Below is an excerpt from GINNED! Magazine about Blackwater Distillery's Nº 5 London Dry Gin. Every month, Craft Gin Club members receive a bottle of amazing small-batch gins accompanied by GINNED! Magazine which is full of features about the gin, the distillery and loads of fascinating features.
As you gaze upon the hills near the Irish town of Carlingford on the Cooley Peninsula in County Louth, you will understand how the Irish isle came to be known as the Emerald Isle. Dressed in green, the hills stand out against the seaside backdrop of Carlingford Lough and rise to reach the top of Slieve Foye, otherwise known as Carlingford Mountain.
If you spend a while looking - a long while - perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to spot another of the region’s attractions dressed in green, a Leprechaun. For under the ground of Slieve Foye live the last of Ireland’s unofficial mascot, all 236 of the compact cobblers. How do we know their precise numbers? Because they told local resident Kevin Woods, otherwise known as The Leprechaun Whisperer, who has dedicated himself to protecting what we now know to be the last of the Emerald Isle’s smallest citizens.
“There were once millions of Leprechauns in Ireland,” explains the Whisperer who himself has seen three of the friendly fairies in his lifetime. “When people stopped believing in them they all died out with the exception of 236 of them.”
One in particular that died was found by Carlingord businessman and pub owner, P. J. O’Hare in 1989. O’Hare was out and about on Slieve Foye when he heard a scream coming from the direction of the mountain’s wishing well. He ventured over to the well where to his surprise discovered a little green coat, tiny-trousers and the skeleton of what appeared to be a miniature man. He gathered his find, brought it back to Carlingford, and installed his discovery in his pub for all to see. The passed-away pixie’s remains lie in the bar to this day. At the time, even with this proof, Woods couldn’t bring himself to believe that the small skeleton was that of an actual Leprechaun. Until he found his coins.
When he came across the remains, O’Hare unveiled four coins from the jacket pocket of the lost Lilliputian which he proudly displayed with the rest of his prize. One day in 2002, those coins disappeared only to resurface several years later… in the Leprechaun Whisperer’s brick wall.
Legend has it that O’Hare hid the coins in Woods’ wall before he died with the hopes of converting a non-believer. It worked. But not immediately.
At first amused by his discovery, Woods’ doubts completely subsided months later when he saw three of the elusive elves with his own eyes while walking on Sieve Foye with his dog. According to the now-converted believer, he and his dog stumbled upon the tiny trio chatting away amongst themselves - obviously gifted with blarney - around half eleven in the morning and stood shocked “for what I thought was a good minute”, remembers Woods.
The dumbstruck duo returned home to find an angry wife who had been wondering where her husband had been all day. But Woods hadn’t realized he had been gone that long. Still thinking it was morning, he quickly deducted that the magical midgets had mesmerized him for hours, although he had trouble explaining that to his wife who duly declined to speak with him for the following weeks.
But this did not stop him from being able to communicate with his new friends, particularly Carraig, the elder of the 236 surviving sprites. His conversations with Carraig is how Woods has become so knowledgeable in the lives of Leprechauns and why he is now their only Whisperer.
His conversations also convinced him to take his love of Leprechauns to the next level. To celebrate the continued existence of the little green men every year, he organises the Carlingford National Leprechaun Hunt, an event that has rapidly grown in popularity and attracts thousands each year from Ireland and abroad. Participants scour the side of Sieve Foye for the minuscule men and many of them actually succeed in finding them. Well, at least their plastic personas. Woods conceals one hundred figurines somewhere on the mountain with each carrying a monetary prize for the finder with a total of €2,000 up for grabs.
When you visit Carlingford for the hunt, be sure to buy your Leprechaun Hunting License so that you do not fall foul of the authorities: Leprechaun’s are protected by European Union law.
No, we’re not kidding.
After years of petitioning, in 2009 Woods succeeded in convincing the European Habitats Directive to pass an initiative guarding “a variety of wild animals plants and habitats and in particular…the habitat of Leprechauns - the little people of Ireland.” The Directive goes on to declare Sieve Foye as “last recognised area… in Ireland where these little people are known to exist. We are aware too that their numbers have dwindled to levels near to extinction.”
There you have it. What was once thought to be the stuff of legends is now enshrined in the very real statutes of Europe’s main administrative body. But if you’re still searching for that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and happen to catch a Leprechaun while you’re at it, don’t worry. Just use one of your three wishes to keep you out of jail.