Christmas in Ireland cannot be discussed without reference to the Wren Boys on St. Stephen’s Day. This practice of antiquity predates St. Patrick. In ancient times, a wren was beaten out of the bushes and its body hung on a holly bush. The killing of a bird is no longer tolerated but the door to door visits continue. Participants dress up in homemade costumes reminiscent of North American Halloween. The song they yell from house to house is called:
“The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
On St. Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze,
And through he is little, his family is great,
So rise up, landlady, and give us a great.”
Most people treat the Wren Boys to porter and pudding. Any young people in the house are cajoled to continue on with the gang until there is a decent assembly of young folk being followed by most of the children in the neighborhood. They will end up in some neighbor’s house and if someone produces a fiddle the party begins.