Wait -- Leprechauns Are Actually Italian?
Just recently, we discovered that a crazy QAnon politician was claiming that Beyonce was actually a white Italian woman pretending to be black to cause race riots. Can you imagine something more ridiculous than that? Beyonce, an icon irrevocably linked to a specific culture, turning out to have been secretly Italian all along? I mean, who did he think Beyonce is -- a leprechaun? Because those guys are most definitely secretly Italian.
As it turns out, Ireland's de facto mascot, the leprechaun, isn't so quintessentially Irish as first believed. An academic group consisting of researchers at Queen's University Belfast and pommy bastards at Cambridge University have spent half a decade investigating the etymologies of Irish words. They now believe that the word "leprechaun" likely has its roots, not in the Emerald Isle but the Eternal City -- Ancient Rome. According to their study, the Irish leipreachan comes from the Latin lupercus, the name of both a Roman god in charge of protecting flocks and also his mischievous male cult members.
Why would a country that prides itself on having resisted imperial influences throughout its existence look to Rome to name its most famous piece of folklore? Surprisingly, there is something that the Irish imp and the Roman cult have in common: water. Before they evolved into the rainbow-riding, Lucky Charms guarding green tricksters of today, leprechauns were a type of water fairy predominantly linked to the seas.
In The Saga of Fergus mac Leti, their earliest appearance in Irish literature, two water-sprites the author calls luchorpain try to drag the Ulster king into the sea, but the brave Fergus catches the sprites and releases them in return for three wishes -- one of them being the ability to breathe and swim like a fish. As it happens, the Lupercalia festival (which some believe to be the pagan precursor to Valentine's Day) had a lot of rituals that involved water and swimming. It also included the cult's laughing male members spanking women with thongs and telling them it would make them more fertile -- which sounds like some leprechaun shenanigans to me.
This by no means depreciates the Irishness of the leprechaun, it just proves that they are too part of classic European myth-building, which is even more inbred than its royal houses. And hey, at least the Irish still have Saint Patrick as a hunk of pure Irish beef. What are the odds that we'll find out that that guy might also have a Roman heritag-- Oh.
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