Leprechaun and Mary Caitlin

     The leprechaun of Irish folklore is usually depicted as one partaking of mischief. The story is they cobble and mend shoes, and have a pot of gold, said to be at the end of a rainbow. It is not the author's intent here go along with the lore, nor attribute anything supernatural to them.

     That said, here is a story about a leprechaun and an Irish maiden named Mary Kaitlin. She was a poor girl who took care of their thatch cottage home in Ireland after the death of her mother. The cottage was set in the hills, flowered with heather, where the wind rose up to their back and the sun shone warm upon their face.

     They were too poor for her to have good shoes, and she often went barefoot. She was at times, called the barefoot colleen. But she was not poor for looks. Her silken hair fell into curls of loveliness that went well with her finely-featured face. And her eyes were bluer than the sky vaulting above.

     She had two brothers. Her mother used to refer to them, as the little sons of thunder, as their names Shaun and Sťamus meant John and James. Now Caitlin took a fancy to a young acquaintance of theirs named Michael, who lived in the neighborhood. He sometimes would eat at table with them, when he came by. He'd eat her cooking but hardly paid any attention to Caitlin, but she noticed him, and rather liked him. He was a good Irish boy who prayed his beads for the poor souls. Caitlin kind of wished he would notice her. She even mused, I'm a poor soul, he could pray for me.

     Now it happened that they were going to have a celebration in the nearby village. They would have sheep judging and horse racing. And a dance. Her mother whom she greatly missed, had a pretty dress of hers in a trunk, but Caitlin had no shoes for dancing, barely more than work shoes, when she wasn't going about barefoot. A tear stole into her eye, and a bit of sadness into her heart.

     One evening, she sat on the front porch. In front of their humble cottage there grew a clump of rose bushes. As she was looking up at the pretty moon, it seemed to her, that something moved in the bushes. She lit a candle and to see what it might be. Carefully, she pulled aside a couple of the thorn branches. Even though the moon shone down, there was darkness inside the bushes, but illumined by the candle light, she spied a leprechaun caught in the thorns! And she happened to look directly into his eyes as he tried to look away.

     Occasionally when she went to the meadow to fetch the cows for milking in the morning, she glimpsed them as they gathered dewdrops from buttercups, or saw them as they scurried down from a tree where the bees stored their honey. Now she saw one close up.

     Setting the candle down, she cautiously pulled the thorns away from sticking to his clothes, freeing him. Grumpily, the leprechaun spoke to her. "All right, colleen, what is the first of the three wishes"? Mary Caitlin knew the legend, if you looked a leprechaun square in the eye, he became your slave and had to grant you three wishes. And that included leading you to the pot of gold, that is, if you could keep your eye on him.

     "It will cost you nothing, little man. Besides, it wouldn't be fair as you were caught and held fast in the thorns." Bewildered, he thought, "Usually people be wanting anything they can lay their hands on. Is there such a thing as an unselfish soul in the world"?

     He said to her, "I've heard where thy treasure is, there is thy heart too. You mean to tell me your heart 'tisn't on treasure"? Caitlin smiled and said, "O it 'tis. But treasure isn't only gold coin. Treasure 'tis what you want the most or hate to lose the most. And, in that way, I've treasure in m'heart."

     The leprechaun thanked her for loosing him from the thorns, bid her a good evening and disappeared into the moonlit night. She blew out the candle, and saw the whisp of smoke rising from the wick. And like the whisp, thus had gone her chances at wishes granted. Yet she felt a sense of peace.

     Caitlin gave up her hopes of going to the dance. She was drying the dishes one evening when she heard a sound by the front door. She opened it and looked out into the night, but saw nothing. As she was about to close the door, she looked down at the porch illumined from the lamplight in the house, and she noticed the most beautiful pair of shoes she'd ever seen. They were so pretty--pretty as the heather of the hill. She wondered who could've put them there. They fit perfectly! Her heart skipped a beat. Then the thought came to her: Could it be...could it be him? She noted the nails. Yes, it must be, as these wee people make shoes. It has to be from him. What a lovely thing he's done! A golden heart, he has.

     With her mother's party dress from the trunk, and the pretty new shoes, she went to the dance, and danced with more grace and beauty than anyone else there. And Michael the lad was there, too, and a bit bashfully asked her to dance. And not just once. He seemed to enjoy stepping to the music with her.

      Somewhere, out in the night, a leprechaun was poorer in coin but happier in heart. He'd melted down some of his pieces of gold to make the nails for her shoes. To this day, no one knows where she got those shoes, as it's a secret shared only by the leprechaun and Mary Caitlin.
 ―John Riedell

This story is rewritten from one published many years ago, entitled "The Fair Colleen and the Leprechaun,"  wherein the maiden was named Mary Cathleen, but here named Mary Caitlin.  The ink drawing was taken from the art that went with it.

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