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by Pat McDermott

Ireland’s Prince Liam, a talented storyteller,
visits a Dublin hospital to entertain sick children with tales about leprechauns.


A faithful team of volunteers served the children’s wing of Dublin’s St. Bridget’s Hospital. They put on magic shows, brought in clowns, and read donated story books to ailing boys and girls.

Today’s guest entertainer needed no books to tell stories. Prince Liam Conor Boru, the King of Ireland’s only son, had been telling tales since he’d uttered his first words eighteen years ago. His “storytalking” transported his listeners right out of the room, a skill that had earned him the venerable title of shanachie, a traditional teller of Irish tales.

Liam wore nondescript jeans and a navy blue polo shirt. His six-foot frame, dark red hair, and lively chestnut eyes marked him as one of the royal family, whose members visited St. Bridget’s often. Cordial greetings welcomed him into the massive, beige-walled room when he arrived with his one-man security escort. The keen-eyed agent sat in a corner inspecting the aides and parents who pushed in beds and wheelchairs.

Liam’s cousin, Kevin Boru, had come along today. They’d just completed their first year at Trinity College and planned to visit a favorite restaurant later that day to celebrate.

Kevin gazed over the assembly. “I always feel bad seeing these kids so sick and hurt. It’s hard to see them like this, especially the littlest ones. Your stories do them a world of good, Li.”

Kevin’s comments delighted Liam. His raven-haired cousin had once considered the telling of tales a waste of time. “I have trouble too, Kev. I have to focus on their eyes, or I’ll lose my concentration. It helps to know I can give them and their parents an hour’s escape from all this.”

He bobbed his head toward the crowded room and its sea of plastic tubing and gauze. Stethoscopes dangled from necks and pockets. Rubber-soled shoes squeaked over the floor as the last of the wheelchairs joined the half-circle of beds and chairs.

A small table and a wooden stool stood in the center of the semicircle. Liam took the bottle of water from the table and sipped the lemon-flavored drink. Resting his foot on the rung of the stool, he checked the black and white clock on the wall. Almost eleven. They’d be starting soon.

The woman in charge of the volunteer program called for attention and introduced Liam. As those who could applauded, she and Kevin claimed a pair of empty seats beneath the clock.

Liam had once talked to Janet Gleason about preparing to go on stage. She did much more than memorize lines. By each opening night, she’d submerged herself in her character so well, she claimed she forgot who she was, and he didn’t doubt it. He admired her conviction to make the stage her life, even if that same conviction had booted his royal arse out her door, so to speak.

In a few days, he and his family would attend the American Ambassador’s Fourth of July celebration, and she’d be there. He’d play it cool, say a quick hello, and find himself a hot dog. He might even eat it.

The last of the applause died down. In full story mode, he positioned himself in front of the stool and watched the children’s eyes, avoiding their casts, their IV drips, and their bald little heads.

“Who knows what a leprechaun is?”

A flurry of high-pitched responses rang through the air like bicycle bells. As he suspected, most of the children thought leprechauns worked for the Irish Tourist Board.

He slipped his hands in his pockets. “Leprechauns aren’t the little fellas in green suits and buckled black hats we see on postcards and cereal boxes. They’re part of the fairy kingdom, though they’re not pretty fairies at all. They’re crotchety old beer drinkers who keep to themselves, but they also love to have fun. They’re sly little fellas who guard all the fairy treasure. Who knows where the fairies’ treasure came from?”

From magic! From castles! From robbers!

“Some of you are right. Part of the treasure came from our Irish ancestors, who made gold into crowns and jewelry. More than a thousand years ago, the Vikings stole a lot of the gold. The fairies took most of it back, and the leprechauns look after all that wealth. They store it in pots of gold that they hide at the end of the rainbow.

“But they don’t hide all the gold. They keep magic coins in their pockets in case someone captures them.” Liam homed in on a boy in a wheelchair. “What’s your name, lad?”

“Michael,” said the child, whose grin revealed teeth in various stages of coming and going. He seemed unfazed by the hard white cast encasing his right leg.

Liam focused on his eyes. “Michael, if you ever caught a leprechaun, he might give you a gold coin if you promised to set him free. But once you let him go, the coin would turn to dust in your hand and return to the leprechaun’s pocket. Now, if you were kind to the leprechaun and helped him, he might give you a different coin, one you could spend and spend, over and over, for it would always return to your pocket. So it’s best to be kind to the leprechauns, right?”

A little girl with a bandaged forehead raised her hand. “My dad says the fairies are called the shee.” Her exaggerated pronunciation made the word sídhe sound like sneeze.

“Your dad is right. All the fairies, including the leprechauns, belong to the sídhe family. Now, who knows what a leprechaun looks like?”

No one answered, but dozens of faces brightened with expectation. Liam sat on the stool and swallowed more water. “He’s a little fellow, no higher than a can of soup. You’ll usually hear him before you see him. He’ll be sitting beneath a mushroom or shrub, tapping his tiny hammer to fix a shoe or make a button.

“And that’s when most people try to capture him. If you can sneak up on a leprechaun and seize him, you can demand to know where he hides his treasure. Once he’s your prisoner, he has to tell you, but he’ll do what he can to escape. If you look away for even a second, he’ll disappear.

“And now that you know all about leprechauns, I’ll tell you a tale about one. There are many versions of this story all over Ireland. This one is from the west.

“Ted Casey was a very poor farmer in County Clare. He and his wife worked hard to look after their three small children and Ted’s old mother. One summer day, Ted went out to the bog to cut the turf that would keep his family warm in winter. He was digging away with his turf spade when he heard a tick tack tick near a big round bush. He thought that it must be a leprechaun.

“Ted tiptoed to the bush and peeked beneath the branches. Sure enough, on an itty-bitty stool, a little old man sat hammering on a tiny shoe he’d set upon a stone. He was smaller than Ted’s hand, and he wore a pointed red cap and a leather apron over a dirty brown shirt.

“Ted’s heart beat as fast as the hammer. ‘It really is a leprechaun!’ he thought. ‘If I can find his pot of gold, I’ll be a rich man. I’ll never have to cut turf again!’

“The hammering stopped. The little man reached down beside him and lifted a small stone jug.” Liam picked up his water bottle. “He closed his bright blue eyes—the fairies all have bright blue eyes—and he took a drink from the jug.” A swig of water enhanced the description. “When he opened his eyes, they grew big and round with surprise, for he’d seen Ted standing before him.

“He dropped his hammer and ran, but Ted’s long legs let him catch the fella right off.

“The leprechaun screamed, and then he cried, ‘’Tis a sad day in Ireland when an honest tradesman can’t go about his business without being waylaid by rogues!’”

Laughter erupted through the room as Liam altered his voice to mimic the leprechaun’s high-pitched panic. A moment later, he switched back to Ted’s deeper voice.

“‘There’s nothing honest about the likes of you. I’ll have your crock of gold, little man. Take me to it, now!’”

Each time Liam changed his voice, he shifted on the stool, so immersed in his story, he became the character who spoke.

“The leprechaun laughed. ‘Ah, so you’ve heard that silly rumor. I have no crock of gold. None of us do. ’Tis only a story you mortals believe to give yourselves hope of becoming rich. I’m as poor as a beggar, I am I am, so be a good lad and let me go.’

“Ted tightened his fist around the fairy. ‘I will not! Where’s your crock of gold? I’ll not let you go till you give it to me.’

“‘All right, all right, stop your squeezin’. I might have a coin or two put by, but they’d be nothin’ to a fine gentleman such as yourself.’

“‘I’ll be the judge of that.’ Ted squeezed harder. ‘Where is it?’

“‘Ow! Don’t be pinching off my toes! All right, I’ll take you.’ The leprechaun pointed to a stand of trees at the edge of the bog.

“The walk across the bog was a tripping, treacherous one, for Ted never stopped watching the fairy. If he did, the little man would vanish. At last, they reached the trees.

“‘We’re almost there,’ said the leprechaun. ‘My meager life savings are under that tree. Now let me go!’

“‘Which tree?’ Ted squeezed again.

“‘Ow! Be easy, would you? ’Tis that one there. And much good may the miserable few coins do you! Now let me go, you robberin’ brute!’

“‘How do I know you’re telling the truth?’

“‘Look at the foot of the tree.’”

Liam sensed the attention of every man, woman, and child shift. He almost expected a tree to appear. He turned toward the spot, pretending to hold the fanciful sprite in his hands.

“Clutching the leprechaun tight, Ted scanned the ground at the base of the tree. The earth seemed to melt right down to the tree roots, and there sat the leprechaun’s pot of gold, overflowing with coins and pearls and jewels. Ted thought his heart would burst through his chest.

“‘Put me down and fetch your turf spade so you can dig it up,’ said the leprechaun.

“‘And when I do, you’ll move the treasure to another tree.’

“The leprechaun’s face turned as red as a rooster’s comb. ‘I will not! You caught me fair and square. I can’t tell a lie now. I promise I won’t move the treasure.”

“Ted saw that all the trees were the same. He doubted he’d find the right tree again, which must be what the leprechaun intended.

“‘You’re trying to trick me,’ said Ted, ‘but Ted Casey wasn’t behind the door the day they handed out wits.’

“Gripping the leprechaun in one hand, he tore a strip of cloth from the waist of his shirt and tied it around the lowest branch of the tree. ‘Now I can find it when I come back. Will you give me your word you won’t touch the cloth or move the treasure?’

“‘I swear by Blessed Saint Patrick and my own fine ancestors, I’ll not lay a finger on either your cloth or my pot of gold.’”

“Convinced by the power in the leprechaun’s oath, Ted set him down. The little man scampered off to the bushes and faded away. Ted ran back to the bog for his turf spade.

“But when he returned to the woods, every tree had the same piece of cloth tied to its lower branch! He tried to recall which tree had the treasure, but they looked too much alike. For the rest of the day, he dug and he dug beneath several trees. He found no pot of gold. At last he gave up, and when he went back across the bog, the woods behind him rang with the leprechaun’s laughter.

“And that’s my story of Ted and the Leprechaun.”

Polite applause topped off the tale. More than one child had fallen asleep. Most, however, seemed happy. Happy himself, Liam spent the rest of his visit shaking small hands.

As he and Kevin left with the guard, the thought that Janet couldn’t have put on a better show surprised him. Why was he still thinking about her?




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