Cluricauns, the mean drunken cousins of Leprechauns in Irish Folk Tales

A cluricaun in a typical pose, enjoying the good life in someone's cellar.

A cluricaun in a typical pose, enjoying the good life in someone’s cellar.

When asked about Irish folkloric characters, most people won’t get a lot further than leprechauns. You know, those dwarf-sized figures with a big red beard, huge hat and always smoking a pipe. In Irish mythology they were hard workers, who did all kinds of chars (mainly fixing shoes) for people. If they weren’t too busy pulling pranks or guarding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Anyway, this story is not about the leprechauns but their cousins the cluricauns. These creatures look pretty much alike but they don’t work and they’re always completely drunk. The eternal question was if cluricauns were more good or evil, since it seemed they could be both. As they were protecting the wine cellars of those who treated them right, but also tormented drunkards or people who didn’t want to share their booze with them.

Some folklorists claimed that cluricauns are in fact leprechauns that turned to heavy drinking after an honest day of work. No wonder since the two creatures would look exactly the same if the cluricauns noses didn’t have a healthy glowing color because of the alcohol, and if they wore tools. But why would they? Cluricauns never worked, they rather drank the night away and had fun instead. Unlike the surly leprechauns, they always seemed in a good mood. The general assumption therefor was that the two are not the same, but just closely related.

The Irish folklorist Nicholas O’Kearney in 1855 wrote in his book Feis Tighe Chonain Chinn Shleibhe Or The Festivities At The House Of Conan Of Ceann Sleibhe In The County Of Clare: “The Clobhair-ceann (Irish word for cluricaun, MB) was another being of the same class: he was a jolly, red-faced, drunken little fellow, and was ever found in cellars of the debauchee, Bacchus-like, astride of the wine but with brimful tankard in the hand, drinking and singing away merrily. Any wine cellar known to be haunted by this sprite, was doomed to bring its owner to speedy ruin.” Not the most positive description and neither is the one written down in 1888 by William Butler Yeats in his book Fairy & Folk Tales of Ireland: “The Cluricauns’ occupations are robbing wine-cellars and riding sheep and shepherds’ dogs for a livelong night, until the morning finds them panting and mud-covered.”

Basically cluricauns pulled the same stupid stuff as any other regular drunk, without caring too much what others thought of it. Rather anti-social drunks with a bad temper too. Because if anyone tried to stop them from riding sheep and dogs by the light of the moon, or singing old Irish folk songs in the cellar, they had another thing coming. And of course the worst sin a host could commit was to neglect his liquor cabinet. A lack of alcohol in the house would drive a cluricaun mad to the point where he ruined all drinks that were left behind. If a his tormented homeowner decided to move his liquor stock from the basement, the cluricaun would simply follow him and continue the torture. The only way to get rid of them was to get rid of all of the booze. But once a cluricaun had left a house, no other of his kind would ever return to that place again.

A good thing right? Well, let’s say that when treated right, cluricauns were great housemates. For a little piece of the alcohol stock, that they would help themselves to anyway, and some food or treats now and then, they would watch after the homeowners’ properties. The little guys (there was never any mention of cluricaun women) would protect both the cellar and the house from thieves and vandals, they sealed leaking beer barrels, looked after the quality of the wine and kept an eye on the servants, so they wouldn’t touch their master’s good stuff. For sure one could do worse when picking a housemate.

Micky Bumbar

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