Irish Hens and stags


Recently I was in Ireland spending a quiet weekend in the medieval town of Carlingford.

Little did I know it was one of the seven towns in Ireland plagued by Hen and Stag parties. In this town, with a population a little over 1000, the pre-wedding rituals of groups of boisterous young men and women take up a lot of space.

Late in the afternoon the crop-haired young men in T-shirts are well settled into the beer gardens. The young women favour themes. Nurses, witches, nuns with very short skirts and so on. With blue, green or pink wigs, sashes, and the bride-to-be sporting a veil or tiara their jollity is quite ferocious. They hurtle through the town in groups before settling at the pubs or restaurants where they are dining.

It had to be explained to me that the Hens and Stags were not previously known to each other, but who knew what might happen as the night went on.

As we walked home from our sedate dinner at The Bay Tree café, the noise level was rising. Male voices cheering, females giggling and screeching, the streets lined with short stocky bouncers with black ear-pieces. The music was hotting up, thump thump thump. It was on for young and old.

Below an account from a local newspaper:

As we returned to our leprechauned B and B it did occur to me to wonder why the women accept the name ‘Hens.’ Hens are small, insignificant beings who peck about laying eggs, while stags have great heads of horns and stand posing on hilltops. These Hens could give any Stag a run for his money


Image: By Gofitty (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons



17 thoughts on “Irish Hens and stags

    1. Ah yes, but did you know male pre-wedding festivities date back to Sparta in the Fifth Century. Even more in your line is a connection with Cernunnos the horned god worshipped in Wicca, sometimes referred to as Herne the Hunter. The horns obviously signify fertility. The term Hen Party seems to have come from the US in the early Nineteenth Century as pertaining to a woman only affair with tea and chat and fancy hats.Not at all exciting compared with Stags locking horns.
      I did see one suggestion that the word Hens might have a connection to the word henna. I have seen Indian women with henna tattoos at weddings.
      But as for the modern day affairs; very hard to work out appropriate behaviour, I would think.

      1. I used to think that the term ‘hen party’ was a reference to the noise made by such groups, then that ‘hen’ was from a group of related terms of endearment (‘hen’ in Scotland, ‘hinny’ in northeast England and ‘honey’ in the States). But the ever-helpful Online Etymology Dictionary tells us that Hen as slang for “woman” dates from 1620s; hence hen party “gathering of women,” first recorded 1887. So that’s me told. Interestingly the Dictionary tells us that ‘hen-pecked’ said of a husband whose wife rules him by superior force of will, dates from the 1670s. Probably therefore unrelated to the hinny/honey/hen usage. Not sure what to make of all this!

        Perhaps the stag party as a counterpart to the hen party owes as much to the bellowing noise made by rutting male deer as to those highly symbolic antlers? I’d imagine that your aural experience of these ‘do‘s made as much impression as the visual, what with all the bellowing and fowl vocalisations …

    1. Just after I typed this our ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ program did its program in Blackpool and one of the male dancers had a couple of teeth knocked out! It was never that wild when we went to see the illuminations when I was a child, I loved it.

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