John B Keane: wrenboy tradition under severe threat

NO QUESTION about it. This year saw the smallest number of wrenboy bands ever and if the number of the bands were small so were the numbers in the bands.

NO QUESTION about it. This year saw the smallest number of wrenboy bands ever and if the number of the bands were small so were the numbers in the bands.

The music too was far was far from being as enjoyable as other years and the costumes were not what they should be.

This leads me to believe that the bigger groups of wrenboys and the established groups no longer comb the countryside collecting money for nights or for the division amongst themselves.

Instead they prefer to wait for the competitions and championships which are now an established part of the social set up in West Limerick and North Kerry.

A wrenboy’s itinerary can be a long and arduous one if his band is to make enough to have a worthwhile night. The weather is often downright unpleasant, so most bands have now taken to cars when they want to get from one area to another.

The biggest reason for the drop in the number of bands is of course the difficulty in getting a house for the night. The house must have a large kitchen if there is to be dancing and nowadays nobody seems to be willing to offer a house.

“They go into the beds” one woman told me “and they won’t come out when you ask them. When it is time to go home they won’t go for you and ‘tis often one o’clock the following day before the last of them are shifted.

“They younger ones are too fond of fighting when they get the drop of drink inside them and no one is safe when a row starts. Never again,” was her final comment.

So it would seem that the traditional wren night is on the way out.

Another wrenboy told me: “We are no match for the organised social where they can serve hot turkey and ham.

“What chance has the pigs head against the turkey.”

Another nail in the coffin of the wrenboys night would seem to be changing tastes of the younger women and girls. No longer are they content with the sups of wine which satisfied their mothers and their grandmothers.

Now they want Vodka and bitter lemon, gin and tonic, scotch whiskey and brandy. No outfit could afford to purchase these items.

The traditional order for a Night always included three bottles of weak port or sherry. Also as well as being weak it had to be cheap. The accent was on porter and minerals. There was always an order for six dozen of minerals.

On the other hand it would seem from watching the various championships from the All-Ireland down, that the number of wrenboys was on the increase. Whether it is or not one thing is certain. As far as the traditional Night is concerned, things will never be the same again.


LOOKING back on the old year, there were many significant changes, mostly for the best, and while I do not wish to single out any places or persons for special mention no on will deny that the revival of the Glin carnival was an event of paramount importance.

The fantastic efforts of the Abbeyfeale people to get a factory is well worth mention and no doubt their efforts are being rewarded.

A bouquet too to Henry Webber, managing director of Jowika, Listowel for his unsparing efforts to lure young girls away from the emigrant ship. His idea of introducing a minibus for transporting these girls to work from all over West Limerick and North Kerry deserve a special mention.

Another outstanding event on the year just gone was the belated appearance of one Jack Wilberforce Faulkner on our television screens. It is to be hoped that Newsbeat, Feach, Seven Days, to mention but a few will follow the example of Gay Byrne and give the Irish public another opportunity of seeing the great traveller.

Listowel’s second factory, nearing completion was another event of importance and rumour has it that another factory is on the way.

While the going is good, a word of thanks to that great correspondent from Tournafulla, P.J. O’Sullivan. A leaf could’nt fall or an ass foal in his bailiwick without hearing of it from the pen of P.J.

God grant him many of year of similar reporting. I always thought P.J. was eighty but he now informs me he is seventy nine.

Another incident worth recalling was the illness and remarkable recovery of Canavan’s talking dog, Banana the Fifth.

It was around this time of year that his ancestor, Banana the First, jumped from a foreign ship in Foynes and made his way to North Kerry.

Although not as wise or witty as his late uncle, Banana the Fourth, Banana the Fifth, has all the making or a right wag.

We wish him good fortunate in the seventies.

Sixty nine was also the year that saw the maiden voyage of the Shannon Heather, the ferry boat between Kerry and Clare become an outstanding success since its inauguration. Wewish it long life into the seventies. Very soon there will be a second such boat. No doubt I have overlooked many worthwhile events but if I have been party to an injustice, I am sure that readers will jog my memory in the near future.