Going on the wren


The Dad Diary
Edwin McGreal

When I was a kid in Breaffy, we loved going ‘on the wren’. For the uninitiated, it’s a St Stephen’s Day tradition that has stayed the course in certain parts of Ireland.
People would go on a procession from house to house, singing and performing.
It’s older incarnation was beyond cruel to the poor little wren, but the modern take on it is much more benign.
In short, the older version used to be complete with a wren which would be caught and killed. Such savagery has not stayed the course.
Legend has it that in penal times there was once a plot against soldiers in an Irish village. The soldiers were about to be ambushed when a group of wrens pecked on their drums and awakened the soldiers. The plot failed and the little wren became known in parts as ‘the devil’s bird’.
So on St Stephen’s Day a procession of sorts takes place where people go from house to house, dress up, often in old clothes with blackened faces.
In Breaffy it was on an ass and cart we got around on, carrying a toy bird. The tradition kinda died out at home when I was in my teens, but upon moving to Achill, I was delighted to see that Aisling’s nieces and nephews were continuing the custom, going house to house, singing and playing music and collecting money for charity.
Confession: in Breaffy, we used the money to buy far too many sweets, chocolates and fizzy drinks.
Myself and Aisling said it would be a lovely tradition to continue when we had kids of our own.
Of course, with a proud Irish culture in Dooega, the wren here is called the ‘dreoilín’ – so St Stephen’s Day just gone was our first effort at going on the ‘dreoilín’.
One of the lovely parts of the Wren Day is the chance to call into your neighbours, who would beckon you inside for a visit. In some cases, it might be the only chance for such a visit all year. Covid has really curtailed that side of it, so we just sang at the doors and went on our merry way.
It was a reminder of how many people we haven’t been able to see in the past couple of years, save for waving at them as they drive by in cars.
Frankie (5) and Éamon (3) were giving it socks, singing Jingle Bells as Gaeilge, while Séimí (who turns one today!) was looking on agog. Next year, we will have them singing the wren song.
The generosity of people with their time and donations to charity was marvellous.
Frankie and Éamon had a particularly memorable time talking to Mary Jo McCarthy. One of our village’s most venerable ladies, Mary Jo reads this column religiously. Because of Covid, she was not able to see Frankie and Éamon as much but knew them as well as myself or Aisling from reading the column.   
The wrens flew safely in the skies while the best parts of the tradition continue. Long may it last.

In his fortnightly column, Edwin McGreal charts the ups and downs of the biggest wake-up call of his life: parenthood.