Friday, December 26, 2008

Hunting the wren



It's St. Stephen's Day, or Boxing day in the English parlance, and in the Isle of Man they will be hunting the wren (this links to the Manx Radio site reporting on today's hunt the wren with a video link) This links to a photo montage at iomtoday.com

This is how it came about (please note we use fake birds now!) this information is from the redoubtable Manx Society, Volume 16:

HUNTING THE WREN.

George Waldron, who wrote his Description of the Isle of Man about a century and a half ago, ' says, " On the 24th of December, towards evening, all the servants in general have a holiday ; they go not to bed all night, but ramble about till the bells ring in all the churches, which is at twelve o'clock; prayers being over, they go to hunt the wren, and after having found one of these poor birds, they kill her, and lay her on a bier with the utmost solemnity, bringing her to the parish church, and burying her with a whimsical kind of solemnity, singing dirges over her in the Manx language, which they call her knell, after which Christmas begins.

This custom of " Hunting the Wren," has been a pastime in the Isle of Man from time immemorial, and is still kept up on St. Stephen's Day, chiefly by, boys, who at early dawn sally out armed with long sticks, beating the bushes until they find one of these birds, when they commence the chase with great shoutings following it from bush to bush, and when killed it is suspended in a garland of ribbons, flowers, and evergreens. The procession then commences, carrying that "king of all birds," as the Druids called it, from house to house, soliciting contributions, and giving a feather for luck; these are considered an effectual preservative from shipwreck, and some fishermen will not yet venture out to sea without having first provided themselves with a few of these feathers to insure their safe return. The " dreain," or wren's feathers, are considered an effectual preservative against witchcraft. It was formerly the custom in the evening to inter the naked body with great solemnity in a secluded corner of the churchyard, and conclude the evening with wrestling and all manner of sports.

The custom is not peculiar to the Isle of Man, for we find it mentioned by Sonnini in his travels, that " the inhabitants of the town of Cistat, near Marseilles, armed with sabres and pistols commence the anniversary by hunting the wren, and when captured is suspended, as though it were a heavy burden, from the middle of a long'pole borne on the shoulders of two :men, carried in procession through the streets, and weighed on a balance.

Crofton Croker, m his Researches in the South of Ireland, 1824, mentions this custom as prevailing there, and in Hall's Ireland (vol. i p. 23, 1841) it is also recorded, to which is added the air to the song as penned by Mr. Alexander D. Roche, as also a spirited woodcut of the wren-boys with their garland. The air is also given in Barrow's Mona Melodies, 1820.
Various versions of this song are to be met with, the following was taken down by me from a company of " wren-boys" in 1843:-

HUNT THE WREN.

MANX AIR.

music

THE HUNTING OF THE WREN

We'll away to the wood, says Robin to Bobbin;
We'll away to the wood, says Richard to Robin.
We'll away to the wood, says Jack of the Land;
We'll away to the wood, says everyone.

What shall we do there? says Robin to Bobbin;
Repeat these lines as above.

We will hunt the wren, says Robin to Bobbin.
Repeat, etc.

Where is he? where is he? says Robin to Bobbin.
Repeat, etc.

In yonder green bush, says Robin to Bobbin.
Repeat, etc.

I see him, I see him, says Robin to Bobbin.
Repeat, etc.

How shall we get him down, says Robin to Bobbin.
Repeat, etc.

With sticks and stones, says Robin to Bobbin.
Repeat, etc.

He is dead, he is dead, says Robin to Bobbin.,
Repeat, etc.

How shall we get him home? says Robin to Bobbin.
Repeat, etc.

We'll hire a cart, says Robin to Bobbin.
Repeat, etc.

Whose cart shall we hire? says Robin to Bobbin.
Repeat, etc.

Johnny Bill Fell's, says Robin to Bobbin.
Repeat, etc.

Who will stand driver? says Robin to Bobbin.
Repeat, etc.

Filley the Tweet, says Robin to Bobbin.
Repeat, etc.

He's home, he's home, says Robin to Bobbin.
Repeat, etc.

How shall we get him boil'd? says Robin to Bobbin.
Repeat, etc.

In the brewery pan, says Robin to Bobbin.
Repeat, etc.

How shall we get him in? says Robin to Bobbin.
Repeat, etc.

With iron bars and a rope, says Robin to Bobbin
Repeat, etc.

He is in, he is in, says Robin to Bobbin.
Repeat, etc.

He is boil'd, he is boil'd, says Robin to Bobbin.
Repeat, etc.

How shall we get him out? says Robin to Bobbin.
Repeat, etc.

With a long pitchfork, says Robin to Bobbin.
Repeat, etc.

He is out, he is out, says Robin to Bobbin.
Repeat, etc.

Who's to dine at the dinner? says Robin to Bobbin.
Repeat, etc.

The King and the Queen, says Robin to Bobbin.
Repeat, etc.

How shall we get him eat? says Robin to Bobbin.
Repeat, etc.

With knives and forks, says Robin to Bobbin.
Repeat, etc.

He is eat, he is eat, says Robin to Bobbin.
Repeat, etc.

The eyes for the blind, says Robin to Bobbin.
Repeat, etc.

The legs for the lame, says Robin to Bobbin.
Repeat, etc.

The pluck for the poor, says Robin to Bobbin.
Repeat, etc.

The bones for the dogs, says Robin to Bobbin
The bones for the dogs, says Richard to Robin;
The bones for the dogs, says Jack of the land;
The bones for the dogs, says every one.

The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
We have caught, St. Stephen's Day, in the furze;
Although he is little, his family's great,
I pray you, good dame, do give us a treat.

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