Christmas 2006

Ten days ago, we finished the last of six Christmas Celtic Sojourn concerts at the Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston to sold-out crowds. Congratulations to Brian on establishing this as an annual Boston Christmas tradition in just three years. I participated in the first one at the Somerville Theatre in 2003. It was just one show and I never imagined that it could grow so quickly.

It was interesting to get a glimpse of what it is like to be in a theatrical run of a musical or play. There are many hours of technical preparations before the curtain rises; sound checks and lighting cues, prop placement, exits and entrances. All these things have to be planned for twenty musicians, singers and dancers, a task that was handled with impeccable skill and diplomacy by the director, Paula Plum. For a couple of days before the show opened, we did a lot of sitting around and waiting on stage or in the dressing rooms. But there was great camaraderie between the cast and we had a lot of fun as well. The hardest part was seeing so little daylight. There were nine high-definition television cameras there to record the final show so it should be on a TV near you next Christmas. They taped almost three hours of material for a one hour show so hopefully one of my bits will survive the edits.

At one point in the show, Brian and I talked about the Irish Christmas traditions that we miss here in the USA like 26th December, St Stephen’s Day, and the custom of going off with the wren or the “wran” as it is usually pronounced. The Wren Boys can still be seen in many parts of Ireland. In the old days, groups of young men would kill a wren and place the body in a holly bush. They would then dress up in costume and carry the holly bush and wren around to neighbor’s houses and sing the Wren Song outside the door. This usually resulted in an invitation inside for food and drink. Coins were also collected to defray the cost of burying the wren.

The wren, the wren, the king of all birds
St Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze
Although he was little, his honor was great
Jump up me lads and give us a treat

As I was going to Killanaule
I met a wren upon the wall
Up with my wattle and knocked him down
And brought him into Carrick town

Dreolin, dreolin where’s your nest
‘Tis in the bush that I love best
‘Tis in the tree, the holly tree
Where all the boys do follow me

Up with the kettle and down with the pan
And give us a penny to bury the wren

I followed the wren three miles or more
Three miles or more, three miles or more
I followed the wren three miles or more
At six o’clock in the morning

I have a little box under my arm
Under my arm, under my arm
I have a little box under my arm
A penny or tuppence would do it no harm

Mrs Clancy is a very good woman
A very good woman, a very good woman
Mrs Clancy is a very good woman
She’ll give us a penny to bury the wren

In more recent times, we would forego the wren part and just disguise ourselves with greasepaint and homemade costumes and go wandering around to country pubs singing and collecting money for local charities like Meals on Wheels. We’d often have a convoy of ten or fifteen cars roaming around little villages like Kilmoganny, Tullahought and Ballypatrick.

My uncle Bobby Clancy, Aoife’s dad, was our our fearless leader. He had the ability to persuade even the shyest person to improvise a costume and join in the fun. I remember one year when I was about 7, Bobby appeared at our house in Waterford to take us “off with the wran.” My mother was delighted but my father, who was not an extrovert, adamantly refused to participate. But Bobby was relentless and he finally convinced my father that he could disguise him so that even his own mother wouldn’t recognize him. He told him that he didn’t have to sing; all he had to do was collect the money for the Meals on Wheels. So with a blackened face and a floppy woman’s hat and a toga, my father set out with the gang. Still fearing that he might be recognized, he had solicited a promise from Bobby that they would stay well away from any pubs in the city. True to his word, Bobby packed us all in his old black Ford and headed off to the village of Kilmacow in county Kilkenny. We stopped outside a pub and started singing before going in. So far, so good. The pint-drinking patrons received us warmly. My father went around with a tin can collecting money. There was another little room off the main room in the bar and as he stepped through the door, a voice piped up, “How’re you Sean? Did you have a good Christmas?”

He was mortified. I’m sure his face must have turned a bright red beneath the layers of black greasepaint. He wanted to murder Bobby, who found the whole incident highly amusing. I don’t remember what happened after that but I know that my father never again went out with the wren.

During the show’s run, we stayed at Jury’s Hotel in Boston, a ten-minute walk from the theatre. It was a bit like running the gauntlet with all the smokers standing outside on the sidewalk getting their fix. The smoke smells even more toxic outside, maybe because you don’t expect it. It was such a relief to step inside for a breath of fresh air. How things have changed!

I read in today’s paper how iTunes had to shut down temporarily over Christmas as it was swamped with orders. If you just got an iPod as a present, you might be interested to know that my CD Recollections is now available on iTunes.

I will hardly get time to blog again before December 31st, so I’d like to wish you all a very Happy and Wonderful New Year!

Comments

  1. Sandra Lowry says:

    Happy New Year to you, too. Hope all your plans come together with great success. Also, thanks for the lyrics, reading them made me laugh and I had to go get out one of my “very old” LP’s and give it a listen. Have been smiling ever since.

    Joy!