The Wren, Birds and Beasts in Welsh folklore and mythology, a tale from Wales
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Category: Birds and Beasts
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Title: The Wren

The Wren’s life is sacred, excepting at one time of the year, for should anyone take this wee birdie’s life away, upon him some mishap will fall. The wren is classed with the Robin:—|The robin and the wren| Are God’s cock and hen.|The cruel sport of hunting the wren on St. Stephen’s Day, which the writer has a dim recollection of having in his boyhood joined in, was the one time in the year when the wren’s life was in jeopardy.|The Rev. Silvan Evans, in a letter to the Academy, which has been reproduced in Bye-Gones, vol. vii., p. 206, alludes to this sport in these words:—|
“Something similar to the ‘hunting of the wren’ was not unknown to the Principality as late as about a century ago, or later. In the Christmas holidays it was the custom of a certain number of young men, not necessarily boys, to visit the abodes of such couples as had been married within the year. The order of the night—for it was strictly a nightly performance—was to this effect. Having caught a wren, they placed it on a miniature bier made for the occasion, and carried it in procession towards the house which they intended to visit. Having arrived they serenaded the master and mistress of the house under their bedroom window with the following doggerel:—|Dyma’r dryw,|Os yw e’n fyw,|Neu dderyn tô
I gael ei rostio.|That is:—|Here is the wren,|If he is alive,|Or a sparrow|To be roasted.|If they could not catch a wren for the occasion, it was lawful to substitute a sparrow (ad eryn tô). The husband, if agreeable, would then open the door, admit the party, and regale them with plenty of Christmas ale, the obtaining of which being the principal object of the whole performance.”|The second line in the verse, “Os yw e’n fyw,” intimates that possibly the wren is dead—“If he is alive.” This would generally be the case, as it was next to impossible to secure the little thing until it had been thoroughly exhausted, and then the act of pouncing upon it would itself put an end to its existence.|Perhaps the English doggerel was intended to put an end to this cruel sport, by intimating that the wee bird belonged to God, was one of His creatures, and that therefore it should not be abused.|There is a Welsh couplet still in use:—|Pwy bynnag doro nyth y dryw,|Ni chaiff ef weled wyneb Duw.|Whoever breaks a wren’s nest,|Shall never see God’s face.|This saying protects the snug little home of the wren. Much the same thing is said of the Robin’s nest, but I think this was put, “Whoever robs a robin’s nest shall go to hell.”|Another Welsh couplet was:—|Y neb a doro nyth y dryw,|Ni chaiff iechyd yn ei fyw|Whoever breaks the wren’s nest,|Shall never enjoy good health.|Although the robin and the wren were favourites of heaven, still it was supposed that they were under some kind of curse, for it was believed that the robin could not fly through a hedge, it must always fly over, whilst on the other hand, the wren could not fly over a hedge, but it was obliged to make its way through it.

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