St Stephen’s Day and the Wren Boys

Clare, 26 December –

Clare Wren Boys .

The Rev James Grahame, curate of Kilrush (Noted before 1816);

‘Formerly the youth of the whole district combined as wren boys, but now they go in bands of from two to six, and the wren bush is often a mere branch with a few rags and no wren. A structure of  evergreens, in general design like a crux ansate, covered with streamers and with the dead bird hung up or in a sort of cage, was till lately carried around. There is still to be found tolerable dancing and singing, as a break in the weary succession of small begging parties, shuffling and playing stupid bulfoonery.

The verses usually begin with:

“The wran, the wran, the king of all the birds,

On Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze.”

 

but the next lines are greatly varied:

“Although he is little his family is great,

And (or So) I pray you all ladies (or good Christians) to give him a treat.”

I noted the following haunting lines on St Stephen’s Day in 1909:

“Put your hand in your pocket and take out your purse

And give us some money to bury the wran.”

Equally melodious were lines in vogue some thirty years ago:

“We broke his bones with sticks and stones,

And give us some money to get us some drink.

It was generally believed that St Stephen had hid in a cave, and that his retreat had been betrayed to his enemies by the wren. Mummers are now reappearing, after a long lapse of time, among the wren boys.’

Folklore 22, no 2 1911

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