In South-West Ireland a farm hand/sheep herder was walking down a rural sheep’s path on the Beara Peninsula in 1835. Along this isolated trail, he happened upon a craftsman repairing a shoe on the side of the dust trail. The cobbler was so startled by the laborer’s sudden presence that he took off into the high grass, leaving the mended shoe behind. Taken aback by this encounter the unnamed herder picked up the shoe and examined it in the palm of his hand. The shoe was only about 3 inches long and very narrow. This cobbler who had stopped on the side of the road, was believed to be a true flesh and blood Leprechaun.
The laborer took the shoe to a local physician to be examined. The doctor in turn took the shoe to a prominent Irish family, the Somervilles. The shoe was preserved by the family, seemingly up to this day. In the late 1800’s or early 1900, author and lecturer Dr. Edith Somerville took the shoe with her to the United States on a lecturing tour. One of stops was at Harvard University, where she requested that the shoe be examined. Under the scrutinized eyes of Harvard scientist, it was found that the shoe is made out of mouse skin leather and had well crafted eyelet holes with no laces.
The first obvious thought was that it was a lost shoe of a doll. The issue with that hypothesis is that the heels had been worn down, as would any shoe does when being used for a long period of time. Also, extra small hand made stitches were noted along the back heel. Indicating that the shoe has been repaired by hand in the past. Judging by the size of the shoe and the thread itself, it can be said that it would be impossible for the repair to be made by human hands. The style of the shoe was a mystery as well. The shoe was made in a fashion that was about 100 years out of date. Based on the size of the shoe, the being that wore this shoe, is estimated to be no taller than 14 inches tall.
Now, another theory that was and is tossed around is that the shoe was made by a cobbler’s apprentice. It was not unheard of for an apprentice to create unique items to show off their skills. There are a few issues with this school of thought. One, the location of which the shoe was found; a rural location meant for herding and grazing sheep; besides the main fact that the shoe has signs of being well used and repainted. Not to mention why would an apprentice choose to recreate an item in such outdated fashion? Due to these factors, many people across the world believe that this relic is one of the few authentic fairy items to be in the possession of humans. That it is an incredibly rare piece of physical evidence that the Fae really does exist.
The fascinating story behind this mythical relic is a bit difficult to verify. During the research phase of this piece, this writer could not verify when Dr. Edith Somerville lectured at Harvard. Though she is mentioned in the Universities archives and is home to many of her writings and illustrations. So, it is safe to say that she did spend time there for intellectual purposes. Also, it could not be found at this time which professor or scientist examined the shoe as no names have been given nor any Harvard records indicate any such item being presented to the University staff. Though, how the shoe came to be found is not clear, other notable historians and folklorist of the time have written about the shoe’s discovery. In Researches in the South of Ireland written by Thomas Crofton Croker in 1824 records as followed:
A paragraph recently appears in a Kilkenny paper stating, that a labourer, returning home in the dusk of the evening, discovered a Leprechaun at work, from whom he bore away the shoe which he was mending; as a proof of the veracity of his story it was further stated that the shoe lay for the inspection of the curious at the newspaper office. The most prominent feature in the vulgar creed.
In another book Letters from Irish Highlands by Henry Blake published in 1825 a “Letter XVlll in March about an incident of a peasant was walking a path at dawn when he heard the sound of a hammer. Upon his investigation found an “elfin cobbler” fixing his shoe on the side of a ditch. When the little cobbler realized he was discovered, ran off and left his shoe behind. Could these earlier events be speaking of the same shoe or similar but separate occurrences? It appears that at this time there are no Kilkenny newspapers who’s archives go as far back as 1824, so any news reporting of the shoe at that time cannot be verified.
It many never be fully realized of how this Fae shoe came into possession of human but it seems that the shoe is still being kept by the Somerville family, In the travelogue book Castles, Follies, and Four Leaf Clovers by Rosamund Burton published in 2011 met up with Tom Somerville, the great nephew of Dr. Edith Somerville. Rosamund visited Tom in his home where he showed her the legendary Leprechaun shoe. Tom explained the lore of the shoe being found in 1835 on the Beara Peninsula; it seems that the Somerville family lore around this shoe has not changed since it came into their home.
Fast forward to the present there is only one photo of the shoe and it appears to have been taken in or around the time it was originally discovered. If it is still being preserved to this day, it has not been on public display in this recent history nor has it been examined since its time at Harvard University. Perhaps, one day this elfin shoe will re-emerge into the spotlight and shed light on the mystery of the Hidden People. Or that could be why the Somerville family keeps the shoe tucked away…the elusive fae wish to remain hidden.