OK, so St. Stephen is hiding in a bush, trying to elude early Christian haters. Suddenly, a tiny wren alights on the bush and immediately begins making an enormous birdy racket. Thanks to the wren, the Christian haters figure out where St. Stephen is hiding. They yank him out from the bush and stone him to death.
Fast forward hundreds of years to the Emerald Isle. Every year, on the feast of St. Stephen (the day after Christmas), local guys track down and kill a wren and mount him on a stick, parading his poor carcass about town. The wren boys, they’re called, and you can tell they’re wren boys because they’re dressed in funny costumes, and they sing and they dance. They beg for drinks, food and spare change. This becomes a happy little tradition.
The idea of the wren boys still exists in Ireland, although—thankfully—no one slaughters little birds any more. And a variation on the legend lives on locally in a fun-filled and completely avian-free evening at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Limekiln Pike in Glenside.
It’s the 10th annual Wren Party, and it is sponsored by the Delaware Valley chapter of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (translation: Gathering of Musicians in Ireland). Comhaltas (pronounced coal-tuss) is dedicated to the perpetuation of Irish music, dance and culture. It’s a party worthy of the Comhaltas mission, featuring live traditional Irish music, set and ceili dance—even a contest for best wren boy hat.
“We’re asking people to put together a hat and join our wren boys parade,” says Jackie Kelly, the local Comhaltas public relations officer who, with Cass Tinney, runs the post-Christmas event. “Every child who enters the parade gets a prize.”
The hat parade is just one of the many activities geared for children. There’s also a puppet show.
But at its core, the Wren Party is about music and dance. Well-known local musician Kevin McGillian and friends set a lively pace, and they do it all for free. There will also be a performance by Haley Richardson, a young New Jersey fiddler who at 6 years old placed first in the 12-and-under category at the Mid-Atlantic Fleadh Cheoil (music festival) at Pearl River, N.Y., last spring. She’ll knock your socks off.
If you love dance, you’ll stay on your feet most of the night. Wear comfy shoes.
And if you like to watch dance, you’ll get to do that, too, as the Timoney and Gibson schools put on a great exhibition.
“Its a nice night of fun and good craic,” says Kelly. “It’s our biggest event all year. We get a great turnout. People just love it. We first started at the MacSwiney Club in Jenkintown, but we outgrew it. The Knights of Columbus Hall is a much larger venue.”
For Kelly (nee Marano), it’s a great way to pass tradition along to the younger generation. “My last name is Kelly, but I’m a hundred percent Italian. But I’ve become totally immersed in this culture. I’ve been to Ireland 19 times. We keep the old tradition alive and that’s a good thing for young kids to see.”
The party starts on Saturday night, December 26, at 7 p.m. The Knights of Columbus Hall is at 235 Limekiln Pike in Glenside. It costs $10 per person. Bring a dessert, too.