Tunes and treasures that spark from great loss

Hunting for Wren Tunes and Tales

St. Stephen’s Day Traditions in Ireland
Tunes and treasures that spark from great loss
Episode Trailer

Why did kids carry dead birds on sticks all over Ireland on the 26th of December? And what did this all have to do with first century Christian martyr St. Stephen? Just like traditional tunes, which can vary from player to player, the whole history of Wren Day depends on the storyteller. Learn more about the role a melody, a good story (or three), and a tiny bird has played in the centuries-long winter tradition of hunting the wren.


Thank you to everybody for listening. And a special thank you to this month’s underwriters:

John Kerr, Chris Armstrong, Marco Battaglia, Rudolf Tschachtli, Julia Richards, Nina Coyle, Michael Schock, Ron Kral, Isaiah Hall, David Vaughan, Susan Walsh, Matt Jensen, John Ploch, Tom Frederick, Paul DeCamp, Suezen Brown, Jonathan Duvick, Gerry Corr, Mike Voss,  Sean Carroll, Isobel McMahon, Lynn Hayes, Bob Suchor, Brian Benscoter, Finian McCluskey, Rick Rubin, Ken Doyle, Chris Armstrong, Ian Bittle, Chris Murphy, and the Irish & Celtic Music Podcast

Episode 67 – Hunting for Wren Tunes and Tales
St. Stephen’s Day Traditions in Ireland
This Irish Music Stories episode aired December 20 2022

Speakers, in order of appearance
>> Shannon Heaton: flute player, singer, composer, teacher, and host of Irish Music Stories 
>> Joe Heaney: Singer and storyteller from Carna in Connemara (1919-1984)
>> Robbie O’Connell: Waterford-born singer songwriter who grew up in Carrick-on-Suir and travelled with his Clancy uncles
>> Nigel Heaton: young announcer for Irish Music Stories
>> Rory Makem: Folksinger and guitar/banjo player, who learned from his grandma Sarah and father Tommy

>> Shannon: I’m Shannon Heaton, and this is Irish music stories. The show about traditional music and the bigger stories behind it.

Like the role a melody, a good story (or three), and a tiny bird can play in a centuries-long winter tradition.

[ Music: “Hunt the Wren,” from Web Project 

Artist: Frank Woolley ]

That’s a little tune called ‘Hunt the Wren,’ which was played by Frank Woolley on piano. And it showed up in The Mona Melodies, which was a book of music from the Isle of Man published in 1820.

[ Music: “E Chimes,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

The Isle of Man, if you don’t already know, is that little territory in the British Isles right between Ireland and Great Britain. This island was first inhabited about 8,000 years ago. And by the 18th century, there was already a long standing tradition of wren hunting.

Yes, hunting those tiny brown birds. 

If you’ve ever watched the History Channel show ALONE, you’d know how tricky it is to snare a small bird. But back then, apparently, even kids could do it.

In 1720, an islander named George Waldron wrote about the Manx wren tradition. Apparently, as soon as Christmas church services were over on December 25th, people on the Isle of Man would send their servants out to find and kill a wren. They’d take it back to the church, give it a mock funeral, and only then did Christmas officially begin. What a festive way to start the season!

By the end of the 18th century, they’d moved the party to the 26th of December. On this second day of Christmas, to honor Stephen, the very first Christian martyr, they’d stick a dead bird on top of a pole, and parade around and sing. Eeew.

In 1824 Thomas Crofton Croker wrote about wren hunting in the South of Ireland. He described how boys would beat bushes with long sticks until they found a little wren. They’d kill it, decorate it with ribbons, flowers, and branches and carry it from house to house asking for money or food. 

And if your trate be of the best
Your soul in heaven can find its rest.
And if your trate be of the small
It won’t plaze the boys at all.

Why were they carrying dead birds on sticks all over Ireland? And the Isle of Man? And throughout the British Isles, Germany, and France? Wasn’t there an easier way to get some gingerbread? And what did this all have to do with old St. Stephen?

Well, just like traditional tunes, which can vary from region to region, and from player to player, the whole history of Wren Day depends on the storyteller.

But it starts with the wren. So gather round the MP3 player, my little chickadees. And let’s go hunting for some tales and tunes about the unlikely king of birds: the wren.

