[From Manx Soc vol 16]
In addition to what has been previously written on this subject, it is a singular fact, that wherever we find this peculiar custom prevailing, it is always attended with appliances. as if the object sought for was one of extraordinary bulk or weight, instead of being one of the most diminutive of our feathered tribe. The origin of this is not mentioned by any writer that I have consulted; it may, perhaps, be accounted for by the desire to render every homage to so important a personage as " the king of all birds,?' who, like other potentates, require every appliance that can be devised to uphold and maintain, their dignity; whatever the origin, however, it is certain it has continued from the earliest ages. The old tune of "Hoist, hoist," is said to come from the Anglo-Saxon times, and is the burden of the song as sung in Devonshire in Christmas week, where the villagers formerly suspended the wren from a heavy pole, and carried on their shoulders as a mighty burthen. They pretended to hoist the momsrous bird into a waggon, singing as follows
I've shot a wren,'says Rabbin to Bobbin
Hoist! hoist ! says Richard to Robin..
Hoist! hoist! says John all alone
Hoist! hoist! says everyone.
I'll take a leg, says Rabbin to Bobbin
Hoist ! hoist! says Richard to Robin.
Hoist ! hoist! etc.
I'll take the head, says Rabbin to Bobbin;
Hoist! hoi,st! says Richard to Robin,
Hoist! hoist! etc.
I'll take a wing, says Rabbin to Bobbin,
Hoist! hoist! says Richard to Robin. .
Hoist ! hoist ! etc.
And so on, always chorusing with affected labour and exertion,
This accords with the custom in France as recorded by Sonnini, before mentioned, who gives'a singular name to this bird, calling it La Ciotat (the polecat), or Père de la bécasse (father of the woodcock), on account of the resemblance of its plumage to that of the woodcock.
Colonel Vallency, in his Collectanea de Rebus Hibernicis says, " The Druids represented this as the king of all birds. The superstitious respect shown to this little bird gave offence to our first Christian missionaries, and by:their commands he is still hunted and killed by the peasants on Christmas-day, and on the following (St. Stephens' Day) he is carried about hung by the leg in the centre of two hoops, crossing each other at right. angles, and a procession made in every village of men, women, and children, singing an Irish catch,importing him to be the king of all birds. In several European languages his name imports the same-- as, Latin,Regulus; French, Reytelet; Welsh. Bren, king; Teutonic, Koning Vogel, king-bird; Dutch, Konije, little, king." In Manx, Dreain, it is derived from druai dryw, the Druid's bird.
This kingly dignity is accounted for in the following curious traditional tale, which is also current in the West Highlands and in Skye, and is also related in Grimm's story ,of "King; Wren," in which the notes of many creatures are made into German.-" In a grand assembly of all the birds of the air, it was determined that the sovereignty of the feathered tribe should be conferred upon the one who would fly highest. The favourite was, of course, the eagle, who at once, and in full confidence of victory, commenced his flight towards the sun; when he had vastly distanced all competitors, he proclaimed with a mighty voice his monarchy over all things that had wings. Suddenly, however, the wren, who had secreted himself under the feathers of the eagle's crest, popped from his hiding-place, flew a few inches upwards, and chirped out as loudly as he could, 'Birds, look up and behold your king;' and was elected accordingly."
Aubray relates in his Miscellanies that after a battle in the north of Ireland, " a party of the Protestants had been surprised sleeping by the Popish Irish, were it not for several wrens that just wakened them by dancing and pecking on the drums as the enemy were approaching. For this reason the wild Irish mortally hate these birds to this day, calling them the devil's servants, and killing them wherever they can catch them: they teach their children to thrust them full of thorns; you'll see sometimes on holidays a whole parish running like madmen from hedge to hedge a "wren hunting. This is not the case in England, where a kind of reverence is paid to it, for it is considered unlucky to kill or destroy their nests, anyone doing so would infallibly, within the course of the year meet with some dreadful misfortune, for according to the old distich.
"A robin and a wren,
Are God Almighty's cock and hen."
also an old poet says :-
I never take away their nest, nor try
To catch the old ones, lest a friend should die;
Dick took a wren's nest from his cottage side,
And ere a twelvemonth past his mother dy'd!
In the version as printed of this song, it is given as recited at the time, but evidently there are several expressions not in unison with the Manx idiom, which only shows the difficulty of preserving in their original purity these orally delivered songs, for each batch of minstrels are constantly introducing something of their own.
In the line " Robin to Bobbin," and " Jack of the
should certainly be " Robin the Bobbin," and Jackey the Land," being the particular designation by which they were known, similar to what may be met with in many instances at the present day, as, " Billey the Bo," " Jackey the Cook," " Tom the Rock," etc. Other minor expressions might be noticed, as "he is" for "he's," but the last verse is evidently belonging to an Irish version. The Manx song terminates generally after " The bones for the dogs" with-
He's eat, he's eat, says Robin the Bobbin,
He's eat ' he's eat, says Richard to Robin,
He's eat, he's eat, says Jackey the Land,
He's eat, he's eat, says every one."
I have never met with a copy of dirges in the Manx language, said to have been sung over the body at the interment, as is recorded in Waldron's History.