The wren, the wren King of all birds.
Many years ago, there started a tradition that still goes on today people like to catch the smallest bird and make him King for the day on Saint Stephens day, the day after Christmas.
it all started long ago when all the birds lived on the earth well before the humans came. They lived peacefully and shared everything.
One day the crow appeared in front of all the birds and said ‘I am better than any of you as my feathers are really black and silky and my beak is strong. ‘
This got the birds thinking and the magpie said, ‘actually I am better because I can collect and find lots of beautiful things.’ and the blue tit said, ‘but I have the sweetest voice of all the birds.’ Soon all the birds were arguing.
The wise old grandmother owl decided to hold a meeting with all of the birds to see what could be done and they agreed to have a competition to see, who was the best bird.
they decided to have a flying competition and to see which bird would fly the highest, the winner of the competition would be the ‘King or Queen of all the birds.’
So, all the birds lined up and the first bird took off.
The little Robin redbreast flapped his wings and flew up and up, until he could fly no more and hoovered in the air, when the next bird took off.
Up went sea gull, up, up high in the air till she could fly no more and hovered in the air. The blackbird, the crow, the magpie and the swan all did the same and hovered in the air. At last, it was the Eagles go and up she flew, high up in the air, soaring past all the other birds until she could go no more and stopped and hovered in the air, thinking that she had won the competition and would be the Queen of all the birds.
All of a sudden, she felt a little tickle on her shoulder, and she looked back and underneath her feathers, sat a tiny little Brown bird. The Wren pocked his head out from under the Eagles feathers and flew up, up, up into the air, way past the eagle and announced down to all the birds, that he the smallest of the birds was now the King of all of the birds.
It was not the fastest or the highest bird that won the competition that day, but the cleverest little bird the wren the wren the King of all the birds.
The wren Song - Traditional
'The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
St. Stephen's Day was caught in the furze,
Although he was little his honour was great,
Jump up me lads and give him a treat.
Up with the kettle and down with the pan,
And give us a penny to bury the wren.
2. As I was going to Killenaule,
I met a wren upon the wall.
I took me stick and knocked him down,
And brought him in to Carrick Town.
3. Droolin, Droolin, wheres your nest?
Tis in the bush that I love best
In the tree the holly tree,
Where all the boys do follow me.
4. We followed the wren three miles or more,
Three mile or more three miles or more.
We followed the wren three miles or more,
At six oclock in the morning.
5. I have a little box under me arm,
Under me arm under me arm.
I have a little box under me arm,
A penny or tuppence would do it no harm.'
An Dreoilín - Hunting the Wren.
This was a custom all over Ireland, on St. Stephens day/ Boxing Day 26th December. Groups of young people would create a little woven box to go out and hunt the Wran, they would search the bushes and hedgerows and try and capture the little bird.
They would go around houses and play music and sing songs to collect money to bury the Bird, the song above was often the song of choice.
The straw boys have continued this costume, bringing music from house to house in disguise with straw hats and costumes. In dingle its still a popular festival on St Stephens day, also the Woodford mummers has still continued.
The straw boys and mummer costumes came out at different festivals of the year and to weddings, in disguise, if they were treated well they blessed the wedded pair, but if treated badly they cursed them.
The modern mummers in leitrim are also keeping this tradition of calling to peoples houses going, see this link;