One used to hear a recitation in which a schoolboy was asked what day was Christmas Day, and stoutly answered: "Tis the day before the races, sir, in Tangmalangaloo." The day before the day of the wren, many another lad might have said. Lads of all ages, though in reduced numbers, were on the roads on Saint Stephens Day. Among them was Pat Feeley, combining pleasure with the business of recording for radio the events of that day in Mountcollins.
Mountcollins is in that hilly area, watered by the Feale, which straddles the borders of Limerick, Kerry and Cork. In the last century it was described as a lawless region, the haunt of bandits and the like. Nowadays of courseall this has changed. But traditions die hard in this part of the country, in particular the tradition of "the wran," which has always had its strongest following in Munster.
Pat Feeley unearthed some pre-Famine accounts of that tradition. In Cork: "Attached to a huge holly bush, elevated on a pole, the bodies of several little wrens are borne about. The bush is an object of admiration in proportion to the number of dependent birds, and is carried through the streets in procession by a group of boys, among whom may be usually found children of a larger growth, shouting and roaring as they proceed along and every now and then stopping before some popular house and singing the wren song. Of course contributions are levied in many quarters, and the evening was occupied in drinking out the sum total of the days collection."
The wren, thank God, no longer suffers persecution and the bicycle and car have revolutionised transport for wren boys as for everyone else. But the spirit of the day survived in the Feale country at any rate. It is reported that the event there went well but not too well, and that Pat Feeley survived the day - and night - of the wren in sufficiently good order to tell the rest of us about it.
Presented and Produced by Pat Feeley
First Broadcast 4th January 1976
An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries