Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy has an annual tradition of publishing a specially written Christmas poem, and I was fortunate enough to work with her on this year’s book. ‘The Wren Boys’ is based upon the old Irish country tradition on St. Stephen’s Day of ‘hunting the wren’ – where local boys would dress up as mummers, catch the bird and parade it around town.
When researching the history and folklore for the book, I found out that the wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) has a treacherous reputation. Not only is the wren said to have fought on the side of Viking invaders against Irish soldiers, legend has it that the dastardly bird caused the death of the first Christian martyr, Saint Stephen, when it noisily betrayed his presence to his enemies.
In one of Aesop’s fables, when the wren and the eagle challenged each other to see who could fly the highest, the wren rested on the eagle’s back, and when the eagle tired, the wren flew out above him, proving that cleverness is better than strength. Finally, according to Suetonius, an unfortunate wren tried to warn Julius Caesar of his impending assassination by flying to the Senate with a laurel branch; but was torn to pieces by a flock of other birds. Heavy stuff!
The Wren Boys is now available to buy online and in your local bookshop.