The Lucky Charm: A Folktale of Loch Kilbrean, Ireland

Kilbrean Lake
Pinpoint Location: Kilbrean Lake, County Kerry / Map data ©2018 Google

This folktale from Loch Kilbrean tells the story of Darby O’Reilyy, who received a lucky charm from a devious Cluricaune.

There was once a group of Irishmen, who, under the denomination of poor scholars, travelled from parish to parish, and county to county, in order to increase their knowledge.

These poor scholars were, for the most part, men of around twenty years of age; agreeable fellows, who could tell a good story, and never refused to lend a helping hand. They were welcome to stay at every farmer’s house throughout the country.

It happened one evening in the month of July, that one of these peripatetics, a stout, platter-faced man by name Darby O’Reily, made his appearance at the house of the widow Fleming, who dwelt not far from the old church of Kilcummin.

Now, the widow Fleming, who since her husband’s death had managed a large farm by herself, was glad to see Darby O’Reily for a variety of reasons. Not only would Darby lend a helping hand with hay harvest, and keep the other working men in good humour with his merry stories; he would also teach the children. But above all she was a lonely woman, and Darby was a pleasant companion, and an old acquaintance.

So, Darby received more than a common welcome from the widow Fleming. After having partaken of the good cheer, and having renewed his acquaintance with the inhabitants of the house, including Darby the dog, that was called after him, and the cat; he proposed to step down to the pub, just to shuffle the brogue with his old sweethearts, hear the news and see how the neighbours were getting on.

Whether it was the mention of sweethearts that disagreed with the widow, or whatever else might have been the cause, she much opposed Darby’s going to the pub; but seeing that she could not keep him from going, she merely warned him to be back early, and not to keep up the house.

Darby found himself quite at home in the pub, and as welcome as the flowers of May. The pipes played merrily, while he danced with the prettiest girls in all the Barony. And since dancing is droughty work, and everyone strived to be the first to treat him, Darby soon became as comfortable as anyone could wish to be.

But while Darby was drinking, and dancing, and making merry, he never remembered it was time to go home, or bestowed a single thought upon the widow Fleming, which was very ungrateful, considering that she was sitting up awaiting his return.

The longest day will have an end, and the greatest merriment must at length give way to repose, as Darby found to his sorrow, when the party broke up, and he had to stagger away as well as he could.

Darby didn’t know which way he was going, and, as bad luck would have it, he went every way but the right; for instead of keeping the straight road, he turned off through the fields, and, after wandering about for an hour, found himself in the old fort at Clauteens.

Though it was easy to enter the fort, Darby couldn’t get out again; it appeared to him as if the fort had increased its dimensions to a boundless extent. He wandered up and down and round about for a long time, and at last sat down on a stone to think.

“There’s small fun sitting on a cold stone in the moonshine,” Darby muttered, “bewitched by the fairies, and stuck in the middle of an old fort; but what can’t be cured must be endured”

No sooner had he come to this conclusion, than he heard a tremendous hammering underneath the very stone he was sitting on. Plucking up his courage, he took a peep under the stone.

A Cluricaune was sitting under a projecting ledge of what had been his seat, hammering as hard as he could at the heel of an old shoe. Although Darby was afraid of the fairies, he wasn’t a bit in dread of a Cluricaune; for they say if you catch a Cluricaune and keep him fast, he’ll show you where his purse is hidden.

But Darby wasn’t thinking of purses; he’d rather get out of the fort. So when he saw the Cluricaune, he thought that maybe the creature would lend him a helping hand, for they say the little fellow is fond of a drop himself.

“Success to you,” Darby said.

“Darby, my jolly buck, is that you?” the Cluricaune replied, getting up from his work, and looking him full in the face.

“The very same.”

“What brought you here?” the Cluricaune asked, “Got yourself into a bit of a scrape?”

“I’m afraid so,” Darby said, “if you don’t lend me a helping hand.”

