Wran Boys launch St Stephen's Day event


The Wran Boys made an early visit to the Mansion House in Dublin yesterday, at the launch of the 17th Wran Revival Meeting.

Mummers, musicians and merrymakers have gathered to celebrate the festival in Dublin since 1983 when it was revived by a group of friends. One of the co-founders, Tom Ahern, has been "following the wran" for 50 years. He said: "I wouldn't miss it. It's a very, very ancient and lovely custom."

Another co-founder is Labour Party leader Ruairi Quinn, who described the event as "a bit of craic and a bit of fun" for which he used to dress up until he became Minister for Finance. "Then I had the horror of a picture of the Minister for Finance appearing dressed up in a costume on the front of Phoenix."

The St Stephen's Day traditional performance will take place again on Sandymount Green. The first woman Grand Marshall, Ms Bridie Murphy, will be in charge this year. She remembered the Wran Boys visiting her house when she was a child in Limerick. The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Mr Maurice Ahern, hosted the launch in the Mansion House yesterday. The money raised - which, according to tradition, paid for a courting party for bachelors - now goes to charity.

This year the money will contribute to the construction of a 100bed unit, dedicated to extended care, in Our Lady's Hospice in Harold's Cross. "Following the wran", or "hunting the wran" has been a popular St Stephen's Day tradition in rural areas, particularly Kerry, Cork, Meath and the west of Ireland, since pre-Christian times.

It assumed a religious hue as a result of its connection with St Stephen. The legend tells how the wren got caught in a holly bush, behind which St Stephen was hiding. The bird sang out in pain, thus betraying the saint's whereabouts to Roman centurions, who captured him. As a result, the wren had to be hunted, killed and buried at the end of the festivities on St Stephen's Day. This part of the tradition is not pursued nowadays.