Never turn yer back to a London wall,
For waiting in the cracks are people so small.
They’re green of envy, humour and clad,
Awaiting the money you thought you had.
They revel in your trusting, naiveté,
Your money and jewels they rob away.
Across the sea they came. They’re Irish born,
They call themselves the wee, small leprechaun.
This poem by B.W. Yeats was taken very seriously by participants in tonight’s Little People Walk in Whitechapel, London.
You see, most of the group of 15 are members of WOLWA, the World Leprechaun Watching Association.
“We travel the world to meet Leprechauns,” explains Sophie Bradshaw, 83, whose father came from Kerry to New York in 1904 as a small child with his family. She’s run WOLWA for 50 years.
Sophie first met a “little green fellow” aged six, in her Brooklyn bedroom. “I couldn’t sleep. I looked to the foot of my bed and there he was. Not cute. Not cute at all. Long fingernails tapping on my bedpost. ‘Gimme yer money,’ he hissed. But I didn’t have any. I was scared. I shook my head. He used bad words and then was gone.”
That encounter scared little Sophie. But she determined to make it her life’s work to study the leprechaun.
“I’ve traveled the whole world seeking them out, their crocks of gold and just trying to understand them.”
Amazing for her age, Sophie is the leader of this group. With her are 14 other leprechaun hunters.
“Someone once stole one of my slippers,” remembers Sly Merkin, from Austin Texas. “Only my wife and I were home, so it was natural to conclude it was one of the little people.”
“Of course they’re real,” chimes in Marcia Fitzgerald, herself Irish, when she detects what she thinks is cynicism in my tone as I ask the questions. “No. No I haven’t actually seen a leprechaun, but I did hear one once. I knew it was a leprechaun because it was an angry voice. Irish accent to be sure.”
Sophie too scoffs when challenged about the authenticity of her stories of living leprechauns. “I am usually alone when I see them,” she says in a faux Irish pub following the walking tour. “No. I am not making it up just to make a fast buck,” she says avoiding my gaze.
Each tour costs around $20,000, which seems pretty steep for a 5-day bed and breakfast affair, not including travel to and from the starting point.
Sophie is great entertainment. Lots of stories like that of the Leprechauns of the Tower of London and how they stole the original crown jewels of England and Scotland and replaced them with the fakes currently on display.
Sophie’s son, Eric, runs WOPWA, the World Pixie Watching Association. Sophie’s daughter, Julie, runs WOFWA, the World Fairy Watching Association.
“It’s the small things in life,” smirks Sophie, whose family empire is said to be worth a small fortune.