So Darby told the Cluricaun how he stopped at the widow Fleming’s, how he went down to the pub, and being a little overtaken in liquor, how he wandered through the fields until he found himself in the old fort, and wasn’t able to find his way out again.

“You’re in danger, Darby,” the Cluricaune said, “for the good people will be here soon, and if they find you it will not end well.”

“Oh, murder!” Darby cried, “I throw my life upon the heel of your honour’s shoe.”

“Well,” the Cluricaune said, “you’re a rollocking lad as ever tipped a can, and it’s a pity any harm should ever come of taking a drop of good drink. So give me your hand, and I’ll save you. And as you never did any hurt to me or mine, I’ll do more than that for you, Darby. Here, take this charm, it will bring you luck.”

“What’s does it do?’ said Darby, putting it into his right hand breeches pocket, and buttoning it up tight.

“If you pin it to the petticoat of any woman in the land, she’ll follow you the world over; and that’s no bad thing for a poor scholar.”

So saying, the Cluricaune took him out of the fort, put him on the straight road, and, wishing him success with the charm, burst into a fit of laughter, and disappeared.

Darby made the best of his way to the widow Fleming’s, who was in no great humour. Seeing the widow in a bit of a fret, Darby reached into his breeches pocket and pinned the charm slyly to the widow’s gown.

Soon a wonderful change occured in the widow, who, from being as glum as a misty morning, became as soft as butter. So very careful was she of Darby, that, late as it was, she made a good fire, lest he should be cold after the night, brought him the best supper the house could afford, and generally treated him as if he was lord of the land.

Darby grinned with delight at the success of his charm; but he was soon made to grin at wrong side of his mouth, for the widow in the midst of her love chanced to discover the charm that was pinned to the tail of her gown.

“What’s this you’ve pinned to my gown?’ she said, flinging it into the fire.

The charm took instant effect; and the fire jumped holus-bolus after Darby, who made for the door, running as fast as his legs could carry him. But still the fire came after him, roaring and blazing, as if there were a thousand tar-barrels in the middle of it. Away he ran, across the country, over hedge and ditch, for as good as two miles; neither stopping nor staying until he came to a deep well on a high farm, between Tullig and Gleun a Heelah, where he was greeted by his old friend the Cluricaune.

“Darby!” the little fellow grinned, “you seem to be in a wonderful hurry; where are you going so fast, man, that you wouldn’t stop to speak to an old acquaintance?”

“You deceitful hop of my thumb!” Darby roared.

“Is that my thanks for saving you from the good people?” the Cluricaune replied, “Very well, Mister Darby, there’s the fire at your heels, and who’s to save you now?”

“Surely not you?”

“Well,” said the Cluricaune, “I’ll take compassion on you one more time; so here’s my advice; leap into the well, and you’ll be safe.”

“Do you take me for a fool?”

“Never! You’re a very wise man to be sure, seeing you’re a scholar, Darby; so take your own way if you like, and goodnight to you,” the spiteful little fellow said, slapping his cocked hat on his head, and walking off with a most malicious grin.

“Murder! Murder!” Darby shouted, for by this time the fire had come so near that it began to scorch him. Seeing there was no alternative, and thinking it better to be drowned than burned, he made a desperate plunge into the well.

The fire jumped after him. Immediately the water bubbled, sparkled, growled, and rose above the verge of the well, filling with the velocity of lightning all the adjacent hollow ground, until it formed one of those little sparkling lakes which dot this hilly country.

Darby was cast senseless on the shore. The first thing he saw on awaking from his trance was the sun shining above; the first voice he heard was that of the widow Fleming, who had travelled far in search of him; and the first word Darby uttered was, “Bad luck to the good people, for they have been playing tricks on me all the night.” Then he up and told the widow Fleming and the neighbours the whole history of his night’s adventure.

“You were drunk, and you know it!” the widow said.

But whatever was the cause, whether Darby got the charm from the Cluricaune or not, the widow Fleming soon became Mrs. O’Reily, and Loch Bran or the Lake of the burning Cole, is to be seen to this day.

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