Thursday, March 10, 2011
First of all a Definition:
What is a leprechaun?
The leprechaun is a character of Irish Mythology. He is about 2'6" (75cm) tall. He is very rich but extremely tricky and if you catch one don't take your eyes off him, or he will disappear! He is a very slick talker and loves a bit of fun...or so the website tells us.
Not sure now, but at some stage over the last month or so I came across the National Leprechaun Museum. It jumped out at me like a rabid dog in Resident Evil.
At first I presumed that it was some Irish American gimmick in Boston or Chicago. You see Leprechaun’s are a stigma that Irish people do not like to be associated. Unfortunately for us like U2, Riverdance and the Celtic Bust for most foreigners the mere mention of Ireland evokes images of the Leprechaun, similar to the way the English are associated with bolar hats.
This Irish stereotype is rampant the world over and the Simpsons, Family Guy, Darby O’Gill and even Scrubs have all used the Leprechuan to represent the Emerald Isle. The mere mention of Leprechauns’ to an Irishman will be met with a feckless roll of the eyes or a tut, so when Tom O’Reilly came up with the concept of a museum he was certainly taking risk by adopting the red haired midget. Indeed Tom has been more or less shunned by the Irish tourism machine. No self regarding politician or Lord Mayor is going to give the press an opportunity to be seen near a Leprechaun…especially in Dublin.
So a year to the day that they opened, and purely coincidently I might add, old Ollie here strolled in to speak to museum manager, Craig Burnett. He kindly, considering I just dropped in, gave me a tour of the facilities.
The museum is well located along the Luas line and just a short stroll from the new “Italian Quarter” in an up and coming part of Dublin. A word of advice though, don’t just head into the city thinking you can find it. Although there are plenty of directional signs around Temple Bar, the trail goes dead once you hit the Liffey, as the guys in the museum have been told they are not allowed put directional signs on the North of the city…hmmm.
So first and foremost…what to expect. Don’t expect wax works of midget red haired, bearded men. There is actually not a huge amount of images etc of Leprechauns. Refreshingly what you actually get is a real experience of how story telling has developed from ancient Ireland from shanachies (old Irish story tellers).
See what most people don’t realise is that Ireland has as rich a methogical culture as Greece and Crete, thanks mainly to pre Celts and early Celts suspicion of putting stories down in words. There are very few records of writings on early settlers in Ireland with most of the evidence coming from the Tain. (I stand to be corrected on my history). Instead what happed is that stories were past from person to person, generation to generation by word of mouth, therefore opening every passing to exaggeration. As each person embellished the story as they past it, myths were born.
Cuchalain, Fionn McCool, Queen Maeve, Banshee’s, Fairies and of course Leprechauns are all explored. The museum was started off essentially as an art project and you get a real sense of that as you go though the building. Wooden structures, light shows and dazzling displays litter the walk through. Craig also tells me that the tour guides are in fact qualified actors who literally take on the forms of Shanachies as they take visitors along the experience.
Each tour is tailored to the visitor and the stories tend to change focus based on that. I can see how it would appeal to children, adults and even stags or hens who would probably enjoy the leprechaun room with its giant table and chairs as much as the infants.
There have been over 70,000 people through the doors in the first year which is quite remarkable considering the lack of publicity and support they have got. This is not a gimmick people and very much holds its own with the major visitor attractions of the city.
The Irish tourist authorities should embrace this and give them as much support as they need. You get the feeling that Craig and Tom are only beginning and this is a working canvas.
There is a pot of gold on Jervis Street for Irish Tourism. Somebody in Failte’s Amien Street office just needs to open their eyes to see it. Follow the Rainbow guys!!!!
The Leprechaun Museum is located in Twilight House, Jervis Street, Dublin 1. The cost of a tour is €10 for Adults and €8.50 for children with under 3s free. Visit www.leprechaunmuseum.ie for more details.
Ollie McGrath (OMG).