The Wren Boys, dressed in rags and their faces obscured by crude masks, went cottage to cottage carrying their wren house, collecting offerings to the King of Birds.
The wicker cage, decorated with mistletoe and bright ribbons, hung by an iron ring from a hook at the end of a long, ash pole. No live bird was captive, only a homemade effigy, a poor representative of the monarch.
Calling out as they went, the Wren Boys picked up coins thrown in their path. Smaller children joined the parade, adding their innocent voices to the chorus.
“The wran, the wran, the king of all birds,
On St. Stephen’s day was caught in the furze.
His body is little but his family is great
So rise up landlady and give us a trate.”*
That morning, the first wren song was heard. A bubbling jumble of squeaks and squeals, as a nesting pair flitted from tree to tree, shrub to shrub waking the village with their twittering duet and accompanying the chorus. Their early sighting was an omen of fortune for the village.
Among the chittering herd of wrens was the spell-bound Clinoa. Cast out and transmogrified into a tiny, brown bird, the seductress was punished for luring young men from the village to their deaths, drowning them in the sea.
Come St. Stephen’s Day, hunting parties will go out, rousing the bushes and gorse, trying to find the witch. Only in her avian form can she be killed.
By then, will it be too late? Will Clinoa lay of clutch of enchanters? Will her brood mature into a covey, a coven, of wicked shift-changers hungry for more village souls?
“And if your trate be of the best
Your soul in heaven can find its rest.
And if your trate be of the small
It won’t plaze the boys at all.”*
Coins littered the path through the village, paving a way for the Wren Boys with silver and gold. The tribute given to ensure their success in hunting and destroying Clinoa.