Exceptional things were happening in Liverpool during 1964. The Beatles returned to the city on 10th July for the premier of their first film A Hard Day’s Night, 150,000 people lined the streets to greet them. But a less well known fact is that a few days earlier thousands of children, and curious adults, went hunting for leprechauns in a Liverpool park.
This incident is of interest because of the rapid spread of the rumour and because it appears that the rumour was restricted to school children, and was especially strong among pupils of Roman Catholic schools in the area. According to the Liverpool Daily Post dated 2nd July 1964, the leprechauns were first seen on the night of Tuesday 30th June. Nobody knew how the rumour started, but one nine-year-old boy told the Post reporter, Don McKinley that “last night I saw little men in white hats throwing stones and mud at each other on the bowling green. Honest mister, I did.”
The centre of this leprechaun activity was the bowling green in Jubilee Park, in the Kensington, Edge Lane district. On the second night of the scare, 1st July, the bowling green was so crowded that the police had to clear the park and guard it from the marauding leprechaun hunters who were prone to tear up plants and turf in their search for the little creatures.
A rather bewildered Irish park constable, James Nolan, who had to wear a crash helmet to protect himself from the children’s stone throwing, told the reporter that:
“This all started on Tuesday. How I just don’t know, but the sooner it ends the better. Stones have been thrown on the bowling green and for the second night running no-one has been able to play. The kids just won’t go away. Some swear they have seen leprechauns. The story has gone round and now we are being besieged with leprechaun hunters.”
Such was the violence of their search that the police had to set up a temporary first-aid shelter to treat at least a dozen children who suffered from cuts and bruises.
The Liverpool Echo and Evening Express for the 2nd July 1964 described the strange visitors as: “little green men in white hats throwing stones and tiny clods of earth at one another.”
The ‘little green men’ part of the story was possibly inspired by the testimony of a Crosby woman who said that on the 1st July, she had seen: “strange objects glistening in the sky whizzing over the River Mersey to the city from the Irish Sea.”
This, apparently, explained how the leprechauns managed to emigrate from 'auld Ireland', though it was more likely a tongue-in-cheek addition by the editorial staff in order to make a ‘neat’ story. This supposition is supported by the fact that no exact date nor any information about the witness was given, and the local paper for the Crosby district did not report anything of this nature to its readers.
The 26th January 1982 edition of the Liverpool Echo carried a report of a man called Brian Jones who claimed he was responsible for the scare when he started to tidy his grandfather’s garden in Edge Lane, which backed onto the park. He wore some clothes suitable for gardening, which comprised a red waistcoat, a pair of navy-blue trousers, Wellington boots, a denim shirt and a woollen hat with a red bobble on it. As he sucked on his pipe, no doubt reflecting upon his sartorial elegance, he saw some children sitting on the ten foot high wall which separated the garden from the park. He heard one of the children say “It’s a leprechaun”.
Realising that his short stature, emphasised by the height of his grandfather’s weeds, and his extraordinary clothing, gave the children this impression, he decided to capitalise on their deluded perception. So he claims that: “I bounded into view, babbling made-up words, I jumped up and down, picked up turfs and threw them at the children.” Not surprisingly the children ran away in a ‘blind panic’.
The next evening he was again in his grandfather’s garden when he heard the noise of a crowd in the adjacent park. Looking over the wall he saw 300 children on top of a covered reservoir which gave them a good view of the bowling green. On seeing him they shouted: “There he is. There’s the leprechaun!” However, the children remained where they were, so for the next hour Brian entertained them by angrily shaking his fist at them and by tossing turfs into the air.
Afterwards he changed his clothes and visited the park to find out the reaction to his leprechaun impersonation. Here he found children boasting that they had seen two leprechauns, although some had to top this by saying they had seen six, or more!
The next day, a Saturday (according to Brian), crowds of children and adults went to the house in Edge Lane in search of the little people. Despite the efforts of the police the crowds did not disperse until after 11 o’clock at night. In the next two weeks children raided the garden in their search for the little people, causing damage to a shed and the garden itself. Things came to a head when Brian overheard two boys saying that they planned to shoot the leprechauns with an air rifle and deposit the bodies in jam-jars to prove to their teachers that the story was not a figment of their imaginations.
