Lá an Dreoilín – The Day of the Wren

Did you know that the Irish word for wren is dreoilín? (Pronounced ‘droh-leen’, like Jolene.) In fact, the wren plays an important part in Irish folklore.

The Story of the Wren

It’s said that one day, when all the birds of the world were gathered together to choose a king, the humble wren succeeded in flying even higher than an eagle.

The other birds insisted he was too small to be king. They attempted to drown him but failed, twice. As a result, the wren was crowned ‘King of all Birds’ or in Irish, ‘rí na n-éan’. (Pronounced ‘ree na naan’.) Indeed, some say the word wren comes from the pronunciation of rí na néan. Though I’m not sure how much truth there is in that theory.

Dark Origins

Every year on the 26th of December, Lá an Dreoilín or The Day of the Wren still takes place in pockets of rural Ireland such as Kerry, Limerick and Galway.  It’s here that the original wren hunt and burial was designed as a punishment for the little bird who supposedly betrayed the Christian martyr, St Stephen’s hiding place to his enemies.

The Wren Song

Nowadays, these rather dark overtones have gradually disappeared and given way to a family day out where Wrenboys in fancy dress, playing bodhráns, tin whistles, mouth organs etc. parade down the main street, singing a variation of the following:

The Wran the Wran the King of all birds,
St Stephen’s day was caught in the furzse.
Although he was small his family was great.
Rise up landlady and give us a trate.
Up with the ketel and down with the pan.
A penny on a halfpenny to bury the Wran

(NFCS, Naomh Muire, Droichead Átha 0680: 219)

It is somewhat fitting that a group of wrens is often referred to as a chime of wrens. This is why I named my best selling beginners concertina after this impressive and fascinating bird.

Wishing you all the blessings of Lá an Dreoilín to you wherever you are in the world!

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  1. So informative. Very hard for me to research the Irish/Scottish/Celtic roots of music here in the USA. Thanks so much for sharing this information. I have wanted more info this celebration and would actually like the lead sheet for the song if it is available? It gives me more things to share here regarding folkloric history in other countries.

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