Ballydehob Wran Day / Lá an Dreoilín Bhéal an Dá Chab
This event came about from my interest in learning how to make the traditional Straw boy Costumes that have been used in different ways in Irish celebrations. These would include the presence of the ‘Straw boys’ at weddings and the Mummers plays. The most well-known use is their inclusion on Lá an Dreoilín which takes place the day after Christmas, which we commonly call St Stephens day but in many places in Ireland it is still referred to as Lá an Dreoilín or Wrens day. Or is it Wrans day? – the two spellings and pronunciations seem to be interchangeable but it is commonly pronounced Wran.
The story behind the project
The tradition of Wrens day around Ballydehob and West Cork is still alive although it is not nearly as strong as it once was. In my research, I found very little living memory of the Wren boys using the straw masks but through reading history texts I am sure that it is just a part of the tradition that died out. I did speak to someone in North Cork in their 60’s who was a Straw boy for weddings.
“ .. in Drimoleague, County Cork, they dressed in old clothes with pieces of sacking twisted around their legs and their faces blackened. In Schull, County Cork, a person dressed as a fool or a clown always accompanied the Wren boys “ From the book Straw, Hay, and Rushes by Ann O’ Dowd
The main thing was that the person had to be disguised and this was often done by colouring the face, often with soot. The costume was also very important and women’s clothes on men were the norm! In fact traditionally part of the fun was to make sure you were not recognised at all – so the voice was disguised also. On the face of it, fun was very much what this tradition was about – there was a lot of mischief and those that were spectators enjoyed it as much as the ‘Wran Boys’. Traditionally a group would have prepared in the run up to Christmas and would then go from house to house playing music and reciting a rhyme like the one below which was recorded as being originally from Ballydehob.
In 2019 we set about making these straw masks to use on Lá an Dreoilín, which takes place on St Stephens day. These images below show both the workshops held to make the masks and the wonderful images by Jason Ellis of the first presence of Straw boys in Ballydehob in quite a while. Of course, as always there were other small groups around the village bringing their own colour and craic. All was on hold for 2020 but here’s hoping for 2021!
The issue of money collection has always been controversial as part of the celebrations. Traditionally money was collected for a big party when money for a few pints was harder to come by. These days often it is collected for charity.
The custom of actually killing the Wren bird has also thankfully died out. The origins of this tradition have been lost in time but they are definitely pre Christian and the Wren seemingly had to be punished for being a trickster as in the story of the Wren.
This was grant aided by Creative Ireland
Come all you ladies and gentlemen,
For tis here we came with our famous wran
With a heart full of cheering for every man
To rise up a booze before the year is gone.
Mr. (-) we came to see,
With our wran so weak and feeble,
The wran is poor and we can’t feed him,
So we hope your honour will relieve him
We’ve hunted our wran three miles and more
We’ve hunted this wran all around Glandore
Through hedges and ditches and fields so green,
And such fine sport was never seen.
As we copied our wran again
Which caused our wran-boys for to sing,
She stood erect and wagged her tail,
And swore she’d send our boys to jail.
As we went up through Leaca Bhuidhe*
We met our wran upon a tree,
Up with a cubit and gave him a fall,
And we’ve brought him here to visit you all.
This the wran you may plainly see,
She is well mounted on a holly tree,
With a bunch of ribbons by his side
And the Ballydehob boys to be his guide
The wran, the wran, the king of all birds,
St. Stephenes day he was caught in the furze,
Although he is little, his family is great,
So rise up landlady and fill us a treat
And if you fill it of the best,
We hope in Heaven your soul will rest,
But if you fill it of the small,
It won’t agree with our boys at all.
To Mr. (-) and his wife
We wish them both a happy life,
With their pockets full of money, and their
cellars full of beer,
We now wish a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
And now, our song is ended,
We have no more to day,
We hope your not offended for coming here to day,
For coming here this morning we think it is not wrong,
So give us our answer and let us be gone.
- Barry (N.T.)
Obtained from John Levis, 32 yrs, Ballydehob, who took it down from Jerh. Driscoll, Ballydehob, 64 yrs. Jerh. Driscoll was a Wren boy 40 yrs ago.