[ Music: “The Wren, The Wren,” from Single

Artist: Lisa O’Neill ]

The wee wren doesn’t really look like a king. It’s the third smallest bird in Europe, with brown feathers (no regal purple or gold).

[ Music: “Celtic Grooves,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories

Composer/Artist: Matt Heaton ]

 But it does have a long tail that fluffs out. And wrens are really loud! They act all big and dramatic, even though they’re tiny and plain.  

So are they kind of…. obnoxious? Or just fun and lively? Or super smart survivors? They’ve been around at least 10,000 years, scrapping through the cold months, finding seeds, hunkering down in snuggly warm spots.

Their Latin name, troglodyte, means, ‘cave-dweller,’ because they spend so much time inside hedges and bushes. When the earliest Celts settled in Ireland and Wales (Celts meaning European people who speak Celtic languages), well they believed that wrens were messengers between humans and deities. They thought wrens could connect to divine forces and bring luck during the short, dark, scary days of winter. 

Sometimes they would sacrifice wrens to convince the Sun to come out longer, to welcome warmer days. These were ancient people trying to survive and thrive in the cold. Then Patrick arrived around 431 AD to warm up Ireland with Christianity. 

[ Music: “St. Patrick’s Day,” from Cover the Buckle

Artists: Seán Clohessy, Sean Mccomiskey, And Kieran Jordan ]

His approach was to incorporate a lot of the old Celtic beliefs and rituals, including the lore about the wren. Early Irish Christians were invited to weave their old stories into their new faith.  So they adjusted their old tales about the wren, their exalted, symbolic bird. And they said it must have been God who’d set a challenge to determine the king of all birds. 

( music swells )

The Grimm Brothers published a more secular story about it in Germany. But it was the same shtick: the bird who flew the highest in this bird contest would be King.

The Grimms wrote, “The whole troop rose up in the air. The dust ascended from the land, and there was tremendous fluttering and whirring and beating of wings, and it looked as if a black cloud was rising up. The little birds were soon left behind. … The larger birds held out longer, but none could equal the eagle, who mounted so high that he could have picked the eyes out of the sun.”

So the eagle seems to be the finalist. But there was another layer, a little wrinkle – the same as the Irish version, which Connemara singer Joe Heaney told an audience in 1978.

>> Joe Heaney: And the wren being a little bird, he jumped on the eagle’s back. And of course the eagle never felt him on his back. And the eagle went as high as he could.

>> Shannon: And just before heading back down..

>> Joe: He says “I’m the king of the birds. 

>> Shannon: But that’s when the little wren, the little stinker who’s been resting this whole time and has plenty of energy to go just a little higher, pops out. And he says

>> Joe: “No,” he says, “you’re not. I’m king of the birds!” 

>> Shannon: So the wren wins by being cunning.Duplicitous. By being a clever sneaky bird. A traitor to the eagle and the other birds. And a traitor to first century Stephen.

[ Music: “Dark Low Jig,”  from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories

Composer/Artist: Matt Heaton ]

Now Stephen was this kind person who helped the poor and needy. He was very pro people, pro family. And he was critical of the wealthy, corrupt clergy. But the rich priests had a bunch of devout followers. And that gang chased Stephen out of town. 

Stephen managed to hide in a yellow furze bush (furze is also known as ‘broom’). He might have gotten away if it hadn’t been for a noisy wren whose chattering gave Stephen away. So the band that had drummed Stephen out of town stoned him to death.

Blame the wren. Not the angry mob.

Stephen’s final words were apparently prayers of forgiveness for his attackers. Which is kind. But the poor wren wasn’t forgiven.

Other stories blame the wren for screwing it up for a group of Irish soldiers who were caught during an 8th century Viking raid. Once again, it was the noisy wren who led the soldiers to their death. Irish people responded by stoning the wren to death, just just like Stephen had been 700 years before.

Blame the wren. Not the Vikings. Or bloody, greedy, violent human nature…

There’s another version of this story that these same soldiers were actually saved by the wren. In this one, those same soldiers were sleeping and about to be attacked. And a flock of wrens pecked on their drums. This woke the soldiers in time to escape.

“Although she is little her honor is great.”

There are plenty of other stories about the wren and St. Stephen’s Day. Like the one about the two young boys out walking who spotted a dead bird on the side of the road. They scooped the bird into a box and and went house to house, offering performances in exchange for money, so they could give the bird a proper funeral. 

