{Ireland} Searching for the Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow – The National Leprechaun Museum

May 4, 2016


100 Museums Challenge: Museum No.34

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If you’re looking for a museum that’s a little different or outright quirky, to visit on your next trip to Dublin, look no further than the National Leprechaun Museum. Yes, you heard right. In the heart of Dublin, this museum, dedicated to Irish mythology, takes you on a journey through Ireland’s fascinating folklore. With leprechauns being probably the best known characters of Irish folklore. At least, you may think you know them. But more on that in a moment.

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Just as a heads up, it’s not a museum in the traditional sense (though you may already have gathered that from its name) – whilst you are waiting for your tour to begin, you can peruse some displays of leprechaun related objects and documents, but for the most, it’s all about the storytelling and the setting that has been created around it. Perhaps ‘Leprechaun Storytelling Experience’ would be more accurate in terms of what to expect. Anyway, let’s not dwell on definitions. It’s a fun way to learn about such an important part of Ireland’s cultural history, and that’s the main thing.

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A visit to the museum is by guided tour only, and your tour guide also doubles up as a bona fide storyteller. Before we set of, our guide gave us a little introduction to Irish leprechauns. Like so many other things, we have the USA to thank for our modern view of leprechauns, which differs widely from the traditional stories. The ginger haired, happy-go-lucky chap in green comes courtesy of Disney’s 1959 movie ‘Darby O’Gill and the Little People’, and the marketing of the Lucky Charms cereal brand. Traditionally, however, leprechauns were more likely depicted wearing brown and red, and they weren’t really all that nice. More mean and nasty than cheeky and silly. Having studied Celtic history and folklore for four years at university, this wasn’t really new to me (my interest in folklore is partly what brought me to the museum in the first place), but other visitors were visibly surprised. Our guide definitely had their attention after that!

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The museum celebrates not only leprechauns, but the whole breadth of Irish storytelling. During our tour, which was just short of an hour, we heard many stories from the Irish mythology cycles, from the Children of Lir – who were turned in to swans – to the legend of Fionn mac Cumhaill. As well as our expert storyteller guide, there was an animated, narrated map, which put the stories in geographical context and introduced some of the other important characters from Irish folklore, such as merrows and banshees. Our guide then later picked up on those again with more stories. Some may argue, why pay a lot of money just to hear a couple of stories you could read about in a book, but it’s all about the overall experience. Our guide was a local Irish lad who had grown up with these stories, and his passion conveyed them to us in a way that reading about them yourself just couldn’t. If anything, it felt a bit rushed in places, but I gathered that was because he was trying to fit in as much as possible, and at the end when we got chatting in the shop he confessed that his tour was a bit longer than the others at almost an hour long (they are meant to be around 45 mins).

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At the end of the day, if you are going to visit a place called ‘The National Leprechaun Museum’, you have to be prepared to not take yourself too seriously. It was a fun way to learn about Irish mythology and I enjoyed hearing the stories, even the ones I was already familiar with. And you’ve got to hand it to the museum, they’ve gone all out on setting everything in scene – from tunnels, enchanted woods and fairy hills, to rainbows with crocks of gold at the end, and giant furniture that makes you feel the size of a leprechaun yourself! At the end of your tour, there are also some further photo opportunities in the courtyard, where you can pose with your friends as a group of leprechauns, or step in to a story book. And if you are interested in Irish mythology, the shop has quite a range of interesting things beyond the usual tourist merchandise.

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The National Leprechaun Museum is open daily, with tours starting on the hour. As well as the regular day time tours, at certain times they also offer evening performances just for adults, as well as daytime tours especially for families with children aged 2-7 years. All information about opening times and admission prices can be found on the museum’s website – and if you book your ticket online in advance, you get a free gift in the shop at the end. On the website, you can also listen to a sample story.

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