Now that the workshop is winding down for Christmas it gives me a chance to write about other Irish Christmas traditions like the Wren.
The Wren, sometimes pronounced wran, takes place every year on 26th December, St. Stephen’s Day. The Wren boys (or girls!) dress up in old clothes and paint faces. In some parts of the country, they also wear straw hats. They travel from house to house singing, dancing and playing music for the household. In rural areas, it will usually be neighbors that call on the wren often collecting money for a local charity.
It’s a well-maintained tradition in certain parts of the country, particularly in my native county of Kerry. The town of Dingle holds the best known Wren with a parade through the town every Christmas.
Every year in my home town of Listowel they have an All Ireland wren boys competition where a stage is erected in the main square of the town and each wren boy group performs for the crowd. It’s a great night with all the wren boys parading through the town playing music and holding pitchforks with lighting turf. It sounds a bit crazy when I write it now but honestly, it’s brilliant!
So now you know what the Wren is you’re probably wondering why?!
Well, the history of the Wren predates Christmas, its origins are in Irish mythology where birds held great prominence. They were believed to be a link between this world and the next. The wren is said to have betrayed Irish soldiers fighting Norsemen by beating their wings on their shields. The poor wren is also blamed for betraying St. Stephen the first Christian martyr. This is probably why the wren was once hunted on this day. In former times it was hunted and then nailed to a pole at the head of the procession. Thankfully some traditions have died out but you can still hear people saying this poem on the 26th December.
The wren the wren the kings of all birds,
On St. Stephen’s Day it was caught in the furze
Up with the kettle and down with the pan
Give me a penny to bury the wren.
Nollaig Shona Duit – Irish for Happy Christmas (pronounced Null-ig hun na dit).