We first met Mad Sweeney when he challenged Shadow Moon to a bar fight in episode one, but who is he?
Leprechauns are well known in Irish mythology for being mischievously cunning short people that are obsessed with their pots of gold.
As Shadow Moon points out in the first episode of ‘American Gods’ Sweeney looks a little on the tall side to be a Leprechaun.
This God who is played by Pablo Schreiber has the neat trick of being able to pull gold coins out of thin air. A trick he teaches to Shadow Moon when he bests him in a bar fight. Unfortunately Mad Sweeney is down on his luck while trying to fit within modern America, and losing the bar fight has changed his luck for the worse. As you you’ll find out in tonights episode.
In ‘American Gods’ Mad Sweeney is loyal to Mr Wednesday. He is kind of an Irish Sprite. Other characters in Neil Gaiman’s book reveal that it is a bit of an Irish joke to refer to Leprechauns as short people.
In the novel we find out that Mad Sweeney originated from Ireland, where he was the guardian of a sacred rock more than three thousand years ago. He came to America because of a girl from Bantry Bay.
The name Mad Sweeney was most likely taken from Irish medieval story, Buile Suibhne (The Frenzy of Sweeney). In the story Suibhne mac Colmain, ruler of a kingdom in northern Ireland, attacks a saint and is driven mad by a curse. He begins a life of naked wandering across the country until he is finally killed.
The Sweeney from ‘Buile Suibhne’ would not have been considered a Leprechaun. Leprechauns appeared later in folklore where they were described as little mischievous bearded men, with solitary habits and a pot of gold hiding at the end of a rainbow.
The idea of the Leprechaun featured in ‘American Gods’ may have derived from the Tuatha Dé Danann, which is a supernatural being in Irish mythology that has strong ties with pre Christian deities. They live in the otherworld and interact with humans.
Fans will get to see Mad Sweeney again in tonights episode.
American Gods airs every Sunday on Starz at 9/8c.