[ Music: “The Wren,” from Lisa O’Neill 

Up with the kettle and down with the pan,
And give us a penny to bury the wren ]

No matter the reasons, the annual St. Stephen’s day tradition in Ireland settled for a long time on young boys hunting a wren. It didn’t become an official holiday until 1871. But for hundreds of years before that, wren boys or straw boys would catch a bird, kill it, and tie it the top of a pole on December 26th, or sometimes on New Year’s Day. They’d put on old clothes and straw hats. This kind of thing.

[ Music: “Awyr”  from Soundtrack

Artist: Rhodri McDonagh ]

On St. Stephen’s Day in Wales, they used to parade around with a horse skull covered in ribbons. Yes, on the end of a stick. Sometimes they’d fix a spring to the lower jaw of the horse, so they could open and close the mouth like a puppet. They called it the Mari Lwyd or the Grey Mare. Some said this represented Holy Mary, going door to door, trying to find a place to have baby Jesus. Others thought it was more of a pagan, pre-Christian thing. But basically just like the Wren Boys on St. Stephen’s Day, it involved going door to door. Instead of a wren, it was a creepy skull on a stick. And people would stand outside a house and they’d have these rap battles. They’d combine traditional and improvised words, and they’d take turns roasting each other. The winners would get to go into the neighbor’s house and have food and drinks. A lot of work on the part of the carolers and the neighbor’s providing the hospitality. 

The first Mari Lwyd account was documented in 1798. It pretty much petered out around 1920. Mostly because people got rowdy and drunk, which didn’t sit well with the Welsh Methodists. But there are places like Glamorgan that still celebrate today. But maybe with a little bit of a gentler vibe.

Meanwhile in the far southwest of England, in Cornwall, they had another kind of a celebration on December 26th. They called it Darking Day. 

On or around St. Stephen’s Day, around the time of the winter solstice, people would paint their faces dark to symbolize darker days, in contrast to the ‘white’ summer solstice festivals. In some places in Ireland, people took this on this custom on St. Stephen’s Day, and they’d paint their faces with burned cork. In other words, they would run around in blackface. Darking Day also went to the U.S. with 17th century European immigrants. 

As the commercial entertainment industry developed in the 19th century, Darking Day was also called Darkie Day. It incorporated minstrel songs, some of which used the N word. And people started to realize this practice was problematic—that howsoever symbolic it might have started (to represent dark days transitioning to warmer, longer days), there was certainly a better way to welcome Spring than white people singing together with faces painted black.

They changed the name to Mummer’s Day. And most people moved the focus back to more seasonal aspects of the tradition… and to performing a play, “The Mummer’s Play.” It was only mime at first (The Middle English word mum means silent). As the plays and as modern mummering evolved, words, music, dance, and sword fighting were added. It was still often a door to door holiday thing. And Mummers would sometimes join Wren Boys. 

But the main dish back in Ireland remained the bird: the Wren Boys on St. Stephen’s Day would carry the wren around, and collect money for a dance or a party for the whole village. And after all the door to door stuff, it was about the parties and the music surrounding the whole day.

Robbie O’Connell used to sing the wren song as a kid. And he sang many other songs with his uncles, the Clancy Brothers, when he started traveling around with them. Robbie talked about his memories about going on the wren in Tipperary, with Brian O’Donovan who grew up in Cork. This is from a performance of A Celtic Christmas Sojourn:

>> Robbie: It was a little bit like trick or treating. They’d go around, then, from house to house, and they’d sing and they’d play music outside. Now there was always music involved, there was always musicians and singers. And they’d be invited into the houses for food and drink. But the strange thing is was they used to collect money to bury the wren. Now Brian did it growing up. I did it all the time growing up. In fact we used to have a wonderful time. We’d all end up having a big party that night. And the music would go on literally til dawn sometimes.

>> Brian: It’s true. So there are various versions of this song, but the one you’re going to sing comes from your growing up. 

>> Robbie: Yes, this is the one that was in the Clancy family in Carrick-on-Suir in Tipperary. So I’ll sing it for you.

