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The Wren: King of all birds

On the 26 December (Boxing Day in the UK, St Stephen's Day or 'Wren Day' in Ireland) the wren tradition is still continued by the Wren Boys in some locations. The following is an extract from my book, 'Mizen: Rescued Folklore, Histories and Song from Ireland's South-west', which compiles the folklore of the Mizen Peninsula, West Cork, as written down by the students of the local primary school between 1937 and 1938 - see books page).



St Stephen’s Day


On St Stephen’s Day in this district parties of boys decorate their clothes with coloured ribbons and go singing the wren song from house to house. They take with them a long pole on the top of which they tie a big bunch of holly and ivy. The practice of tying a dead wren on to the bunch of holly has now died out. In different parts of the country there are different versions of the song, but they all begin with the following words:

In this district, wren is pronounced ‘wran’ and treat ‘trate’. The money received is divided among the boys, but sometimes a ‘wren dance’ is held with the money. In Crookhaven, some of the old customs are still observed on certain festivals. On St Stephen’s say, boys go around to the houses in the village. They collect money. They sing a song called the Wren Song. These are the words sung here.


The Wren


The wren, the wren, the king of all birds

St Stephen’s day he was caught in the furze

Although he is little his family is great

Rise up landlady and fill us a treat


But if you fill us of the small

it won’t agree with our boys at all

But if you fill us of the best,

I hope in heaven your soul will rest


I met my wren on the top of a rock

I up with my cuple and broke his back

And I brought him here to your brandy shop

My money box shakes making noise and a rattle


Rise up landlady and handle your pocket

I brought my wren for to visit you here

For a taste of your liquor and a drink of your beer

Wishing you a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year With your pockets full of money

and your cellars full of beer


Up with the kettle and down with the pan

Up with the kettle and down with the pan

Give us our answer and let us be gone.

Collected by Jeremiah Mahony, Crookhaven


The words of ‘The Wren’ were tailored by local people to different localities. In Ballydehob, the words were thus.


The Wren


The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,

St Stephen’s day she was caught in the furze,

Although she is little, her family is great,

Rise up landlady and give us a treat.


This is the wren you may plainly see,

She is well mounted on a holly tree,

With a bunch of ribbons by her side,

And the Ballydehob boys to be her guide.


We hunted out wren all round Glandore,

We hunted our wren three miles and more,

Through hedges, and ditches, and fields so green,

And such fine sport was never seen.


When we spied our wren again,

We called our wren boys for to run,

She looked so bold with a ricket in her tail,

She swore she would send our boys to jail.


As I went up through Leaca Bhuidhe,

I spied my wren upon a tree,

Up with the cupid and I gave her a fall,

And I brought her here to visit you all.


Mr __________ is a worthy man,

And to his house we brought our wren,

For as taste of his liquor and a pint of his beer,

I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.


Now my song is ended, I have no more to say,

I hope you’re not offended, this custom for to pay,

Coming here this morning it is not wrong,

So, give us our answer and let us be gone.


The following is the Sol-fa of the wren song.


|d:f,f:d|d:f,f:f|

|1:d',d':ta|s:m,s:d|

|1:d',d':ta|s:f,f:1|

|s:f,f:d|d.d:f,f.f:l


Words collected by Michael O’Regan, Ballydehob, Co. Cork

Sol-fa notation collected by Vincent Kelly, Ballydehob, Co. Cork




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© 2020 by Mike Baldwin