The Wren Day in Ireland Before the Great Famine

The Wren‑boys (say ‘ran‑boys’) of Shanagolden, a small village in the south‑west of Ireland, were all assembled pusuant to custom on the green before the chapel‑door, on a fine frosty morning, being the twenty‑sixth of December, or Saint Stephen’s day, – a festival yet held in much reverence in Munster, although the Catholic church has for many years ceased to look upon it as a holiday of ‘obligation’. Seven or eight handsome young fellows, tricked out in ribands of the gayest colours, white waist‑coats and stockings, and furnished with musical instruments of various kinds – a fife, a pipolo, an old drum, a cracked fiddle, and a set of bagpipes – assumed their place in the rear of the procession, and startled the yet slumbering inhabitants of the neighbouring houses, by a fearfully discordant prelude. Behind those came the Wren‑boy, par excellence, a lad who bore in his hands a holly‑bush, the leaves of which were interwoven with long streamers of red, yellow, blue and white riband; all which finery, nevertheless, in no way contributed to reconcile the little mottled tenant of the bowerr (a wren which was tied by the leg to one of the boughs) to his state of durance. After the Wren‑boy came a promiscuous crowd of youngsters, of all ages under fifteen, composing just such a little ragged rabble as one observes attending the band of a marching regiment on its entrance into a country town, shouting, hallooing, laughing, and joining in apt chorus with the droning, shrilling, squeaking, and rattling of the musicians of the morn.

(Gerald Griffin, The Half-Sir, 1829).

From the book, ‘The Bog Irish, Who They Were and How they Lived’, edited by Frank Murphy and published by Penguin Books Australia in 1987.

A Box of Christmas Readings