Short story: How to trap a leprechaun

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Sherri Matthews, freelance writer celebrates St Patrick’s day with our readers with her short story on ‘how to trap a leprechaun’.

The story my mother tells is it was my Irish grandmother (Nana), who chose my name.  Dad wanted Rachel, Mum wanted Claire, but Nana came up with Sherri; it being of Irish origin, apparently.  Coincidentally – or perhaps not – the grown-ups were enjoying a glass of sherry at the time.  Growing up in England, I didn’t know another soul with the same name (except for someone’s pet poodle), and although I liked having an unusual name, it was annoying having to spell it out so many times.  These days I just say, “Like the drink, but with an ‘i’ at the end.”

That was the extent of my involvement with all things Irish.  To this day, I have yet to visit Ireland and I know very little about my Nana’s early family life.  So far as Saint Patrick’s Day was concerned, I knew it only as a day to wear something green, bringing hopes of finding a four-leaved clover, possibly a leprechaun and lots of good luck.  It’s something my parents could have done with; their wedding anniversary also fell on this day, but sadly, their marriage was short lived.

Things changed when, in my early 20s, I moved to California with my American husband and my little boy.  There, I soon discovered that not only was my name more popular, but that Saint Patrick’s Day was observed in grand style.  For the Irish, the ‘Feast of Saint Patrick,’ is a cultural and religious observance, celebrated annually on March 17th, in honour of their most revered Christian, Saint Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland (c. AD 385-461).  Irish settlers in America brought with them their beloved customs and celebrations, and for this English settler living in California, it meant catching on to the tradition of cooking one meal, and one meal only on Saint Patrick’s Day; corned-beef, cabbage and potatoes.  This delicious meal, simmering all day in a slow cooker, was something my family looked forward to every March 17th.

But Saint Patrick’s Day was to take on new meaning for us by the time my daughter attended kindergarten as a five-year-old.  That year, a couple of weeks before Saint Patrick’s Day, she arrived home from school, beaming with excitement and armed with a list of instructions from the teacher showing how to make a leprechaun trap.  A leprechaun trap?  I read the notes with my daughter as she squealed with glee at the thought of catching such a creature, but inwardly I groaned, thinking of the work required for yet another school project.  Yet, as I read on, my enthusiasm grew; after all, as a mum of three, I had learnt long ago to keep an endless supply of shoe boxes, construction paper, tape and glue; so how hard could it be?  Whether it was my daughter’s excitement or the Irish in me I don’t know, but suddenly I felt like dancing a jig.

Legend has it that a leprechaun keeps a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow and grants three wishes to a human who catches it, once the human lets it go.  But first we had to catch one, so I helped my daughter paint a shoe box green, make a little trap door in the bottom, and hang a paper cup suspended by string to fall on the greedy little leprechaun, tempted by the gold-wrapped chocolate coins we placed beneath the cup.

At last, the big day came, and proudly my daughter carried in her trap, placing it alongside all the other weird and wonderful traps made by her classmates.  That night she could hardly sleep at the thought of returning to school the next day to see if her trap had worked.  I, on the other hand, wondered how the teacher was going to deal with a classroom full of disappointed kindergartners, not to mention us parents who would be picking up the pieces.  But I needn’t have worried.

The next morning as I walked into the classroom with my daughter, she ran over to her trap and there was the paper cup, the string ‘tripped’ and the gold coins gone.  “Look Mom, it worked!”  She laughed.  But on lifting the cup, there was no naughty leprechaun to be seen, only a trail of gold glitter which he had left behind, hinting at his secret visit in the night, and a note saying, “Better luck next time!”  I looked across at the teacher and we exchanged a knowing wink.  She had managed to keep the magic of an Irish legend alive in the heart of my little girl after all, and for me that was worth more than any leprechaun’s pot of gold.

Copyright Sherri Matthews, 2015

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