The Wren Boys in Irish Firebrands

Celebrating the Christmas season in Irish Firebrands.


Wren Boys

Main character Lana Pedersen spends Christmas Day and Saint Stephen’s Day with secondary character Frank Halligan, in this episode from Chapter 26:

Back at Boyne Fields, Lana was about to inquire about plans for lunch when she heard vehicle doors slamming, outside in the front garden.

“Ah! The wren boys!” Frank retrieved a jar of coins from his desk, and then he opened the door.

His nephews were crowded together below the stoop. Their faces were blackened with soot. Some wore straw headdresses and straw skirts over their clothes, and others wore patchwork rag costumes. One brandished a blackthorn staff with an artificial bird attached to one end. When Frank stepped outside, they sang:

The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
On St Stephen’s Day got caught in the furze.
It’s up with the kettle and down with the pan,
So give us a euro to bury the wren.

The boy with the blackthorn beat time like a drum major with his baton.

Little bird, little bird, where is your nest?
Tis in the bush that I love best.

’Tis in the tree, the holly tree,
Where all the boys do follow me.

The blackthorn waved wildly, and the bird fell off. Several boys dived to retrieve and reattach it.

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

The crowd shoved one boy forward. He bore a biscuit tin.

Conn has a little box under his arm,
Under his arm, under his arm.
Conn has a little box under his arm,
A euro or two will do it no harm.

“A euro to bury the wren, Uncle Frank?”

“A euro? When I was a boy, it was a penny!”

“Funerals are more dear, now,” Paula said. She stood to one side, surrounded by daughters and nieces.

“Well, let’s see – how many are you, this year?”

They counted off, and at the end, somebody shrieked, “Don’t forget Fergal!”

“But Fergal’s a baby!”

“He’s still a lad!”

“Okay! But he gets a two-euro piece, and you’d better not spend it! Give it to his mam, to keep for him.” Frank drew Lana to his side. “Here, Love, you do it.”

The lads took turns holding the tin while she doled out the coins. The littlest one asked, “Are you our Aunt, now?”

“Aengus!” Paula hissed.

“No, I’m just Lana.”

The boys shouted another verse of the song:

Uncle Frank’s Lana’s a very good woman,
A very good woman, a very good woman.
Uncle Frank’s Lana’s a very good woman,
She gave us a euro to bury the wren.

Then they stampeded away, tossing the wren to one another, and whooping and rattling the tin.

Lana asked, “Where are they going?”

“They’re off to bury the wren,” Frank said. “Then they’ll divide the spoils.”

©2012 by Christine Plouvier


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