Understanding Dublin's National Leprechaun Museum

 "Now what do you think you know about leprechauns," asks Proudie, our bearded and undoubtedly Irish (but suspiciously tall guide) at Dublin's National Leprechaun Museum (yes, it does exist).

We answer in unison. "Leprechauns are much smaller than dwarves, hide their pots of gold at the end of any rainbow, and always dress — head to toe — in emerald green," we say.

"To be sure, that's where you're all wrong," Proudie says. "Leprechauns live in holes underground, so green wouldn't be very practical now, would it?

"For centuries — ever since they were first seen — they've been portrayed dressed in brown, a much more sensible colour." Proudie knows he's got a captive audience. "So who is the man who single-handedly changed that image? I'll give you a clue. He wasn't Irish.

"Can't guess? Well, it was Walt Disney. His film crew came to Ireland in 1959 to shoot Darby O'Gill and the Little People.

"Most of the leprechauns in the movie were dressed in brown, but Walt decided the king of the leprechauns had to stand out. So Walt coloured him green — and that's all everyone remembers." Proudie's right about the movie.

They certainly don't remember Sean Connery's big break came in that movie before he became James Bond. (Believe me his Irish accent is no better than it was in the 1987 movie The Untouchables — consistently voted the worst Irish accent in the movies, ever).

(SPOILER ALERT: If you're taking children to the museum, there's a chance you may not see any actual leprechauns — they are very shy, and very brown, and tend to hide in their burrows.).

In the foyer you can see illustrations showing how leprechauns have been depicted over the centuries.

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There's literary references from Lady Augusta Gregory, Myles Na Geopoleen and poet WB Yeats, There's even a pair of tiny shoes supposedly made by a leprechaun (in Irish mythology, they were cobblers to the fairies).

To be honest, the National Leprechaun Museum is more of a theatrical experience than a museum. There are no real rainbows, let alone real pots of gold.

What Proudie provides (and he's studying for his philosophy PhD at Trinity in real life) is a window into Irish mythology, brilliantly entertaining us with expertly delivered folk stories.

Now a confession. I've come here on my single day ashore in Dublin from my round Britain cruise because I'm curious to see how any leprechaun museum, let alone a national one, could survive the economic crisis Ireland has endured for the past decade.

Yet finding the museum proves as difficult as spotting a leprechaun. It should be easy, since it's in the centre of Dublin, 600 metres from the General Post Office which was the main battleground in the Easter Uprising, a century ago.

Yet I walk past it twice, leading to three amusing conversations with Dubliners who (though very polite) clearly think I'm taking the mickey when I ask if they can direct me to the National Leprechaun Museum.

The Irish Times headlined a story about the museum before it opened in 2010 as "The Louvre of Leprechauns", while the journalist wrote: "Frankly, I was expecting (it) to be a little more leprechauny, and a lot less neolithic".

A visit here — six years later — is still fun, quirky and quintessentially Irish, but there's also a lot more actual education than you'd expect.

Strangely, on this particular lunchtime visit, there are no children. And I'm the only man.

Everyone else is young and female — mainly from the US, Canada and Britain. That becomes perplexing only after I discover that leprechauns are "always male, usually elderly". How do they reproduce? Another mystery.

After Proudie has delivered his initial spiel, he asks us to walk through a tunnel to a wooden reproduction of the Giant's Causeway and its famous hexagonal stones before entering a room where all the furniture is "giant-sized" (so we are reduced to leprechaun size). I can't believe what amusement young women can get climbing giant-sized chairs and tables.

We then move through to a room with an illuminated map, explaining (through a pre- recorded message) how Ireland's pre-historic legends began.

The best part of the museum is where Proudie does what the Irish do so well. He tells stories, cracks jokes.

And adds an entertaining and philosophical spin to human history and imagination — which, after all, is how Walt Disney built a movie empire.

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION

leprechaunmuseum.ie

GETTING THERE 

The National Leprechaun Museum, Jervis Street, Dublin 1, Ireland. Phone + 353 1 873 3899.

TRAVELLING THERE 

Captain's Choice 17-day Bespoke British Isles tour leaves Portsmouth aboard the MS Hebridean Sky, and visits Dubline as well as London, Kirkwall, Edinburgh and the Outer Hebrides. From $22,270 per person, twin share, it departs Australia on June 4, 2017. Call 1300 176 681 or www.captainschoice.com.au.

Steve Meacham travelled as guest of Captain's Choice.

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