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Hunting the wren – the hunt begins

Why are we here?

Everyone has a blog in them – a subject that intrigues them, perplexes them, excites them and keeps them awake at night on the odd occasion.  

This is mine.  What on earth does the title of this blog mean, you may ask?  “Hunting the wren”  is the name of an English folk song. But also of a Boxing Day tradition,  still celebrated throughout the Celtic nations, but notably in Ireland and the Isle of Man.

The darkness beneath….

Hunting the wren ceremony, Port St Mary, Isle of Man. Photo: Culture Vannin

On the surface, it’s a sweet thing, about going out to try and spot the little birds in the midst of winter. But delve deeper, and you uncover the roots of the tradition and of the song. It recalls sacrifice and offerings to the gods in the midst of winter, to ensure a good year ahead. A human sacrifice at that. Experts believe that the origins of the song and tradition predate the Celts in Britain – that’s pretty old. The full story of the wren will follow in future blogs…..

And so, that’s why I chose the folk song as the title of my blog. I love formal history, but love even more how the past forces its way through into our everyday life, and hides there in plain sight.

Word of the day – palimpsest

Palimpsest document – Georgian

The past is  all around us, in our folk songs, our place names, our geography, our buildings, our language. This country’s a palimpsest –  a marvellous Greek word to describe a document, where the original writing has been erased or written over, but the original text can be deciphered through the later additions.


There are ghosts everywhere. When my old uncle Ron died,  I was driving back alone from the hospital and thinking of all I had to do to organise his funeral and sort out the official requirements.There was a cacophony of voices in my head – my dead parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles telling me what to do, offering advice, talking over each other, arguing. I smile as I recall it – I actually shouted out in the car,  “shut up, you lot, I know what I’m doing!”.  

Hiding in plain sight

That’s why I’m compelled to write this blog. I often feel the ghosts out there, trying to point out the things that were important to them, the stuff which we ignore or pass over, because we don’t realise the significance of things.  

This is my attempt to give a bit of a voice to the past that is hiding in plain sight.  No, I am not a professional or expert historian, but I can hopefully signpost now and again where those experts can be read. I will not plunder and regurgitate directly from the wonderful but overused Wikipedia. Yes, it will be nerdy. If it’s too nerdy, pass on kindly and ignore me. But if you’re interested, I’d be delighted to share thoughts with you and try and keep that glorious history – and the ghosts – alive.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Gill

    Really enjoyed reading it so far – love the uncle Ron reference. Beautifully written Gill

  2. Katie Williams

    This is wonderful! Can’t wait for more!

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