Friday 12 April 2019

Leprechauns of Dublin

On my visit to Dublin in 2011, I was delighted to discover a newly-opened museum devoted to Irish folklore. As the newspaper story I wrote about it never went online, here it is for your amusement...

“We make stuff up - that’s what we do. It makes for lousy husbands, but good storytellers.”

My guide at Dublin’s National Leprechaun Museum, Mark, is not boosting the marriage prospects of his fellow Irishmen.

He does, however, have a case regarding the Irish skill in storytelling, with supporting evidence in the exhibition he’s about to introduce me to.

Thanks to animators over the years, the leprechaun has become a well-known figure; we can all recall his buckled hat, beard, pipe, beguiling accent and pot of gold. “Everyone who comes in here gives the same description,” says Mark.

But he’s here to put me straight on the little people and their many other mythical colleagues. And that’s the key to this new attraction in the Irish capital - despite the name, it’s actually a museum devoted to all of the island nation’s rich folklore, covering creatures both famous and little-known.

Entering the exhibition, Mark leads me to a tunnel that tapers to make me feel like a giant, looking back to see his tiny silhouette at the opening. Then I’m on my own, encountering the first bit of fun: the Giants’ Room.

It’s decorated with an enormous chair, table and lamp, as if the gigantic householder might arrive home at any moment and settle in for a spot of reading.

Mark’s told me that people can do what they like in here, so visitors often clamber up onto the furniture for a giant’s-eye view.

Then it’s time for some high-tech content in the Map Room. A big circular table is illuminated with impressive projections, outlining mythical creatures of the night - banshees among them - with the aid of a large map of the Emerald Isle.

The Rain Room is next, hung with upside-down umbrellas which keep the trickling water off the visitors below; which leads to an impressive pot of gold on a central pillar. And here I’m met by a pleasant surprise - a real live storyteller, who weaves a cautionary tale involving leprechauns and the human greed for the precious metal.

She has more tales to tell in the succeeding room of burnished bronze walls, onto which are projected images of animals and fairies. Irish fairies are not built along the lines of Disney’s Tinkerbell, but are capricious and powerful creatures given to stealing baby boys, I’m told, among other scary activities.

The story teller also relates some outlandish tales of Finn McCool, a legendary warrior whose feats got bigger with each retelling.

After peering into a magical well, I end up in the cosy bookshop and cafe, having tea with museum founder Tom O’Rahilly.

“We don’t make a lot of stuff in Ireland, really, but we’re famous for telling stories,” he says, explaining how the museum came about. “So okay, I thought, let’s look at culture. The leprechaun thing kind of popped into my mind.

“I was out on the beer one night in London, got up the next morning, and then suddenly thought ‘If Irish people get so wound up about them, how come they’re still here? Where do they come from?’

“What’s important here is that it’s oral history. When it’s told to you, when someone’s there communicating with you and seeing the light in your eyes, that’s a powerful thing.”

The National Leprechaun Museum is open daily at 1 Jervis St, Dublin, Ireland. Find opening hours and entry fees at its website.

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