Tuesday 20 March 2018

The Wren's in full flight to banish grey-day blues

Majella O'Sullivan

Majella O'Sullivan

IT HAS survived emigration and clerical opposition, and yesterday The Wren was back on the streets of Dingle, Co Kerry, where the tradition continues to flourish.

Despite the overcast day, Dingle exploded in a blaze of colour and song, as up to 70 wrenboys marched in formation around the town, cheered on by hundreds of onlookers.

Although it has died out in all but a handful of places around the country, The Wren -- pronounced 'wran' -- is as much a part of Christmas in west Kerry as plum pudding.

Traditionally held on St Stephen's Day, it was put back one day this year on account of Stephen's Day falling on Sunday.

Dressed in the traditional straw suits and motley clothing, competition is intense between four separate groups from John Street, Goat Street, The Green and Gold and The Quays.

"The Wren goes back years in Dingle and was first documented here in the 1880s," said Fergus O'Flaherty, owner of O'Flaherty's Pub where the Green and Gold wrenboys meet.

"They've been preparing for a few weeks beforehand making straws, and the musicians have also been practising."

All four groups marched in formation around the town playing fife, drums and whistles before heading into the pubs to play music and collect money.

"Long ago this was used to buy a barrel of porter but nowadays it goes to charity," Mr O'Flaherty said.

"When it fell on a Sunday it was always put back to the Monday on account of Sunday being a 'black day' when the pubs were closed." According to legend, the birds held a parliament and decided the bird that flew highest would rule over all others.

The eagle soared high above the others but just as it tired the tiny wren emerged from under its tail feathers and flew above it, hence earning the title of 'king of all birds'. But in less tolerant times, the church objected to the Wrenboys collecting money for a ball in a local pub where, of course, there was alcohol involved. The church saw these celebrations and dances as "occasions of sin".

The bird is also blamed for betraying St Stephen by singing near a bush where Stephen hid from his enemies, which explains why the bird used to be hunted leading up to Christmas.

Irish Independent

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