The Field of Boliauns

One fine day in harvest Tom Fitzpatrick was taking a ramble through the hedge when all of a sudden he heard a clacking sort of noise a little before him in the hedge. Tom looked sharply through the bushes and what should he see in a nook of the hedge but a brown pitcher that might hold about a gallon and a half of liquor; and by and by a little teeny tiny bit of an old man, with a little motty of a cocked hat stuck upon the top of his head.


“Well by the powers,” said Tom to himself, “I often heard tell of the Lepracauns, and to tell God’s truth, I never rightly believed in them-but here’s one of them in real earnest.

Tom made a grab at the Lepracaun and took him up in his hand. He swore that he would kill him if he did not show him where his money was. Tom looked so wicked and so bloody-minded that the little man was quite frightened; so says he, “Come along with me a couple of fields off, and I’ll show you a crock of gold.”

So they went, and Tom held the Lepracaun fast in his hand, and never took his eyes off of him, though they had to cross hedges and ditches, and a crooked bit of bog, till at last they came to a great field all full of boliauns, and the Lepracaun pointed to a big boliaun, and says he, “Dig under that boliaun, and you’ll get the great crock all full of guineas.”

Tom in his hurry had never thought of bringing a spade with him, so he made up his mind to run home and fetch one; and that he might know the place again he took off one of his red garters, and tied it around the boliaun.

Then he said to the Lepracaun, “Swear ye’ll not my that garter away from that boliaun.” And the Lepracaun swore right away not to touch it.

So Tom ran home and got a spade, and then away with him, as hard as he could go, back to the field of boliauns; but when he got there, lo and behold! not a boliaun in the field but had a red garter, the very model of his own, tied about it, and as to digging up the whole field, that was nonsense, for there were more than forty good Irish acres in it. So Tom came home again with his spade on his shoulder, a little cooler than he went, and many’s the hearty curse he gave the Lepracaun every time he thought of the neat turn he had done him.


When I first reflected on this old Irish story, I thought I would use it to advance the notion that the message of educational reformers is lost, like the crock of gold, amidst the many voices that fill our boliaun fields. There are so many red garters that it is impossible to find our way to what we desire. I thought, “We will never reform the system if we have so many voices vying for the attention of educators and decision makers.” Sometimes looking at the vast sea of educational blogs makes me feel as hopeless as Tom.

I don’t think I like that message. It’s a message of scarcity. Being of Irish descent, I understand that orientation, it’s part of our heritage; but it can be a very depressing way of looking at the world. I’ve heard second place described as “the first loser”. There is only one crock of gold, and most of us, even when we’re lucky enough to get close to it; don’t succeed in finding it. We’re left to mutter under our breaths, like Tom, at the tricks that fate and others play on us.

When I look at the institution of education, I get the feeling that we frequently lapse into the narrative of scarcity. There are only so many resources to go around and some of us are not going to get our fair share. An educational salesman once demonstrated for me, what he called, the “educators handshake”, by cupping his two hands together with the palms up, as if begging for a handout. Not a very flattering identity for one of the most important institutions on the planet.

What if our schools reflected a narrative of abundance? What if there were more than one place to dig; more than one right answer? What if no matter where one put his shovel and dug there was gold to be found? What if the field of red garters tied to the boliauns was not camouflaging the one and only secret to wealth; but was an invitation to abundance and success beyond our wildest dreams?


I’d like to think the Leprachaun’s real trick was to convince Tom Fitzpatrick that the crock of gold was only under the one boliaun when he knew there was gold under them all. Believing there was only one treasure in the forty-acre field, discouraged Tom from digging at all. I choose to believe in possibilities not limitations.

I choose to create a narrative where we all can find success, where we see the treasure buried in each of our children and they are never labeled “first losers”.

Let’s change the lesson of the Field of Boliauns to become our call as educators to move beyond the culture of scarcity. There is more than one answer, one path to change. Let’s celebrate the many voices of reform, the many places we can dig, the many treasures that await us.



2 thoughts on “The Field of Boliauns

  1. Hi Pete,

    I enjoyed reading your explanation about the message in the Field of Boliauns. I’m graduating in animation this moment and this story plays a big part in it.

    Do you think there’s a difference in the message Irish fairy tales communicate and the messages and the messages in fairytales of say the brothers Grimm or Andersen? And if so, in what way?

    I hope you can help me with this.

    Take care,

    The Netherlands

  2. Mirjam,

    I am not a scholar on fairy tales; but my feeling is that Irish Fairy Tales have a strong flavor of the “hope and disappointment” of life. The common man facing off against the fates. The brothers Grimm seem to be less about hope and more about “fear”.

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