There are black sheep in every family, even among perfectly respectable Irish Leprechauns. Leprechauns are solitary creatures, spending a lot of time mending shoes, stashing gold in the pot they keep at the end of the rainbow, occasionally playing relatively harmless practical jokes on unsuspecting humans for amusement, and granting wishes here and there. They are fairly innocuous supernatural critters in the grand scheme of Celtic mythology. The modern Leprechaun has branched out into breakfast cereals and St Patrick’s Day parades, but is still regarded as a rather sympathetic, pro-human member of the fairy species. But what happens when good faeries go bad? Enter the leprechaun’s ne’er-do-well alcoholic cousin, the Clurichaun. The Clurichaun is said to always be drunk, and he is an extremely surly, rather than happy drunk. They joyride on unwilling dogs and sheep at night and hang out in wine cellars, tormenting drunkards and dishonest servants. If treated with proper respect, which one assumes involves keeping the liquor cabinet well-stocked, they will protect your supply of alcohol, but when offended they will wreak havoc on your home and spoil your wine. Bitter little monsters, they are. Scholars disagree as to whether the Clurichaun is a distinct species of faerie, or simply a Leprechaun on a bender, and some have even suggested that Leprechauns just like to hit the bottle after a hard day of shoe repair, and can’t hold their liquor. Either way, as they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery. Unfortunately, the Clurichaun can get somewhat nasty in the meantime.
Yet in the county of Cork it would seem that the Cluricaun, of which we shall presently speak, used to enact the part of Nis or Boggart. Mr. Croker tells a story of a little being, which he calls a Cluricaun, that haunted the cellar of a Mr. Macarthy, and in a note on this tale he gives the contents of a letter informing him of another Little Wildbean, that haunted the house of a Quaker gentleman named Harris, and which is precisely the Nis or Boggart. This Wildbean, who kept to the cellar, would, if one of the servants through negligence left the beer-barrel running, wedge himself into the cock and stop it, till someone came to turn it. His dinner used to be left for him in the cellar, and the cook having, one Friday, left him nothing but part of a herring and some cold potatoes, she was at midnight dragged out of her bed, and down the cellar-stairs, and so much bruised that she kept her bed for three weeks. In order at last to get rid of him, Mr. Harris resolved to remove, being told that if he went beyond a running stream the Cluricaun could not follow him. The last cart, filled with empty barrels and such like, was just moving off, when from the bung-hole of one of them Wildbean cried out, “Here, master! Here we go all together!” “What!” said Mr. Harris, “dost thou go also?” “Yes, to be sure, master. Here we go, all together!” “In that case, friend,” replied Mr. Harris, “ let the carts be unloaded ; we are just as well where we are.” It is added, that “Mr. Harris died soon after, but it is said the Cluricaun still haunts the Harris family (Keightley, 1878, p369)
Beating up the cook seems a wee bit of an over-reaction to a substandard dinner, but that’s the Clurichaun for you. A mean drunk. Like Leprechauns and distinguished from a number of other more sociable fairies, Clurichauns are solitary folk. Like George Thorogood, they drink alone. With nobody else. This is in large part why there is some argument as to whether Clurichauns are just Leprechauns gone wrong. Leprechauns, of course, deny the association, according to the mythology. Let’s face it, if your name is “Wildbean”, you have a lot to be angry about. Unpleasant appellations seem to be part of the Clurichaun oeuvre. For instance, the Clurichaun said to inhabit the Irish baronial residence called Carrick Castle had the similarly odd name of “Leather Apron” (Graves 1863, p277). Irish poet William Butler Yeats considered the issue.
The Lepracaun, Cluricaun, and Far Darrig. Are these one spirit in different moods and shapes? Hardly two Irish writers are agreed. In many things these three fairies, if three, resemble each other. They are withered, old, and solitary, in every way unlike the sociable spirits of the first sections. They dress with all unfairy homeliness, and are, indeed, most sluttish, slouching, jeering, mischievous phantoms. They are the great practical jokers among the good people. The Lepracaun makes shoes continually, and has grown very rich. Many treasure-crocks, buried of old in war-time, has he now for his own. In the early part of this century, according to Croker, in a newspaper office in Tipperary, they used to show a little shoe forgotten by a Lepracaun. The Cluricaun (Clobhair-ceann, in O’Kearney) makes himself drunk in gentlemen’s cellars. Some suppose he is merely the Lepracaun on a spree. He is almost unknown in Connaught and the north. The Far Darrig (fear dearg), which means the Red Man, for he wears a red cap and coat, busies himself with practical joking, especially with gruesome joking. This he does, and nothing else (Yeats, 1918, p85).
We’ve all had that over-achieving cousin to which we are compared. Those capitalist Leprechauns are busy cobbling, and accumulating wealth. Everybody loves them. It has to be hard on the poor Clurichaun, who is a disappointment to everyone. Looks like a Leprechaun, so you think you might get a pot of gold or a few wishes. More likely, he will vomit on your shoes, having just ransacked the wine cellar. Ireland’s National Leprechaun Museum (http://www.leprechaunmuseum.ie) makes no mention of the Clurichaun, which considering the close connection with Leprechauns has to be a bit of a slap in the face for the Clurichaun. It could drive one to drink. As observed by American journalist Finley Peter Dunne, “Alcohol is necessary for a man so that he can have a good opinion of himself, undisturbed by the facts”.
Graves, James. Anonymous Account of the Early Life and Marriage of James, First Duke of Ormonde. The Journal of the Kilkenny and South-East of Ireland Archaeological Society New Series, Vol. 4, No. 2, pp. 276-292, 1863.
Keightley, Thomas, 1789-1872. The Fairy Mythology: Illustrative of the Romance and Superstition of Various Countries. New ed., rev. and greatly enl. London: G. Bell, 1878.
Yeats, W. B. 1865-1939. Irish Fairy And Folk Tales, Ed. New York: Boni and Liveright, inc, 1918.