Beachcombing has been spending some time in the last few days looking at the fairy lore of Irish immigrants: spurred on by his continuing failure to find the New York changeling case. Not surprisingly the city of Liverpool stuck out: Liverpool was flooded by Irish workers in the nineteenth century, particularly after the horrors of the famine, and Liverpudlian is, to this day, the one English ‘accent’ that shows signs of Irish influence. Beach has managed to track down a thin gruel of nineteenth-century fairy references from Liverpool, in a period where one fifth to one third of the city was of Irish decent. He would be extremely grateful for any help here: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com However, he also stumbled upon the curious story of the Liverpool Leprechauns.
Beach should start by saying that this story is somewhat outside his normal remit. It is very modern, it involves lots of screaming children, and, worst of all, UFOs (hats off to Magonia) make an unwelcome sweep over the Mersey… But it is also entertaining and, hey, rather the Summer of the Leprechauns than the Summer of Sam.
30 June 1964 children (number unspecified) saw ‘little men’ (numbers variable) in Jubilee Park near that vortex of northern necroticism, ‘the bowling green’. (If Beach ever writes a horror short story it will be called simply, ‘the Bowling Green’ and it will be illustrated by a man with bushy eyebrows drinking piss-weak ale.) Quite what the children saw has been much debated. ‘White hats’ on the little men were noted, as were their antics in throwing sods at each other. What is documented is that very rapidly the little men were interpreted (by the press?) as being leprechauns.
Leprechauns are, of course, an Irish solitary fairy known for shoe-making and vast wealth: Beach’s daughter recently shared with him the insight that the leprechaun might be rich because he sells lots of shoes. Legend claims that if you grab and hold a leprechaun you will be able to claim the fey’s treasure. So was ‘leprechaun’ just a reflex word picked up by a local journalist: leprechaun are always male, the connection might have been as simple as that? Or do we have here third of fourth generation Irish children living the stories told them by their grandparents? And in either case was this all hysteria? Beach’s belief system requires him to nod sagely here. But some modern Liverpudlians have memories. Make what you will of the following two.
I was one of the school children that saw those leprichauns I attended Brae Street School and we all saw them popping in and out of a window overlooking the school yard , there were about 4 of them all tiny dressed like a school book idea of a typical gnome and they sat swinging their legs on the window ledge getting in and out. What they were I don’t know I only know what they looked like. I’d love to know the truth!!!
I certainly [remember leprechauns], and I actually saw a few of them on Kensington Fields, close to the library, but my parents and other adults tried to convince me that I”d been seeing things. This would be one afternoon in early July 1964, around 4.30pm, and I remember it as if it were yesterday. I was 10 at the time and on my way to play football with my mates and saw these little (I”d say just a few inches tall) men dressed in red and black, standing in the grass, looking at me. I’m sure one of them had some type of hat on. I panicked and ran all the way home. My mum said there had been reports of leprechauns and little men on Jubilee Drive and Edge Lane the day before. That same evening crowds turned up on Jubilee Drive, and I remember a girl with a jam jar that she was going to put the leprechauns in!
Luckily, a history blog can leave the existential questions to one side and go like a hungry ferret after the hysteria. By the 1st word was spreading among the little folk (the children not the fairies) and swarms descended on Jubilee Park to see for themselves.
It was all too much for Irish parks constable James Nolan. ‘I don’t believe in leprechauns myself’, he said. He called in the city police. Police in cars and on motorcycles arrived. They cleared the hundreds of youngsters from the bowling greens — the reported playground of the wee folk — closed the gate, and stood guard. But beyond the bowling green gates the youngsters milled, tiny tots to 14-year-olds. They crammed the top of the covered reservoir for a better view of the bowling green. Tolerant bobbies wandered about trying to get the youngsters on the move. But the kids would not believe that there were no little green men. It was not until after 10pm that the park was cleared. How the story started was not known, but last night was the second night running of the leprechaun hunt. And how did those little brownies who help the Irish housewife with her chores come to arrive in Liverpool? Maybe they flew from old Ireland. A woman resident in Crosby last night reported seeing ‘strange objects glistening in the sky, whizzing over the river to the city from the Irish Sea’. 1 July 1964
The Crosby UFO and perhaps the ‘green’ men can be dismissed. They both sound like a journalist’s fugue. But by 10 July rumour had come to nearby Kirkby where children believed that there were fairies in the churchyard of St Chad’s there. It took ten days and the intervention of clergy and policemen to get the children out from among the graves. Beach wonders very vaguely if the ‘hunting’ element, children with jam jars and (by some accounts) air rifles (!) were responding to the idea of capturing the leprechaun and his treasure.
Beach should end by noting that rational explanations have been offered up, as they always are in these cases. There is the circus school that claims that the leprechaun scare began with a household of travelling midgets. There is the James Nolan school that claims that Nolan (the park constable) set up the rumour mill as a prank: evidence includes the testimony of a colleague. Then there is the diminutive gardener, Brian Jones, who may have set off the leprechaun fever and who claimed as much in a Liverpool newspaper in 1982. In any case, the Liverpool-Kirkby kerfuffle would make a great final chapter for a book of modern fairy.
14 May 2012: Southern Man quotes direct from the great Janet Bord, The Traveller’s Guide to Fairy Sites on the Liverpool episode. ‘The city was an unlikely setting for a series of reported fairy sightings in the summer of 1964. Little green people, varying from 3 inches tall to garden gnome-sized, were being seen at night in the city’s parks and golf courses, as well as at people’s houses and flats. The excitement grew so intense when the reports were widely publicised, that on one occasion a crowd of people gathered near the bowling green in Edge Hill in August 1964 hoping to see fairies (or whatever they were) and had to be restrained by the police. Later the same year, a woman living in Wavertree claimed that three little men in green clothes had been sitting on her backyard wall, throwing stones at her dog, and other women saw them climbing a tree in Wavetree Park. These events demonstrate the difficulty the researches sometimes has of easily distinguishing between reports of fairies, aliens and other non-human beings…‘ Invisible coincidentally points to the report ‘Janet Bord’s Fairies, Real Encounters with Little People for the Wollaton little people sighting–also in a park-like setting, also by children. This was in 1979 and reminded me very much of the Liverpool case you cited, except it was kept much quieter so there was no crowd hysteria and there are no mention of jam jars.’ Thanks SM and Invisible!
23 May 2012: Larry writes ‘In 1989 when the USSR started being more open about themselves, some Moscow children reported seeing robot aliens in a nearby park. At the time the Western press ate this up because the Soviets usually never reported such things. If these little green men are aliens, I hope their taxpayers never find out that they came countless light years to Earth just to throw rocks at dogs and goof off in various parks. For what this is worth, there was an experiment done circa 1982 in a local radio station where someone pretended to report seeing a UFO. Nothing fancy, just a disk shaped light zipping across the night sky. In a matter of hours the station got over 300 calls from people who also swore they saw it. And the stories ramped up to where some were reporting seeing the ship land and aliens coming out to abduct them. Yes, separating the wheat from the chaff when it comes to UFO reports has always been very difficult.’ Thanks Larry!