The tradition is very much on the wane now but in some few localities Wrenboys still go out in Ireland on St. Stephens Day. The central theme of the wrenboy visit is the wren, an effigy of which is carried about in a holly branch or in a box or cage. Previously it was hunted and killed prior to St. Stephen’s Day and a matter of honour for groups to have a real bird.
Why, of all birds, is the inoffensive little wren chosen as the martyr for display by groups who take their name from it? Because of its treachery, some claim. When the Irish forces were about to catch Cromwell’s troops by surprise, a wren perched on one of the soldiers drums made a noise that woke the sleeping sentries just in time, thereby saving the camp.
Another explanation is that it ‘betrayed St. Stephen, the first Christian…
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