Hope's Corner: Oh, to be Irish, now that March is here

"I have heard that everybody is Irish on St. Patrick's Day. I am a bit Irish every other day, too. And I admit to quite a fondness for leprechauns and other Irish folk creatures," says Jackie Hope.

Jackie Hope BW.jpg
Jackie Hope is the longest running Dickinson Press contributor and columnist. Hope's Corner is a weekly humorous column with a message of hope.
Contributed / For The Dickinson Press

I am Irish. Not a lot Irish. Just enough to be inordinately fond of Celtic music, Irish potatoes, and Gaelic folk stories. Really, who does not like the Irish Rovers’ “Unicorn Song”? Without Irish potatoes, Irish stew would be lots less bulky and potato chips would be non-existent.

And Gaelic folklore is the absolute best. There may be more magical creatures in Ireland than in any other country. Even if the Irish don’t have the most magical creatures, they surely have the best. Let’s talk about kelpies, banshees, leprechauns, and pookas.

The Irish share kelpies with the Scots. Scottish kelpies are shape-shifting water spirits. Irish kelpies are shy black horse-like creatures that live near water. They can be identified by their hooves, which are screwed on backwards. Irish kelpies are indifferent to humans, which makes them way preferable to the Scottish kelpies. Scottish ones eat humans.

Banshees are not nice. Not nice at all. They are old lady spirits, who come and scream at a family when someone is near death. They seem to be particularly attached to families with the O’ or Mac’ prefixes. In fact, some families have their very own banshees. That is not something I would like to inherit.

Leprechauns are more Irish than most of the people living in Ireland. The earliest story of a leprechaun is the medieval tale of Fergus mac Leti, king of Ulster. I am guessing old Fergus had a banshee as well as a leprechaun, with that “mac” in the middle of his name.


Fergus fell asleep on a beach and awoke to find three leprechauns dragging him into the ocean. He captured the little folk, and promised to let them go if they granted him three wishes. Those three-wish stories never end well. Fergus wished to breathe under water. Bad choice for a wish, because under water he encountered a sea monster so terrible that his face froze in mid scream. Not a good look for a high king of Ireland.

Pookas. Ah, pookas are the best of the best. They are shape-shifters that have either white or black fur, and their tempers are as changeable as their shapes. The most famous pooka is Harvey the white rabbit, from the play “Harvey” by Mary Chase. Elwood P. Dowd found Harvey leaning on a lamppost, and it was the start of a beautiful relationship.

Pookas are associated with Samhain – Halloween to us – and farmers used to leave a “pooka’s share” of treats for them at harvest time, to avoid their tricks. November 1 is the pooka’s day, the one day when he behaves himself.

I keep hoping to find a pooka leaning on the lamppost out front. There are loads of rabbit tracks in the front yard every night. We leave sunflower seeds and bread crumbs for them. One of these nights, I just know Harvey will be waiting for me.

Jackie Hope is the longest running Dickinson Press contributor and columnist. "Hope's Corner" is a weekly humorous column centered on a message of hope for residents in southwest North Dakota.

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