taking our culture forward

Beautiful pictures of an ancient Manx tradition

Wed, 20 Dec 2023

A series of stunning photographs of the Manx tradition of Hunt the Wren has been released online.

Commissioned by Culture Vannin and captured in Port St Mary last year by Brook Wassall, the photographs offer a startling presentation of an ancient Manx custom which is thriving all over the Island today.

On St. Stephen's Day (26 December) communities come together across the Isle of Man, to dance and sing around the streets. In recent years, this custom has seen an unprecedented growth in popularity, with the large groups in the eight locations around the Island gaining numbers year on year.

James Franklin, Online & Educational Resources Officer at Culture Vannin, says:

Hunt the Wren is an ancient custom which is not only still practised, but is thriving in the Isle of Man today. It is something which neighbouring countries are amazed at, and which we can feel very proud of indeed.”

Although many films and other resources have been made available in recent years covering the custom, Culture Vannin took the step last year of commissioning Brook Wassall to create timeless images to communicate the joyful community activities.

Chloe Woolley, Manx Music and Dance Development Officer at Culture Vannin, says:

“This is a tradition which allows people to come together as communities and connect, not just with each other, but with the passing seasons, the traditions of our Island, and our own sense of identity as people who call this place our home. Brook’s beautiful images communicate this perfectly and we hope that it will inspire others to join in this year!”

The practice dates back to the earliest written histories of the Isle of Man and beyond. It centres on a wren, known as "the king of all birds," which was danced through the streets on the wren pole. Thankfully, despite no actual bird not being involved for over 100 years now, the tradition continues.

It isn’t known where the tradition originates, but a favourite tale links it to the enchantress, Tehi Tegi.

Long ago, Tehi Tegi made herself so beautiful that all the men of the Isle of Man were besotted by her. They followed her, day and night, neglecting their work entirely. But Tehi Tegi eventually grew tired of this and led all of the men to a river, which she passed over safely but then caused the waters to rise as the men followed. All of the men were drowned. The enchantress escaped the vengeance of the womenfolk by changing herself into the smallest bird of all, the wren. And so, the story goes, we hunt the wren on St. Stephen’s Day in remembrance of this.

Hunt the Wren will take place in 2023 around the Island: Douglas, Willaston, Ramsey, Sulby, Ballaugh, Kirk Michael, St John’s and St John’s. Times vary, but check the Culture Vannin website for details.

All of Brook Wassall’s 50+ photographs are available online, on the Culture Vannin website or Flickr page.