Wednesday, December 26, 2007

St. Stephen's Day

In Ireland, on St. Stephen's day, young boys, especially those in the more rural western counties get dressed up in wild colors, wearing outlandish assortments of rags and bits of colored paper left over from Christmas, they find and kill a wren or other small bird and go from house to house collecting money, food, and drink for the "wake."

It's a fairly gruesome tradition, but it does have its own discrete, cheeky, charm.

Here's the tune.

I learned this one from the Clancy's and Tommy Makem.

The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
St. Stephen's day was caught in the firs,
Although he was little his honor was great
Jump up, me lads, and give him a treat.

chorus:
Up with the kettle and down with the pan
And give us a penny to bury the wren.

As I was gone to Killenaule
I met a wren upon a wall,
Up with me wattle and knocked him down
And brought him into Carrick town.

chorus

Droolin, droolin, where's your nest?
'Tis in the bush that I love best
In the tree, the holly tree
Where all the boys do follow me.

chorus

We followed the wren three miles or more
Three miles or more, three miles or more,
Followed the wren three miles or more
At six o'clock in the morning.

chorus

We have a little box under me arm,
Under me arm, under me arm,
We have a little box under me arm,
A penny a tuppence will do it no harm.

chorus

Missus Clancy's a very good woman
A very good woman, a very good woman
Missus Clancy's a very good woman
She gave us a penny to bury the wren.



3B's

5 Comments:

Blogger Lisa said...

This reminds me of a group of lads who'd do the same thing in my neighborhood, a private ceremony for their little band, though.

One must admit there is some kind of gruesome high sarcasm in the thing, creating the (lowly) death so as to enjoy the wake and incumbent festivities.

10:59 AM  
Blogger Sherry said...

hi. most old customs come from things that are the fluffy bunny type of thing. just as the original fairytales were anything but child-friendly. still it is history and the connections run deep and bring memories.
i liked the tune. thank you.

11:52 AM  
Anonymous oddjob said...

Of course, the tamer Christmas song for this day would be Good King Wenceslas:

Good King Wenceslas looked down
On the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay on the ground
Cold and crisp and even.

Brightly shone the moon that night,
Though the wind was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight,
Gathering winter fuel.

"Hither, page, and stand by me,
If thou know'st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence,
Underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence,
By Saint Agnes' fountain."

"Bring me flesh, and bring me wine,
Bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear them thither."
Page and monarch, forth they went,
Forth they went together;
Through the rude wind's wild lament
And the bitter weather.

"Sire, the night is darker now,
And the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, good my page;
Tread thou in them boldly.
Thou shalt find the winter's rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly."

In his master's steps he trod,
Where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod
Which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor,
Shall yourselves find blessing.

12:43 PM  
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