- Published: 20 November 2017 20 November 2017
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St. Stephen's Day (Lá Fhéile Stiofáin), or the Day of the Wren (Lá an Dreoilín), is an occasion to commemorate the life of St Stephen, a Christian martyr. Celebrated the day after Christmas, many people spend the day quietly with close friends or family.
St Stephen is believed to be the first Christian martyr. He was stoned to death sometime around the year 33 AD. According to an Irish legend, he was betrayed by a wren while hiding from his enemies. Another legend tells of Viking raids on Ireland on St Stephen's Day sometime around the year 750 AD. Irish soldiers were approaching a Viking camp to drive out the intruders. However, a wren started eating crumbs from a drum and alerted the Vikings to the presence of the Irish soldiers. Hence, some people felt that wrens betrayed them and should be stoned to death, just as St Stephen was. Boys traditionally hunted a wren and threw stones at it. They tied it to a stick when it was dead and paraded it around the village. They did this to collect money for a dance or party for the whole village. Although the custom of killing wrens on December 26 died out around 1900, St Stephen's Day is still known as the Day of the Wren, particularly in rural areas.
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.
As I was gone to Killenaule, I met the wren upon the wall, I upped with me wattle and knocked him down, and brought him into Carrick town.
Droolin, Droolin, where is your nest? 'Tis in the bush that I love best, It’s in the tree, the holly tree, where all the boys do follow me.
Up with the kettle and down with the pan, And give us a penny to bury the wren.
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.
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'll do it no harm.
Mrs. Clancy’s a very good woman, a very good woman, a very good woman, Mrs. Clancy’s a very good woman, she gave us a penny to bury the wren.
St Stephen's Day has been a holiday in Ireland for hundreds of years. It became a public holiday following the Bank Holidays Act in 1871.