[ Music: “The Wren Song,” from A Celtic Christmas Sojourn Live

Artist: Robbie O’Connell and cast ]

>> By the time Robbie was going on the wren, the ritual wren hunting had slowed down. Sometimes people would use a toy bird (or no bird). But when Joe Heaney went door to door in Connemara when he was a kid in the 1920s and 30s, he said the actual bird brought in some cash. So he and his friends used to always have a live bird in their jar. But if they couldn’t get a live one, they’d take a potato and put a match in for a beak, a few sticks for legs. 

>> Joe: But you didn’t get the same money as if you had the real wren. You had to have the real wren, or you got not money. In my place, they’d have to see the wren jumping. Without that, you got nothing. They’d say “get off with you, you have no wren.’”

>> Shannon: Hahaha! Get off with you, you have no wren! I guess they had the best luck catching wrens over the doors of thatched cottages, that’s where the birds would sleep. 

>> Joe: And we’d get a flash lamp. If the wren was there, he’d come out. The light would blind him, And you’d catch him then and put him into a glass jar

>> Shannon: Okay, they’d use light to lure the little bird out. If you’re planning on being a contestant on the show ALONE, you might want to take a flash lamp with you! Seems like a good way to catch a wren. Or in the Irish language, Dreoilín.

>> Joe: And you said, Dreoilín, Dreoilín…. [ sings in Irish then English ]

[ Music: Slip Jig Dreams reprise ]

>> Shannon: They’d sing this door after door. And after the day of singing, Joe said they’d let the wren out of the jar. If he was still alive. But the wren was supposed to be killed.  “Killing” the old year to bring in the new. Because the wren was a symbol of winter. In that sense, tending to the death of one season, to make room for the next one—for the Robin’s moment, the Spring—that isn’t without hope.

Making this podcast has been a project full of hope and kindness. Every month I’ve put out an episode, folks have listened and shown support. Here’s my kid to thank this month’s sponsors

>> Nigel: Thank you to John Kerr, Chris Armstrong, Marco Battaglia, Rudolf Tschachtli, Julia Richards, Nina Coyle, Michael Schock

Ron Kral, Isaiah Hall, David Vaughan, Susan Walsh, Matt Jensen, John Ploch, Tom Frederick, Paul DeCamp, Suezen Brown, Jonathan Duvick, Gerry Corr, Mike Voss,  Sean Carroll, Isobel McMahon, Lynn Hayes, Bob Suchor, Brian Benscoter, Finian McCluskey, Rick Rubin, Ken Doyle, Chris Armstrong, Ian Bittle, Chris Murphy, and the Irish & Celtic Music Podcast

[ Music:  “The Wren Song,” from At Home With the Clancy Brothers, Their Family and Tommy Makem

The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem ]

So this is the tune that I know best. It’s the one that Makem and Clancy used to sing. It’s not much like that Manx melody Hunting the Wren, collected back in 1820. And it’s not like a lot of versions found in old collections. There are a number of old Wren melodies that appear in print prior to 1925. And none of them is this one.

Aloys Fleischmann collected a melody for The Wren Boys Song in 1844. Melody only. Five years later, John Russell Smith included words only, in his 1849 collection of rhymes and nursery tales.  If you put them together you get

The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,

Was caught St Stephen’s day in the furze

Although he’s little his family’s great,

Then pray, gentlefolks, give him a treat


In 1923 Janet Blunt collected a version in County Cork. It’s published with her swirly handwritten cursive

[sing her words and mel]

The wren, the wren the King of all birds

St Stephen’s day was caught in the furze

Although he is little, his family is great

Rise up Mr _______ and give us a trate

Hallo, Hallo, Hallo, boy-o!

Mr. Blank — I guess you’d probably fill in whatever home you’d come to visit.

Now 54 years later, another melody shows up in James Healey’s Ballads from the Pubs of Ireland

The wren, the wren, the king of all birds
Saint Stephen’s day was caught in the furze,
We got him there as you can see,
And pasted him up on the holly tree.
     Hurrah, my boys, hurrah,
     Hurrah, my boys, hurrah.
Knock at the knocker and ring at the bell,
Give us a copper for singing so well?
Singing so well, singing so well,
Give us a copper for singing so well.

[ Music: Bb intro from  from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

That’s very nice! A lot more involved. But still the breakaway hit in Ireland, is the Wren Song from the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem songbook. Which makes sense. These guys were a sensation. Just a few years after Paddy and Tom Clancy had moved to New York from Carrick-on-Suir in Tipperary, the brothers had made a splash in Greenwich Village as stage and TV actors. Then their youngest brother Liam came out and joined them. And Liam’s friend Tommy Makem had also emigrated to America around the same time. He was from Keady in Armagh. And the four of them (Pat and Tom, the older brothers, Liam the little brother, together with Tommy) decided they would make an album. It was just a whim.  But the guys were all actors. Tommy’s son Rory explained how this worked so well for their singing act.

