In Memory of a Real Leprechaun
(From The London Chronicle)
I met a real leprechaun in St Mary’s Hospital in the 1970s. Patrick Scanlon suffered from a rare congenital disease, peculiar to Celtic peoples. He was in his late teens and despite his miniature, though perfectly proportioned stature, he spoke up for himself loud and clear. He had no regular schooling but he was clever and resourceful. Never short of a word or a wink. He paused before he spoke, but didn’t stutter.
The rarity of his condition meant there were no specialists. So Patrick was an experiment. The surgeons broke the joints of his limbs and put him in a metal basket with bone seeds and growth hormones. His widowed mother carried him around. ‘Patrick is wonderful’ was a popular refrain because of his affability. Sadly, the joints never set properly and he ended up a twisted knot of his former self. But his mind was as alert as a bird with a nestful of fledglings.
The last time I saw him we exchanged ‘verbal floats’ as usual. But I had seen a mobile cradle with wheels in the Victoria and Albert Museum and thought of getting one specially designed to mount his basket. Mrs Scanlon had bad legs, I knew. Although people would have queued up to carry him because of his courtly disposition and conversation. Still, she was in her late sixties and the social workers were worried about Patrick’s degree of dependence on one person. But Mrs Scanlon was jealous of alien hands. Patrick teased her in a gallant sort of way. She, he said, liked carrying him around so she could complain about her varicose veins.
The experiment went wrong and he died in his mid-twenties, still speaking up for himself I’m told. I remember his watchful eyes and his hands. Fingers unusually long, his only disproportion. Well-cared-for nails, cuticles as clear as his blue gray irises. He looked after them himself, always working with his file. They were hands made for declaiming and he made good use of them. He worked in his uncle’s toyshop, making pumps for dancing dolls. His eyes also danced.
I had only one song in my childhood. It was called for at family gatherings, and my solemn rendering always caused merriment. A half a century later I’ll sing it once again for Patrick. Not because it’s much of a performance, but to hear him laugh again:
In a shady nook one moonlit night a leprechaun I spied
with scarlet cap and coat of green and a cruiskeen by his side.
He hammered and sang with tiny voice and drank his mountain dew.
O I laughed to think what a fool I’d been, and the fairy was laughing too…
As quick as thought, I seized the elf. Your fairy purse, I cried.
The purse, he said, is in the hand of the lady by your side.
I turned to look. The elf was gone
and what was I to do?
O I laughed to think what a fool I’d been,
and the fairy was laughing too.