Saturday, December 26, 2009

the wren song

A wren in the hand is better than a crane to be caught.
Irish Proverb

happy st. stephen's day, the day of the wren, or boxing day! in many parts of the world today is an 'official holiday' and a day with special significance. in the united states, the day after christmas is just another day, unless one takes the day off work or it falls on the weekend, it's back to business as usual.

for me this day is marked by some special songs. of course, foremost is the wren song - since it has a long tradition there are many versions of the song. the song first came to my attention many years ago after hearing it sung by the clancy brothers. another song I always like to listen to on december 26th is elvis costello and paddy maloney's st. stephen day murders. the song is on perhaps my all time favorite holiday album the bells of dublin by the chieftains; the album contains several songs particular to st. stephen's day as they feature to the wren (which according to legend betrayed st. stephen which led to him being caught and martyred).

recently, f and I heard eileen ivers perform the wren song when she and her band played with the cleveland orchestra at their (hopefully) annual holiday performance at severance hall. a couple years ago eileen released an nollaig, an irish christmas album; surprising the album doesn't contain the wren song, although eileen does discuss her family's tradition of celebrating the wren day in her liner notes.

earlier this month liam clancy, the last of the clancy brothers died at age 74. liam was the youngest of eleven children from county tipperany. the ny times obituary for liam includes a 1984 quote by bob dylan:
“I never heard a singer as good as Liam ever. He was just the best ballad singer I’d ever heard in my life. Still is, probably.”
liam, who was a few years older than dylan, befriended bob when they were both young folk singers in greenwich village. liam moved to new york in 1956 and soon after his career took off. rest in peace liam, thank you for all the beauty and grace you brought to the world.

the clancy brothers on the mike douglas show in 1969 performing the wren song.

photos: top - okay I know these are sparrows not wrens but they are both small brown birds; bottom - ivers and immigrant soul performing at severance hall in 2008; I took a couple (non-flash) pictures last year at the concert and although I was sneaky I did end up getting reprimanded by the woman sitting next to me who just happened to be an employee of the hall; I was quite chagrined. this year I didn't want to be tempted and I left my camera behind.


Anonymous said...

I hadn't heard about Liam so this is very sad news to me :( The Clancys were pretty infectious to listen too, tho' :)

Loved the vid kimy! It cheered me right up, it did!!

Megan said...

My sister made my dad a Clancy Bros CD for Christmas. :)

Happy Boxing Day to Ave C!

Roy said...

They hunt the Wren on the 26th in Wales and on the Isle of Man, too. And oddly enough, in Newfoundland, as well. Apparently it dates back to the Druids.

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

Heh, heh! Ya beat me to the Sparrow thing. And by the way, Wrens are way smaller, and even more drab, than even Sparrows. That's why they're so hard to find, unless you know their song. Even then, following the song doesn't guarantee a sighting. In 10 years of chasing birds with a camera I have maybe 3 shots of Wrens. Heh, heh! They really don't want to be seen!

Baino said...

St Stephens has long gone for us (we call it Boxing Day of course). Great time for recovery and doing not much. I didn't understand the link with the wren.

Reya Mellicker said...

Happy St. Stephen's day. I wonder if NY Steve knows??

Onwards to new year's and new decade's eve, eh?

e said...

Sad about Liam as well...

I hope you enjoyed Boxing Day, and Happy New Year!

Dot-Com said...

Hope you had a wonderful Christmas. Best wishes for the new year.

RobinB said...

It's my favorite Christmas CD as well, Kimy. I'll check out the Clancy Bros. I've started liking Boxing Day better than Christmas; not sure why! Happy New Year!!

Colette Amelia said...

Wrens, Sparrows no problemo...the photo is outstanding!!!

Thanks for the songs!