In a few weeks, a group of 15 women, myself included, will be partaking in that most auspicious of occasions: The hen party.
Yes, come next month there will be a rumbling of excitement in Derry as our rabble of raucous reprobates gather to board a bus to take us to Dublin’s Fair City where we will celebrate the last days of freedom of our beloved ‘hen’.
It’s a tradition of sorts, and one that has grown into a multi-million pound industry in the United Kingdom and Ireland. I’ve been tasked with collecting the money from the girls and organising the ‘entertainment’, which will consist of a lively show and a lot of dancing, with the odd surprise thrown in for good measure.
For months we’ve been arranging everything; the hotel, the fun bus that will take us on the four-hour journey to Dublin, and of course the activities that tradition dictates we perform and with appropriate gusto. We’re a varied bunch, with some travelling from Kenya and the United States to join the fun, and I’m looking forward to the laughs we’ll have — call it a social experiment, if you will, with myself as a participating observer.
Over the past few years, the ‘hen do’ has exploded into the everyday lexicon, with groups terrorising city centres on a weekly basis throughout the year. But what is it exactly and how did we end up here, spending hundreds of pounds over two days of partying? And that’s even before the big wedding day itself.
Traditionally, and not too long ago in my opinion, women were handed over to their husbands as a commodity, which usually included a few sheep or other livestock. So before this handover, there would have been a gathering of women to teach the lucky ‘wife-to-be’ what would be expected of her.
Over the decades, and centuries, this has grown into a celebration, in which women can openly express themselves and give advice to other women who can enter into marriage as an equal and not as property. And there will be lots of sharing being done by this group of women.
Although many people dislike the term ‘Hen’ — as it seems to imply a weaker version of the regal-sounding ‘Stag do’ of the men — for me, the ‘hen do’ represents a send-off, a goodbye to the innocent, single woman (though perhaps not so innocent these days) and her entry into a new stage of life as part of a team. And excuse me, the humble hen has its own strengths, laying millions of eggs that sustain us.
It’s also a time to mourn the freedoms our friend might lose, such as the joys of being single and having zero responsibilities.
Eating a whole pizza in one sitting and following it with a cake — no, not just a slice, all of it. But these are small compromises to make when compared to the joy of being part of a special union; a legally binding contract of domestic bliss, preferably with cake.
The excessive partying of some groups can get a bit too much, and there have been various news stories about gangs of intoxicated women causing havoc in city centre streets. With their matching T-shirts and pink paraphernalia these gaggles of giggling girls (this is why they call us hens!) know how to have a good time in the face of adversity, such as bouncers refusing entrance and police warnings over dancing in the roads. But when all is said and done, if there’s fun to be had, girls will find it. And we’ll make sure that our ‘hen’ will have the time of her life.
Christina Curran is a journalist currently studying a Masters in International Relations at Queen’s University, Belfast.