>> Rory: They had a style of presenting it that came from the theater. And the way they packaged the songs was for the stage. If you took my granny singing and put her on a stage in Carnegie hall in 1962, I don’t think people would have understood it. You know, a little old lady singing these songs. And my granny just knew thousands of songs without even trying, they just were in her head. And they took them and they did change them. 

And they had quite a big of success here in America. Huge, these four young guys from Ireland. Huge. Yeah, humorous. Poetry.

>> Shannon: And costumes — the sweaters!

>> Rory: Yeah, the costumes was their Jewish manager’s idea. He needed to package them.

>> Shannon: Wow, I can’t imagine how hot they must have been!

>> Rory: Well, they wouldn’t wear them the whole show. Most of the time they’d take them off after the first song.

>> Shannon: I guess their mom had sent along some Aran wool sweaters, to help the guys endure the New York winters. And when their manager saw them wearing them offstage, he was like, “that’s your look, guys!” 

[ Music: “Mountain Dew,” from Irish Drinking Songs

Artist: The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem ]

So it was this package deal. Singing songs they’d grown up with, in the sweaters from their mom who’d given them the songs… and doing it with panache onstage. 

No wonder their version of the Wren song is the one that is the best known. Rory told me the Clancys down in South Tipperary and his dad Tommy Makem way up in Armagh all knew this same melody from childhood. This is what they grew up singing. So why isn’t it in any of the old collections? Those other melodies were documented. But the first printing I could find of “The Wren the Wren, the king of all birds”—of that melody—is page 82 of The Irish Songbook from the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. The copyright on their transcription of this song is 1963. They say “there are many versions of this song.” They credit their mom along with the four of them, for adapting this version. Their words are basically the same ones that show up in all those old books. But their melody is unlike all the other pre 1950 ones.

By the way, I also had Laura Flanagan, Karan Casey, Robbie O’Connell, Patrick Hutchinson, and Rory Makem digging around for the source of this melody. No luck, really. Until I mentioned it to my friend Sol Foster in Michigan. Sol said “um, isn’t your Wren the same as I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In?”

Hello. Mind blown. “I saw three ships come sailing in”.. or “As I sat on a sunny bank” — that’s a carol that dates way back, Maybe the 15th century. Elizabeth Cronin sang a version called the Bells of Heaven. So check it out. Here’s I Saw Three Ships from the Oxford Book of Carols.

[ sings melody ]

Pretty similar. I wonder what they’d sound like just side by side

[ sings both melodies together ]

It’s nearly identical, except for those last two bars! I kind of feel like this is breakthrough material. Maybe it’s not going to earn a MacArthur Genius Grant, but I’m weirdly excited about it. But really for all the effort, it doesn’t really matter. It’s still a traditional folk tune, because it was something that was passed from a mother (or a community) to a bunch of kids. It just so happened that some of those kids grew up and made hit records and distributed this song further. But a folk tune is something that you don’t know who wrote, and it got passed around. It belongs to all of us. Maybe some old Clancy at some point, or a neighbor of theirs, or someone way way before them put those wren words together with Saw Three Ships Come Sailing in. Maybe it was inadvertent really. And it just got passed around that way until it got put in that 1964 songbook as an old folk tune. Because that’s what it is: an old folk melody.

There are other melodies floating around. In 1991 another big successful performing band, The Chieftains recorded an arrangement of The Wren in the Furze. They sang it with the Voice Squad and wove the wren words around the traditional dance tune Bird in the Bush. This is an old reel that was recorded in 1923 by accordion player John Kimmel. 

[ Music: “The Wren in the Furze,” from The Bells of Dublin

Artist: Kevin Conneff, The Voice Squad with The Chieftains ]

The way the Chieftains put this arrangement together is fun. And the title of both tunes (Bird in the Bush and The Wren in the Furze) work well together. But of course this is not like our Wren Song. And there’s a totally different Wren song from England, “Joy, Health, Love and Peace.” When St. Stephen’s Day was designated an official holiday in 1871, it wasn’t just in Ireland. People also recognized the day of the Feast of St. Stephen in Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and England. In the UK they call it Boxing Day. For some churches this meant collecting money and goods for the poor. They’d box up gifts to be distributed to needy families after Christmas.

