Happy Wren Day!


Colm Kelleher wished me Happy St. Stephen’s Day today – a holiday I was unaware of until now. Turns out it’s a traditional holiday that was celebrated on the 26th of December in some countries, including Ireland where they call it Lá Fhéile Stiofán or Lá an Dreoilín, or Day of the Wren.

The holiday relies on some people called “Wrenboys” or “Mummers” who were often young boys that would go out and find a wren for the celebration. It says that the boys either killed the bird or caught it and brought it back alive in a cage. From what I know of young boys, I’m going to guess that most wrens were wrens-past by the time they got back to town. Which is okay, since the wren symbolizes the past year – which is almost dead anyway. The wren would then be carried from house to house, often on a pole with a little nest on top, accompanied by singing, music and dancing.

Before the wren was caught by these Wrenboys it probably sounded something like this:

Winter Wren Song by RoseEveleth

That’s a Winter Wren, Troglodytes hiemalis – native to Ireland, and probably the kind the boys chased around and brought back. After it was caught, the song they sang goes like this:

The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
St. Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze,
Although he was little his honour was great,
Jump up me lads and give us a treat.
As I was going to Killenaule,
I met a wren upon the wall.
Up with me wattle and knocked him down,
And brought him in to Carrick Town.
Drooolin, Droolin, where’s your nest?
Tis in the bush that I love best
In the tree, the holly tree,
Where all the boys do follow me.
Up with the kettle and down with the pan,
And give us a penny to bury the wren.
I followed the wren three miles or more,
Three miles or more three miles or more.
I followed the wren three miles or more,
At six o’clock in the morning.
I have a little box under me arm,
Under me arm under me arm.
I have a little box under me arm,
A penny or tuppence would do it no harm.
Mrs. Clancy’s a very good woman,
a very good woman, a very good woman,
Mrs. Clancy’s a very good woman,
She give us a penny to bury the wren.

And, for the Irish inclined, here’s a version in Irish.

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