One Hunt The Prey Survives

NEWS FROM THE CELTIC LEAGUE

Boxing Day (or St Stephen’s Day) sees traditional ‘hunt the wren’ gatherings in many of the Celtic countries. The origins of the tradition are lost in time but it is probably a pre-christian ritual continued, with adaptation, after the advent of the Christian faith in the Celtic countries.

After going into decline in the last century the tradition has been greatly revived in several of the Celtic countries over the past two decades.
In Mannin the tradition was historically well celebrated across the whole Island and in recent years has enjoyed a revival.

The origins of the singular custom are lost in the mists of antiquity however hunting the wren in which the small bird was killed and hung on a decorated hooped stick and paraded around villages, by ‘wren boys’, on the Island seems to be based on a tradition of warding off evil or bringing good luck in the year ahead.

The tradition is found also in the other Celtic countries, notably Ireland, although it is also recorded in parts of England and as far afield as Germany and France.

 In the book CELTIC CUSTOMS by E Kermode (collected in the late nineteenth
century) it is recorded that;

”Sonnini mentions in his travels that “the inhabitants of the town of Cistat, near Marseilles, armed with with sabres and pistols, commences the anniversary of hunting the wren, and when captured [it] is suspended, as though it was a heavy burden, from the middle of a long pole, borne on the shoulders of two men, carried in procession thorough the streets, and weighed on a balance”.

This record highlights one of the enduring mysteries of the wren ceremony in which one of the smallest and lightest of birds is treated as if it were some enormous creature of great bulk and weight.

Meanwhile in Ireland at a gathering at Sandymount, Dublin about ten years ago the ceremony took on an International flavour when Chinese and Uruguayan singers, musicians and dancers joined the wren boys’ revival there.

Originally the ‘hunt’ was a somewhat bloody affair with the wren being hunted, killed and carried around in hooped sticks. Today’s ceremony is less cruel with and a token is simply carried in the hoops.

Thankfully today this is one hunt that the prey survives!
Photograph; A hunt the wren scene in Ballaugh some years ago

BERNARD MOFFATT
Issued by: The Celtic News

24/12/15



THE CELTIC LEAGUE INFORMATION SERVICE

The Celtic League established in 1961 has branches in the six Celtic Countries. It promotes cooperation between the countries and campaigns on a range of political, cultural and environmental matters. It highlights human rights abuse, military activity and socio-economic issues

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