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Some call it St. Patrick’s Day. Others prefer St. Paddy’s Day. Whatever you call it, March 17 holds a special place in the heart of the Irish — and those who just wish they were. Let’s go beyond the parades and green beer to find out more about one of the liveliest holidays on the calendar.

If you should be walking along a wooded path some moonlit night in Spring and hear the faint tap-tapping of a tiny hammer, you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of an Irish leprechaun, the elfin shoemaker, whose roguish tricks are the delight of Irish story-telling.

According to legend, the leprechaun has a pot of gold hidden somewhere, and he must give up his treasure to the one who catches him. You’ll have to step lively and think quickly to capture a leprechaun’s gold though, because this sly little fellow will fool you into looking away an instant while he escapes into the forest.

A story is told of the man who compelled a leprechaun to take him to the very bush where the gold was buried. The man tied a red handkerchief to the bush in order to recognize the spot again and ran home for spade. He was gone only three minutes, but when he returned to dig, there was a red handkerchief on every bush in the field. As long as there are Irishmen to believe in the “little folk,” there will be leprechauns to reflect the wonderful Irish sense of fun, and many a new story of leprechaun shenanigans will be added to Irish folklore each year.

‘The luck of the Irish’

It’s unclear where the phrase “the luck of the Irish” came from, but some people think it refers to the country’s bad luck.

Nonetheless, like most cultures, the Irish have a number of symbols and charms related to luck and good fortune.

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