Oxford Ramble

Speed the Plough



A Taste of Ale

Six for Gold

Knock at the Knocker, Ring at the Bell

The Robber Bird

Three Quarter Time

The 25th



Recorded Source

John Roberts & Tony Barrand, Nowell Sing We Clear: A Pageant of Midwinter Carols


Wren Boys’ Song

Knock At The Knocker, Ring At The Bell track 14

In many parts of the British Isles, St Stephen’s Day – the 26th December – was associated with wren-hunting customs. Several explanations – none entirely satisfactory – have been advanced as to what the wren had done to deserve such treatment. One is that St. Stephen, hiding from his enemies in a bush, was betrayed by the chattering of a wren, who consequently must be hunted down and stoned to death, as St. Stephen was. In the West of Ireland, Wrenboys dressed in straw suits would once have hunted a wren and nailed it to a pole. Today, the St Stephen’s Day celebrations have been revived – notably in places such as Dingle and Listowel – but no wrens are harmed in the process. As with most midwinter customs, however, a considerable amount of alcohol is consumed by the participants!

Our version of the Wren Boys’ Song is typical of the songs sung as part of the custom. Ian learned it from the CD Nowell Sing We Clear by Tony Barrand and John Roberts; Tony and John had it from James Healy's Ballads from the Pubs of Ireland.

We follow the song with one of many Wren Boys’ Polkas, learned in this case from a Boys of the Lough album.