Drowning the wren in Dingle
'DROWNING the shamrock' is a saying most Irish people are familiar with but 'drowning the wren' is one that most people involved in the Wren's Day parades in Dingle on Monday can empathise with. Traditionally, the Wren in Dingle, as elsewhere in Kerry, is held the day after Christmas Day except when that day falls on a Sunday as it did this year. But not everyone knew about
'DROWNING the shamrock' is a saying most Irish people are familiar with but 'drowning the wren' is one that most people involved in the Wren's Day parades in Dingle on Monday can empathise with.
Traditionally, the Wren in Dingle, as elsewhere in Kerry, is held the day after Christmas Day except when that day falls on a Sunday as it did this year. But not everyone knew about that. The event is a big attraction and draws a lot of tourists to the town.
So last Sunday those tourists and visitors not in the know, arrived in anticipation of a unique cultural experience but found themselves in an almost deserted town. Car-loads of strangers, ready to join in the craic, arrived in full dress costume to be met by curious stares from locals.
Sunday would have been a better day, weatherwise, and it was perfect for the big and small wrens out in the surrounding countryside where the older tradition was observed.
But on Monday afternoon, just as the Green and Gold wrenboys were setting out from O'Flatherty's in Holy Ground, the rain came down and, with strong gusting winds behind it, set the scene for the next several hours.
Undeterred, and keeping a grip on their headgear, the Green and Gold set off up the Mall with a couple of hundred followers, marching to the beat of the drums, on their first circuit of the town.
In John Street the Sráid Eoin wren were busily making preparations to leave their base camp in the Barrack Height pub. Muiris Rohan was anxiously mustering his troops and brandishing the ceremonial military sword presented to that wren by Captain de Moleyns in 1922.
There were some last minute adjustments to the new set of drums which had been purchased in Brussels in November. It seems that a 'trade delegation' from John Street travelled to Brussels especially for the new drums which cost around ?1,500.
The story is that they didn't want to risk putting the big base drum in the cargo hold of the returning plane so they bought a seat on the plane for it. But the captain was unhappy about the arrangement and the drum flew back in one of the plane's toilets.
The Sráid Eoin boys marched up Main Street in the driving rain and passed the Barr na Sráide pub where the Goat Street wren was assembled for the start of their parade. There were good-humoured exchanges of friendly banter during the march-past but temporary chaos on the street with the two-way traffic.
It's not in any guide book to Dingle but the most sheltered location for bystanders during bad weather is under the overhanging window of O'Keefe's pharmacy.
That's where local photographer Tom Fox positioned himself for the passing wrenboys. It was Tom's 20th successive year photographing the event but he was sadly disappointed with the weather conditions.
The Quay wren marched up from Waterside and took up a position in Strand Street where their booming drums reverbrated in the narrow street. Other wrens were taking on liquid supplies in surrounding pubs and photographers took advantage of the lull to capture some of the colourful costumes and masks.
The bagmen were busy collecting money from bystanders and motorists. For some motorists this was probably an intimidating experience because it's hard to refuse making a donation when one's car is surrounded by people wearing terrifying masks.
But it was all in good causes and the money collected will go to the Dingle Hospice, the Irish Kidney Association, the RNLI, the Red Cross Dingle Hospital and the local old folks home.
The wrens made their way in the driving rain to Dingle hospital and entertained the patients with muted versions of their marching tunes. Some patients were probably wondering if it was all a dream when the likes of Bill Clinton, Homer Simpson and Adolf Hitler passed through their wards.
From there the rain-soaked wrenboys and girls followed the tradition of visiting favourite pubs around the town where, in warm and sheltered surroundings, 'drowning the wren' continued into the small hours.