At this juncture Brian decided that something had to be done, so for three evenings he put on his leprechaun – act in the garden of an empty house six doors from his grandfather’s home. This did the trick so effectively that within a couple of months the city council had to demolish the house because of the devastation caused by leprechaun hunters.
Is Brian’s belated confession then the solution to the great Liverpool leprechaun panic? More than a brief glance at his statements will show that he simply makes matters more complicated rather than clearing them up. His story is full of contradictions and errors when compared with the contemporary press reports. For a start, Brian claims that the leprechauns were first seen on Thursday and Friday, and that on the Saturday crowds gathered near his grandfather’s home; yet the press tells us that the creatures were first seen on Tuesday, 30th June. Perhaps with the passage of time he just forgot the correct days and dates of the sightings, and just remembered the dates of the newspaper reports?
It seems odd that the newspaper descriptions of the leprechauns do not tally with Mr Jones’s description of his elegant outfit. None of the children noticed his red waistcoat, the red bobble on his hat, his navy trousers or his denim shirt. The ten-foot-high wall is of interest too. It could not have been the most simple thing in the world to climb, either for the children, or particularly for Mr Jones considering his short height and Wellington boots.
It is also difficult to understand why the children on the second day did not approach the wall in large numbers and scale it in order to catch the ‘leprechaun’. The children of Liverpool are not normally that shy! Furthermore, all the children’s reports speak specifically of leprechauns in Jubilee Park and bowling green: there was no mention of any sightings in private gardens – and many of the children said they saw more than one creature. A search through the two Liverpool daily newspapers for the period covering July, August and September did not reveal any more reports of leprechauns seen in the neighbourhood of Jubilee Park, and no mention of the rather newsworthy event of a house being demolished through the depredations of their hunters.
For these reasons I suspect that Brian Jones might be mistaken in his belief that he was responsible for starting this panic: perhaps after twenty years two separate events have become confused.
No sooner had the Liverpool rumours subsided than a similar scare erupted several miles to the north-east of the city in the overspill town of Kirkby. The Kirkby Reporter on the 17th July 1964 featured the following story, under the headline “Little Folk – and ‘Flying Saucers”:
Flying saucers and leprechauns came to Kirkby last week – at least according to local children. What the connection was the children were not quite sure, but scores of excited youngsters invaded the Reporter offices on Friday, eager to tell they had seen both these things.
A “strange object in the sky”, which changed the colour of its lights from red to silver, and was moving slowly at first, then very fast, was their description of the flying saucer.
The ‘flying saucer’ faction vied with the ‘leprechaun’ group for colourful descriptions. About eight inches high, with red and green tunics, and knee-breeches, thus the ‘little people were described. And, of course, they spoke with a strong Irish brogue.
Origin of the wee folk remains a mystery, but so convinced were the children that hundreds of them plagued the vicar of Kirkby (Rev. J. Lawton) by invading St. Chad’s churchyard in search of the little people. At times the numbers were such that the police had to chase the children away.
In the Liverpool Echo, 13th July 1964 was the first account of scores of children searching the churchyard at St Chad’s for leprechauns. After what was described as two days of hectic activity, which probably began on Friday, 10th July, a relieved Rev. Canon John Lawton told the Echo’s reporter on the night of Sunday, 12th July, that: “The children seem to have been convinced at last that there are no leprechauns.” During the same period, children had also searched the grounds of St Marie’s Roman Catholic School and Mother of God Church, Northwood, Kirkby.
In many ways this panic seems to have been a continuation of the primary rumours originating in Liverpool. We should note that they could have been influenced by many reports from the general Liverpool area of UFO activity that July, which by their very quantity might have linked leprechauns with UFOs more firmly in the minds of the Kirkby children.
Leprechauns play an important role in Irish folklore, and Kathrine Briggs reminds us that the leprechaun was a fairy cobbler who lived underground beneath a fairy hill. Attempts at capturing him always failed. Another legend asserts that a boy with fairy blood in his veins was able to recover treasure from a cave guarded by the leprechaun.
Were the stories and sightings true? Who knows but it would be nice to think they were.
The Magnolia Magazine
Liverpool Daily Post, Thursday, 2nd July 1964
Liverpool Echo, Thursday, 2nd July 1964
Echo, 26th Jan. 1982Kirkby Reporter, Friday, 17th July 1964