A tale comes to us from the blustery shores of the Isle of Man. The home of the Manx, the Isle of Man is located in the Irish Sea between Ireland and England. The story’s origins are lost to time but the traditions live on.
A Fairy Siren
Our tale opens with a fairy of uncommon beauty who lured unsuspecting and easily corruptible men ever closer to the sea. Her sweet voice enchanted the men and they would follow in her footsteps until she led them into the sea and they perished. So great was her power, and so gullible the men-folk, the residents feared there would be no men left on the island before to long.
A Fairy & A Wren
A knight, looking to make a name for himself, devised a plan to ensnare the siren. For some unknown reason, he was immune to her charms. The exact details are lost, but just as the knight was about to capture the fairy, she transformed into a wren. Unfortunately for the fairy, a charm was cast at her, and she fated to return each year on December 24th in the form of a wren. The folk of the town, fearing she would again begin singing to the men, hunted her and killed her. Each year, the fairy returns as a Wren and the whole grisly affair starts over again.
A Change In Date
By the 18th century, the date of the fairy’s reappearance as a wren shifted from the 24th of December to Saint Stephen’s Day on December 26th. The custom grew so that every boy and man on the island would go hunting for wrens in hopes that they would catch the fairy in her wren form and then, sadly dispatch her. As you might imagine, a great many wrens of the area were snatched from the skies. The wren’s feathers were plucked and for some inexplicable reason, were considered protective measures against seafaring misadventures and shipwrecks.
A Macabre Procession
The captured wren (or wrens) was affixed to a long pole and paraded around the town for all to see. A chant would rise up of:
We hunted the wren for Robbin the Bobbin.¹
We hunted the wren for Jack of the Can.
We hunted the wren for Robbin the Bobbin.
We hunted the wren for every one.
After processing through the town, the wren was brought to a church yard and set to rest on a bier of greens. A grave was prepared and funeral songs were sung over the dearly departed wren..or fairy. Once the solemn funeral was over, the town folk would form a circle, sing lively songs, and dance about.
The chant still exists and you can hear a version of it here performed by the Mollag Band.
A Fairy Story With Many Origins
Similar yet different versions of the wren tale exist. Some folks claim that wrens betrayed the hiding place of St. Stephen alerting the Romans to his presence and thus becoming the first Christian Martyr of the British Isles. Myths persist that the origins are pre-Roman. The belief being that the wren was the wisest of all birds, a friend of the druids, and hunted by the incursion of the new religion. Another tale has Irish warriors getting set to ambush a group of marauding vikings. The Irish disturbed a flock of wren who beat their wings of the viking’s drums, waking them. Sadly, the Irish fighters were thoroughly defeated.
While there are many version of the tale, they all end with wren’s being caught for their misdeeds.