Sound documentaries

Hunt the Wren: Sound Feature

Hunt the Wren in St Johns, 2010. Photo Credit: Stephen Miller.

Hunt the Wren in St Johns, 2010. Photo Credit: Stephen Miller.

The Isle of Man, a small island located in the middle of the Irish Sea, has a rich history of Celtic and Viking traditions dating back millennia, giving it a diverse cultural heritage and a strong sense of identity.

The island is not part of the United Kingdom but a self-governed crown dependency, with the longest running government in the world.

Tynwald, the Manx parliament, was established by the island’s Viking inhabitants in the 10th century AD and is still in place after more than a thousand years.

A book published in 1731 records one of the island’s traditions:

On the 24th of December, towards evening, all the servants in general have a holiday ; they go not to bed all night, but ramble about till the bells ring in all the churches, which is at twelve o’clock; prayers being over, they go to hunt the wren, and after having found one of these poor birds, they kill her, and lay her on a bier with the utmost solemnity, bringing her to the parish church, and burying her with a whimsical kind of solemnity, singing dirges over her in the Manx language, which they call her knell, after which Christmas begins.

This tradition, described by George Waldron in his ‘Description of the Isle of Man with some useful and entertaining reflections on the laws, customs and manners of the inhabitants,’ is Hunt the Wren.

This is a Celtic custom practiced not just on the Isle of Man but in various guises across the British Isles and further afield, and in some places is still celebrated today.

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This sound documentary by Katie Callin invites the listener inside one of these small communities on the island which commemorates the tradition of Hunt the Wren every Boxing Day.

It explores the diverse origin stories behind the event, why it is still celebrated today and what has changed.

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