This Week at PCA: Harrigan the Leprechaun

Actor/musician Barry Dale, known to two generations of Canadians as Harrigan the Leprechaun.

In a time before satellite television, Netflix and twenty four hour cartoon networks, kids didn’t have a lot of choice in what they could watch on TV.  With usually less than twelve channels to choose from, they were a captive audience for their local station’s offerings.  It was a different time for children’s television, and each station across North America had their own in-house live action kids’ show that relied on imagination and charm in order to survive.  In Canada one of the most popular and well- remembered of these programs was Harrigan.  Broadcasting out of CKWS in Kingston, Ontario, musician Barry Dale entertained children every morning as Harrigan the Leprechaun from 1970 until 1992.  The premise was simple.  Dressed in green and speaking in an Irish accent, Harrigan could grow big and small as he read letters and told jokes with his assistant Deb-Lyn the Elf, or read stories with Mr. Green.  He sang songs, danced jigs and basically ad-libbed the show.   It was a simple concept, but it entertained kids for over two decades.  And then there was the theme song.  Every kid that grew up in Ontario during the 70’s and 80’s knows that “H-A- Double R-I-G-A-N” spells Harrigan.  It’s one of those songs that gets stuck in your brain, and will never go away.

Although Harrigan has been off the air for over twenty years, it is still one of those shows that lingers in the back of our minds and unites us as Canadian Gen-Xers. It is a strange little program from our youth which little has been written about.  Meanwhile, Barry Dale had completely fallen off the pop culture radar.  A popular story that he owned a pizzeria in Kingston was often told, but a phone call in 2005 in an attempt to contact Barry Dale proved futile.  Barry Dale seemed nowhere to be found.  It wasn’t until this year, after posting a picture of Harrigan on my facebook page on St. Patrick’s Day, that a tip pointed me across the border to Arizona where Barry Dale continues to work as a musician!  Who would have ever thought of looking for a Canadian leprechaun in sunny Arizona?  A few phone calls and I was speaking with Barry Dale.  I recognized his voice immediately despite the lack of Irish accent.  I had found my favourite leprechaun!  Does that mean that I get a pot of gold?

The treasure was in fact, a lovely visit with Barry Dale.  Despite putting his Harrigan days far in the past, Barry spoke fondly of his time as a children’s television host, and revealed an on-stage dynamic that no research available could ever have prepared me.  Barry Dale revealed all the secrets behind the origins of Harrigan, the song, and more in what would become one of my most exclusive interviews.

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