A FESTIVAL that long predates Christmas drew thousands of people on to the streets yesterday as they "hunted the wren".
The Wren Boys custom that dates back to Celtic times has enjoyed a revival in recent years -- with more than 1,000 people joining the St Stephen's Day event in Dublin.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn and the late RTE broadcaster Ciaran Mac Mathuna were among those who helped re-start the festival in the capital
Now in its 27th year, it attracted singers, musicians and dancers to Sandymount yesterday. Mark Regan (96) from Bunclody, Co Wexford, was the oldest singer to take part.
"It was fantastic," said one of the organisers, Pat McEvoy. "We had poetry readings in the pub, we did a lap of the green and there was plenty of music."
Former MEP Des Geraghty launched his new ballad 'The Sandymount Wren' at the event. All of the proceeds will go towards the Order of Malta's Holy Family Maternity Hospital in Bethlehem.
The tradition was also celebrated in other parts of the country including Carlow town. Glor Cheatharlach revived the event in 2004 along with the Dolmen Set Dancers -- and up to €20,000 has been raised for local charities since.
This year, proceeds will go towards the Carlow Kilkenny Home Care Team.
In Carlow, the festival is known as 'La an Dreoilin' or Wren Boys' Day. A colourful entourage paid a visit to the Sacred Heart Hospital before taking to the streets.
Other towns and villages in counties Cork and Kerry also drew crowds onto the streets for the event.
The Wren, along with many customs in rural Ireland, almost died out from the 1920s onwards.
Emigration took its toll and there was strong opposition from the church. Money raised from the Wren Boys used to go towards holding a ball. The church saw the Wren as an occasion of "sin".