Women dress as “strawboys,” outside Castle Hill Church in County Mayo. PHOTOGRAPH BY CHRIS RAINIER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Strawboys are an Irish tradition that I just discovered after seeing this picture on a Tumbler blog. According to one article I saw it may be a tradition that is seeing a bit of a revival in Ireland. Their origin seems to have been lost in the mists of time, but it seems associated with traditions like the Christmas mummers. Although, rather than being seasonal they can appear any time of year when there is a wedding. They seem to be a form of approved “party crashers” at wedding receptions and if they are welcomed into the party they are supposed to bring good luck, heath and prosperity to the newlywed couple.

The following is a description from 1938.

“The night of the wedding the straw boys come to the house where the wedding is held. They come from the groom’s place if it is convenient and another batch come from the bride’s place. The night before the marriage the straw boys meet and decide on going to the house of the bride. They turn their coats inside out and tie straw ropes round them. The night of the wedding they go to a house where they would get straw. They do not usually ask the straw but they steal it. They make the ropes and hats from the straw. The hats come down to their shoulders. Before they leave the captain put numbers on every two of them. Then the captain and sergeant go first and the straw boys march in twos after them. The captain and Sergeant carry sticks so as to keep their men quiet. When they arrive at the house they rap at the door and the man of the house comes to the door. They ask him are they welcome so he says they are and to come in and dance and sing their fill. The captain calls on his the bride and groom to come out and dance and he also says he would like to see the groomsman and brides maid on the floor. The straw boys all rise three cheers and shout “I wish ye all sorts of good luck”. The bride and groom and and bridesmaid and groomsman dance a half set. Then the captain calls on his men to get out and dance and enjoy themselves. After an hour or more the captain and Sergeant order their men out. When they go out a barrel of stout is outside and the groomsman goes round with a porringer of stout to each straw boys. Then they go off shouting the groom is a decent man.”

In some areas part of the tradition was for the strawboys to burn their hats on the way home if they had been well received at a wedding. However, If they were unwelcome or not hospitably treated their hats were thrown high up in the tree branches so that next day the whole village would know of the bride and groom’s meanness.

The video below describes the strawboys as locals who where not invited to the wedding, but who would be given a bucket of porter for their appearance.


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