Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Wren and Its Folklore

For almost 1000yrs before St Patrick started his mission in Ireland the Celts and their druids worshiped many gods of nature. They placed great miportance on the belief that birds were messagners of the gods. As the christian religion spread many birds were seen as being good or bad ormens. The robin, pictured so often on Christmas cards, was respected because it was supposed to have received its red breast because it kept the fire in the stable at Bethlahem alight while Mary and Joseph slept.

The wren on the other hand was sacred to the Druids of pre- christian Ireland . The Irish noun for the wren 'Dreoilín' is probably derived from 'drui-éan' or druid bird. It was regarded by the ancient Celts as a messenger of the gods and the godess Clíona (the godess of love and beauty) took the form of a wren. The soul of the Oak King who was sacrificed to the sungod Bel at the summer solstice was embodied in the wren.

Probably because it has such strong connections with the pagan religion christians discredited the wren with stories of betrayal and treachery. The wren was supposed to have made Christ's whereabouts known to the Roman soldiers in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was also blamed for betraying St Stephen to his killers. In our own history when one Irish army was preparing to attack Cromwell's forces their presence was given away by a wren tapping an Irish drum. The Irish were all killed. While the robin stood for summer the wren stood for winter.

The wren was hunted on St. Stephen's Day - Lá an Dreolín. The dead wrens were tied to a holly branch and carried from door to door and the wren boys chanted verses like:

'The wren, the wren the king of all birds

St. Stephen's Day he was caught in the furze

Up with the kettle down with the pan

Give us a penny to bury the wren.'

If the good landlady of the house didn't give them a treat the wren was buried on the doorstep which disgraced that household.

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