A report to a London newspaper on 4 April 1896, forwarded to the Freeman’s Journal, states that in “Limerick city the taste for birds is strongly manifested”. Each of the streets which are filled with workmen’s cottages are brightened by “feathered songsters” hanging in wood and wire cages above and to both sides of each door.

The reported set-off on a “perfect” October day the year previous with a boys club to learn the finer arts of bird-catching. Off the group of four adults, the driver and seven boys with their assortment of cages, set in the jaunting car. As they passed the city limits, the driver was told to stop and the boys disembarked and headed towards a hawthorn hedge and “dry wall”, a wall without mortar.

Usually only two or three boys would set off on an exhibition such as this, the increased number was just for show.  After a “set” was made, the boys laid face down in the grass. Some of the boys began to imitate the songs of a goldfinch, soon a wild goldfinch was attracted to the sound and landed on a twig nearby.

Goldfinch – Wikimedia

The boy in charge of the cage softly glided towards the bird and in an instant secured him in the cage. There was a lull of half an hour before another goldfinch was caught. The boys would catch red, grey and green linnets, goldfinches and bullfinches in this way. The boys would take skylarks and thrushes from their nests when they were almost fully fledged. The skylark nests in the meadows and the boys would arrive at dawn when the parent bird is out forging for food. The boys watch as the parent returns to the nest and slowly crawl along the ground to locate the nest.

On St. Stephen’s Day (26 December) the boys go hunting wren. When caught, they tie these to the top of a banner decorated with leaves of holly and ivy. The boys in fantastic costumes go from house to house, singing some verses of a “rude song”.  The reporter was once “honoured with a visit by a ‘club’ of wren boys. The costumes wore strikingly original, and a few of the boys had sweet voices”.

Kevin Hannan wrote a piece on the Park Danes: hunting the wren in Vol. 20, Winter 1986 Old Limerick Journal