From Lady Wilde’s fascinating book, Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland (Dublin: Ticknor, 1887).
The wren is mortally hated by the Irish; for on one occasion, when the Irish troops were approaching to attack a portion of Cromwell’s army, the wrens came and perched on the Irish drums, and by their tapping and noise aroused the English soldiers, who fell on the Irish troops and killed them all. So ever since the Irish hunt the wren on St Stephen’s Day, and teach their children to run it through with thorns and kill it whenever it can be caught. A dead wren was also tied to a pole and carried from house to house by boys, who demanded money ; if nothing was given the wren was buried on the door-step, which was considered a great insult to the family and a degradation.
If ravens come cawing about a house it is a sure sign of death, for the raven is Satan’s own bird ; so also is the water wagtail, yet beware of killing it, for it has three drops of the devil’s blood in its little body, and ill-luck ever goes with it, and follows it.
It is very unlucky to kill the cuckoo or break its eggs, for it brings fine weather ; but most unlucky of all things is to kill the robin redbreast. The robin is God’s own bird, sacred and holy, and held in the greatest veneration because
of the beautiful tradition current amongst the people, that it was the robin plucked out the sharpest thorn that was. piercing Christ’s brow on the cross ; and in so doing the breast of the bird was dyed red with the Saviour’s blood, and so has remained ever since a sacred and blessed sign to preserve the robin from harm and make it beloved of all men.