The Wrens of the Curragh

The printed page has its limitations.  Chapter 7 of Golf in the Wild – Going Home tells the story of the Wrens of the Curragh – an outcast community of 19th-century Irish women who lived rough, brutally hard lives on the plains of Kildare. The name comes from the shelters they lived in, hollowed out “nests” in the ground which they covered with layers of furze. Their number included unmarried mothers, free-thinkers, alcoholics, prostitutes, vagrants, ex-convicts and harvest workers:

Edward Prince of Wales, as he was at the time, was reportedly introduced to the game in 1859 by his Governor, General Robert Bruce, an R&A member since 1834. Inspired by an exhibition match at Musselburgh, in 1861 his military association with the Grenadier Guards would take him to Curragh in Ireland where the recently opened golf course was immediately adjacent to the Camp. It is not documented if the future King found time for golf during his ten-week visit, but his extramural activities became infamous. A sexual novice, his fellow Guards arranged an introduction to Nellie Clifden, a local ‘actress’ and possibly a Wren of the Curragh who ‘knew her way round the Camp in the dark’. The resulting affair soon became public knowledge as the Guards’ tongues wagged and Nellie became known as the ‘Princess of Wales’. The scandal enraged his parents, Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, and steps were immediately taken to end the liaison. Prince Albert would die a few months later, a demise that Victoria blamed entirely on the anguish caused by Edward’s indiscretions – “I never can or shall look at him [Edward] without a shudder.” The older generation should never interfere with youthful passion – the ghosts of forbidden fruit can haunt an entire life. If anything is to be learned from this story, it is this – when tempted by sins of the flesh, play more golf.

The chapter heading quote is from Hunting the Wren by the Irish folk band Lankum – it first appeared on their album, The Live Long Day released on 25th October 2019. The ‘wren’ is a direct reference to the Wrens of the Curragh.

The wren is a small bird, how pretty she sings. She bested the eagle when she hid in its wings

It was this track and their anarchic appearance that inspired this section of the book – there is simply no substitute for seeing and hearing this remarkable performance:



  1. Julie · April 26, 2022

    Fascinating piece of history. I so look forward to reading your book, Robin. Golf is the cure, it seems. Too bad I’m such a hacker. Too much turf has perished at my hands. 😂 I’m doomed.

    • northumbrianlight · April 27, 2022

      Thanks Julie – I am amazed/surprised that you have even tried – well done 😀
      Hope you are keeping ok – not doing very much on WordPress at the moment – too busy promoting and distributing the sequel. I had forgotten how time-consuming this can be. All the best, R

  2. Tish Farrell · April 26, 2022

    Visceral – all of it – your account of the Wrens and the Lankum performance.

    • northumbrianlight · April 27, 2022

      Thanks Tish – I trust you are both keeping OK. I loved the research and weaving the results into a story – I don’t like the PR and distribution which is now taking up too much of my time. Hard work for very modest results. All the best, Robin

      • Tish Farrell · April 27, 2022

        We are fine, Robin. Thanks. I can see why you find PR irksome, but good luck with the book anyway. While I’m here, have you caught up with Alan Garner’s Treacle Walker. A whimsical little yarn.

      • northumbrianlight · April 27, 2022

        Thanks for the reminder, Tish – I must catch up with this.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s