From the recording Apples in Winter

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Two wren songs, thoughtthe first "Please to See the King," comes from Pembrokeshire in Wales, where it was usually sung on Twelfth Night. The second "The Wren" is a traditional Irish version, arranged here with a bridge written by our hammered dulcimer player, Bob Clark.

The wren is featured in several legends from throughout the British Isles, where it is known as the "king of birds." Legend has it that the birds all decided that whichever of them could fly the highest would be named king. Not surprisingly, the eagle quickly soared above the rest, but just as he began to descend, a tiny wren, which had been hiding on the eagle's back, flew out and up even higher and so received the crown. It may be that the bit of trickery the wren used to claim his title set him up for karmic retribution because he has been in trouble ever since. One of the oldest stories places the bird with Irish soldiers who were raiding a Viking camp during the 8th century. The wren began eating breadcrumbs which had been left on the head of a drum. The beating of its beak sounded the drum, which woke the Viking sentry, who sounded the alarm and alerted the camp in time to fight off the raid. The Irish blamed the bird for their defeat and have been persecuting it ever since. A later legend features St. Stephen, who was trying to hide in a bush to escape his enemies. A wren, which was nesting in the same bush, began singing and betrayed Stephen's hiding place. Fans of St. Stephen apparently decided that for this, the wren deserved to be hunted down and stoned to death just like the saint. So, traditionally on St. Stephen's day (December 26th), the men and boys of a town would dress up in scarecrow like costumes, capture and kill a wren, and go about town begging for alms to bury the bird. It was generally known that the money they collected was not actually used for a funeral, but to buy food and drink for a party. Wren marches persist even today in many parts of Ireland, though, thankfully, the wrens are no longer killed, and the collected monies are used for school or community projects.


Please to See the King

Joy, health, love, and peace, be to you in this place.
By your leave we will sing, concerning our king.

Our king is well drest, In silks of the best,
With his ribbons so rare, No king can compare.

In his coach he does ride with a great deal of pride,
And with four footmen to wait upon him.

We were four at watch, and all nigh of a match,
And with powder and ball we fired at his hall.

We have travell'd many miles, over hedges and stiles,
To find you this king which we now to you bring.

Now Christmas is past, Twelfth Day is the last.
Th' Old Year bids adieu, Great joy to the new.
The Wren

The wren, oh the wren, is the king of all birds,
On St. Stephen's Day, he was caught in the furze,
Although he is little, his family is great,
I pray good landlady give us a treat.

And if you draw it of the best,
I hope in heaven your soul will rest,
But if you draw it of the small,
It won't agree with the wren boys at all.

I have a little box here under me arm,
A tuppence or penny will do it no harm,
For we are the boys who came your way,
To bring in the wren on St.Stephen's Day.

As I went out to hunt and all,
I met with a wren who was up on the wall,
Twas up with me wattle and gave him a fall,
And I brought him here to show you all.

Please good Missus won't you give us a treat,
A big lump of pudding or some Christmas cake,
A plate full o'meat and a hot cup of tea,
Then we'll all be going on our way.

The wren, oh the wren, is the king of all birds,
On St. Stephens day, he was caught in the furze,
So it's up with the kettle and down with the pan,
Won't you give us a penny for to bury the wren