being banished from the table and perhaps even the pub itself. And he was so enjoying his new company.
O'Banion continued to say that the Scots may have their lake with a monster no one can ever find. They may have their bonnie lads and lasses, bagpipes and haggis, and all those hairy men in skirts showing off their knobby knees. But they couldn't touch the lovely green Isle which was the home of Guiness, the lonely siren songs along the cold, deep lakes, the shamrock for luck,the Irish jig, and of course the potatoes.
And one more thing could only be found in this fair and mysterious place.
He stopped and looked around and it seemed he wouldn't go on. By this time the pub had gotten quieter and those who knew the legend and who knew O'Banion had drawn closer. Even the noise from the corner table had quieted some. Ian at the bar had stopped toweling it down and waited with a trace of a smile for the American to ask, "And what would that be?"
"Why," stated O'Banion while taking another swig. "That would be the leprechaun, wouldn't it? But not just any leprechaun, but the littlest leprechaun of all.
And what do you know about leprechauns?" He asked O'Reilly. Not much it appeared from the response of the American, except that they were little men with green jackets and red beards who hid gold at the end of a rainbow and if you captured one you would be granted three wishes or find their hidden treasure.
"Ah," sighed O"Banion, and the growing crowd in the pub laughed. "You know nothing at all. That's all a myth, you see. I've never seen one, and if there was a pot of gold I would have found it for I am the greatest leprechaun hunter in all of Ireland. The true leprechaun is so tiny he can't be seen except with the most powerful of magnifying glasses. He is so swift he seems like a great wind in the mountains. He is so green he blends with the shamrock. His laugh is heard fleetingly from the mouth of the dove as it takes flight. He is a mischievous little fellow, so do not leave your stout or ale out at night for he has been known to take a nip or two. Your children may see him if he wishes, and he gives them good night smiles and assures them that all is well. Dogs, and particularly cats, find him annoying and bat around their noses to keep him away. He does like to be a pest, you know. The littlest leprechaun of all, the one true creature may not seem much to you, but he has given Ireland its greatest gift of all."
"Hear! Hear!" came the shouts from all around, and O'Brien yelled for Ian to keep the pints flowing, even for those lads at the corner table. They raised their glasses and acknowledged him with a smile. Or was it a smirk? He couldn't quite tell and he started to rise from his chair when O'Banion continued with his story.
"Yes, the greatest gift for the Irish nation, from countryside to city, small town to seaport, and from there it went out into the world so those who weren't lucky enough to be born here could share this treasure."
Chairs were scraped on the rough floor, tables were shifted and barstools were swiveled as the patrons drank their pints and relished in O'Banion's telling of the tale.
"You see, it was way back in the 1300s I would say" he began. The American, O'Reilly looked skeptical, but O'Banion laughed and punched O'Brien, who took up the tale.
"Ah you see. Ireland is quite old, but this is nothing compared to the age of the littlest leprechaun. He can live forever you know and never seems to show any wear, except his toes may curl up a bit at the ends and there might be a touch of grey in his bright red beard." He again removed his hat and touched his own hair with a grin.
"In those days," O'Banion continued, "there was a very rich man who, inspite of his wealth, was extremely shy. He owned much of the land in County Cork and dreamed of building an imposing castle and perhaps making the whole county his own. He found just the right place, the right materials and had enough men to work on his castle, and he was very happy. But something was missing.
He rode out on his horse and searched for days and months, and a year or so and then he found it. he knew if would be perfect for his castle and was so overjoyed that he forgot his shyness and told everyone he met about this beautiful slab of blue limestone that would soon be his. He did not know that others also wanted it and a bit too much ale could jeopardize his prize.
For over in the corner at a neighborhood pub, yes they did have pubs in Ireland even back then, ears pricked with interest and minds filled with malice were four lads from a nearby country, who succeeded in taking the stone away under cover of darkness, and transporting it across the sea to their own rugged land. They may have celebrated with haggis and pipe playing."
At this point O'Banion raised his own glass to the corner table and they answered with scowls. The crowd booed and O'Banion laughed. "Oh not those lads" he said. "They would never do anything like that. Besides it was a very long time ago.
So the slab was stolen clean away and the rich man was very sad. He began his journey home, to his partially constructed castle with the empty spot which looked so forlorn. But not as forlorn as he.
He did not know that someone was watching his pitiable journey.
As it turned out, this rich man was one ot the children the littlest leprechaun had comforted and cared for. He had been a very lonely little boy and was kind of animals and never yelled at his nanny. He was very shy and reluctant to talk. It was hard for him to say what he thought and felt, although the words were always inside him. So, our leprechaun friend took pity on him and winded his way north and across the sea and finally found his way to the resting spot of this lovely slab of limestone. It was being guarded, quite loosely and the leprechaun has magical powers no one really knows about, so I'm not sure how but he did it, and I know it happened. The stone was transported back to our lovely Isle in due speed."
There was a sigh and a titter of laughter as the story of the triumph of the Irish continued.
O'Brien begged, "Tell us about the gift and how that came about." although he had heard the tale many times.
"Oh but the leprechaun had grown quite fond of the stone. He slept behind it and its shelter kept him warm and happy. That was saying something for sometimes leprechauns can be quite grumpy when things don't go their way.
But one day the rich man was out riding and found his beautiful stone again. He was so excited and filled with joy that he jumped from his horse, fell to his knees and kissed the stone in sheer delight. He declared that he wished this stone would be part of his castle and he would have the gift of speech and could tell everyone just how lovely it was and make people happy just to know it was there.
The littlest leprechaun sighed. He was in the business of granting wishes after all and must certainly grant this one. He decided to stay with his lovely stone as it was installed at Blarney Castle and grant wishes only to those who had the courage to kiss the stone. He may be there still althogh you will never see him.
His is the gift of the power of eloquent speech and persuasion." laughed O'Banion. "And no matter who kisses the stone, the Irish make the best use of this gift."
The crowded pub gave a mighty roar and the room was filled with good cheer and laughter. The McDonalds and McDougalls at the corner table raided their glasses and laughed the loudest at the tale. They ordered more pints all around and toasted the littlest leprechaun and called it all just a bunch of blarney.