Now it’s mostly a shopping holiday. But the English Wren or King song is a nod to the less commercial spirit of the day. And this melody, sung here by Kate Rusby, came from Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick who said they got it from a Welsh song collector (Andy Nisbet in Swansea). And he got it off of two old ladies in Pembrokeshire.

[ Music: “The Wren Song” (aka Joy, Health, Love and Peace) from While Mortals Sleep

Artist: Kate Rusby ]

Back on the Isle of Man, where that 1820 Hunting the Wren melody was collected, the wren was also a symbol for this Manx goddess, Tehi Tegi. She was the ’queen of the fairies,’ so beautiful that men always hoped to marry her. They’d follow her down to the river, and neglect their homes and fields. But they say she ended up drowning all her suitors.

When she was confronted, she turned into a wren and escaped. Once a year she returns to the island and is hunted.

Blame the goddess, not the irresponsible, stann-ing farmers.  

But still, it’s another good bird story. And yet another explanation of why people have connected the wren with celebrations on December 26th .

[ Music: “Rockabye by Firelight,”  from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

I’ve seen a few wren days in Ireland. In the early 2000s, my husband Matt and I spent spent a few winters in Clare. We had Christmas in Cranny one year. And out there, kids were still going on the wren. Today there are some places (like Dingle ) that still have parades on St. Stephen’s Day. But a lot of my younger friends haven’t really grown up with the holiday. 

In his poem The Boys of Barr na Sráide, Irish poet and playwright Sigerson Clifford reminisces about his childhood friends. He starts from when they were young kids, through the Black and Tan period and the Irish civil war in the early 1920s. It’s about war and forced emigration. But through the song, he keeps coming back to when they were just boys, out hunting the wren. Here’s Niamh Parsons singing it in 2007.

[ Music: “The Boys of Barr na Sráide,” from Live At Fylde

Artist: Niamh Parsons with Graham Dunne ]

Appealing sentiments. Especially, I imagine, to people who grew up celebrating the wren day. That’s not such a touchstone these days. The Wren Boys, the Straw Boys, caroling door to door — not so much in 2023. It’s a new era. And kids are growing up with new interests, and new awarenesses and sensitivities. There is a different understanding now of human influence. Of the heavy hand of power and privilege. Of the disastrous effects of human behavior: how we can make things inhospitable for people… and for the bees, the trees, the birds.

There are lots of birds in trouble these days. The Kiwi, the Snowy Owl, different types of parrots are all endangered as humans destroy their habitats. But it’s likely the wren—and the stories about this tiny, scrappy bird—will keep going, whether Zoomers go door to door on December 26th or not. 

Holiday traditions, and human and animal rights will continue to evolve. I wonder what they’ll be saying or singing about the troglodytes in another hundred years. 

Well, for today, I feel some satisfaction in having hunted a few great melodies and stories. So happy winter, everybody. No matter how you sing it!

[ Music: “The Wren,” from An Irish Christmas (Live from Irish Arts Center)

Artists: Mick Moloney & Athena Tergis ]

This episode was produced by me, Shannon Heaton. Thank you Matt for the production music. Thank you, Nigel, for acknowledging this month’s sponsors. Thanks so much, Laura Flanagan, Karan Casey, Robbie O’Connell, Patrick Hutchinson, Rory Makem, and Sol Foster for helping me hunt the tunes. And thanks again to everybody who’s listened, and who’s helped me build this show. For playlists, transcripts, and to kick in to help make more Irish Music Stories, please visit  

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Cast of Characters

Episode guests in order of appearance

Shannon Heaton


World-reared, Boston-based flute player, singer, composer, teacher, and host of Irish Music 

Joe Heaney


Singer and storyteller from Carna in Connemara, who spent most of his adult life in England, Scotland, and the U.S. (1919-1984)

Robbie O'Connell


Waterford-born singer songwriter who toured and recorded with his uncles The Clancy Brothers, and went on to perform solo and with The Green Fields of America

Rory Makem


Folksinger and guitar/banjo player, who learned from his grandma Sarah and father Tommy 

The Heaton List