The tradition of Wren-boys.
The wren-boy tradition on St. Stephen's Day is unfortunately, now nearly a thing of the past. Now, only a few small group's, or individual's carry on a tradition, the origins of which, are lost in the mists of time. In the time of the big, batches of wren-boys, under the leadership of their King, these group's would traverse the country roads all day, and as evening and night approached, they would head for the larger urban areas to avail of the richer picking's in the public houses.
The North Kerry are was well catered for, with two large groupings in the Killocrim/Enismore and Dirha West areas, There was also a strong tradition in the Clounmacon side of the parish.
Some time after the wrens-day, it was the custom to
organise a wren-dance. When the date was picked and a house offered to host the
dance, The dances were all night affairs, with liberal quantities of food and
In the early 1960's I spent three years in London. during which, I worked in a pub, The Devonshire Arms, in Kensington, for a year or so. At this time, The Harvest Festival Committee, under Dr. Johnny Walsh, organised the wren-boy competitions in Listowel. Mr Johnny Muldoon, of London, had met Dr Johnny in Listowel and told him that he would organise two dances in his Dance Hall's in London, provided that the Listowel committee send over three or four wren-boys to be in attendance. During their stay in London, Dan Maher, who managed the Devonshire, invited the Listowel contingent to the pub. On the particular evening I was serving in the lounge bar. (the pub was a gathering place for many Film and TV actors who would have lived nearby). Suddenly Dr.Johnny, threw the double door open, and in came the Listowel wren-boys, led by the leader, Jimmy Hennessy, Jimmy, wearing a colourful pants, had only some fur skin over his shoulders and chest and a headpiece with two horns, the others followed, faces blackened, and wearing similar outfits, all beating bodhran's. To say the least, those present did not have an idea what was happening, to this day, I can hear the remark which one man, Sir Bruce Setan, (he, of Fabian of the Yard) at the counter said to the other, Christopher Trace (of Blue Peter fame), Blimey, their coming in from the jungle, they will kill us all.
They was no one killed, and I think that Jimmy Hennessy enjoyed drinking pints of Guinness and pressing the flesh, surrounded by people he usually saw, only in the Plaza and Astor.
by Vincent Carmody