John Rhys.

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Glasynys is the one about a mermaid : see Cymru Fu,
pp. 434-44. Where he got this from I have not been
able to find out, but it has probably been pieced together
from various sources. I feel sure that some of the
materials at least were Welsh, besides the characters
known to Welsh mythology as Nefyd" Naf Neifion,
Gwyn ab Nuct, Gwydion ab Don, Dylan, and Ceridwen,
who have been recklessly introduced into it. He
locates it, apparently, somewhere on the coast of Car-
narvonshire, the chief scene being called Ogof Deio
or David's Cave, which so far as I know is not an
actual name, but one suggested by ' David Jones'
locker' as sailors' slang for the sea. In hopes that
somebody will communicate to me any bits of this tale
that happen to be still current on the Welsh coast, I give
an abstract of it here :

' Once upon a time, a poor fisherman made the
acquaintance of a mermaid in a cave on the sea-coast ;
at first she screeched wildly, but, when she got a little
calmer, she told him to go off out of the way of her
brother, and to return betimes the day after. In getting
away, he was tossed into the sea, and tossed out on the

1 See Giraldus' Itineranum KambricE, i. 8 (pp. 75-8) ; some discussion of
the whole story will be found in chapter iii of this volume.


land with a rope, which had got wound about his waist ;
and on pulling at this he got ashore a coffer full of
treasure, which he spent the night in carrying home.
He was somewhat late in revisiting the cave the next
day, and saw no mermaid come there to meet him
according to her promise. But the following night he
was roused out of his sleep by a visit from her at his
home, when she told him to come in time next day.
On his way thither, he learnt from some fishermen that
they had been labouring in vain during the night, as
a great big mermaid had opened their nets in order to
pick the best fish, while she let the rest escape. When
he reached the cave he found the mermaid there comb-
ing her hair : she surprised him by telling him that she
had come to live among the inhabitants of the land,
though she was, according to her own account, a king's
daughter. She was no longer stark naked, but dressed
like a lady : in one hand she held a diadem of pure
gold, and in the other a cap of wonderful workmanship,
the former of which she placed on her head, while she
handed the latter to I fan Morgan, with the order that
he should keep it. Then she related to him how she
had noticed him when he was a ruddy boy, out fishing
in his father's white boat, and heard him sing a song
which made her love him, and how she had tried to
repeat this song at her father's court, where everybody
wanted to get it. Many a time, she said, she had been
anxiously listening if she might hear it again, but all in
vain. So she had obtained permission from her family
to come with her treasures and see if he would not
teach it her ; but she soon saw that she would not
succeed without appearing in the form in which she now
was. After saying that her name was Nefyn, daughter
of NefycT Naf Neifion, and niece to Gwyn son of Nud,
and Gwydion son of Don, she calmed his feelings on


the subject of the humble cottage in which he lived.
Presently he asked her to be his wife, and she consented
on the condition that he should always keep the cap she
had given him out of her sight and teach her the song.
They were married and lived happily together, and had
children born them five times, a son and a daughter each
time; they frequently went to the cave, and no one
knew what treasures they had there ; but once on a
time they went out in a boat pleasuring, as was their
wont, with six or seven of the children accompanying
them, and when they were far from the land a great
storm arose ; besides the usual accompaniments of a
storm at sea, most unearthly screeches and noises were
heard, which frightened the children and made their
mother look uncomfortable ; but presently she bent her
head over the side of the boat, and whispered something
they did not catch : to their surprise the sea was instantly
calm. They got home comfortably, but the elder
children were puzzled greatly by their mother's influence
over the sea, and it was not long after this till they so
teased some ill-natured old women, that the latter told
them all about the uncanny origin of their mother. The
eldest boy was vexed at this, and remembered how his
mother had spoken to somebody near the boat at sea,
and that he was never allowed to go with his parents to
Ogof Deio. He recalled, also, his mother's account of
the strange countries she had seen. Once there came
also to Ifan Morgan's home, which was now a mansion,
a visitor whom the children were not even allowed to
see ; and one night, when the young moon had sunk
behind the western horizon, Ifan and his wife went
quietly out of the house, telling a servant that they
would not return for three weeks or a month : this was
overheard by the eldest son. So he followed them
very quietly until he saw them on the strand, where he


beheld his mother casting a sort of leather mantle round
herself and his father, and both of them threw themselves
into the hollow of a billow that came to fetch them. The
son went home, broke his heart, and died in nine days at
finding out that his mother was a mermaid ; and, on see-
ing her brother dead, his twin sister went and threw
herself into the sea ; but, instead of being drowned, she
was taken up on his steed by a fine looking knight, who
then galloped away over the waves as if they had been
dry and level land. The servants were in doubt what
to do, now that Nefyd Morgan was dead and Eilonwy
had thrown herself into the sea ; but Tegid, the second
son, who feared nothing, said that Nefyd' s body should
be taken to the strand, as somebody was likely to come
to fetch it for burial among his mother's family. At
midnight a knight arrived, who said the funeral was to
be at three that morning, and told them that their brother
would come back to them, as Gwydion ab Don was
going to give him a heart that no weight could break,
that Eilonwy was soon to be wedded to one of the finest
and bravest of the knights of Gwerdonau ILion, and
that their parents were with Gwyn ab Nud in the
Gwaelodion. The body was accordingly taken to the
beach, and, as soon as the wave touched it, out of his
coffin leaped Nefyd like a porpoise. He was seen then
to walk away arm in arm with Gwydion ab Don to a
ship that was in waiting, and most enchanting music
was heard by those on shore ; but soon the ship sailed
away, hardly touching the tops of the billows. After
a year and a day had elapsed Ifan Morgan, the father,
came home, looking much better and more gentlemanly
than he had ever done before ; he had never spoken of
Nefyn, his wife, until Tegid one day asked him what
about his mother; she had gone, he said, in search of
Eilonwy, who had run away from her husband in


Gwerctonau ILion, with Glanfryd ab Gloywfraint. She
would be back soon, he thought, and describe to them
all the wonders they had seen. Ifan Morgan went to
bed that night, and was found dead in it in the morning ;
it was thought that his death had been caused by a
Black Knight, who had been seen haunting the place at
midnight for some time, and always disappearing, when
pursued, into a well that bubbled forth in a dark recess
near at hand. The day of Ifan Morgan's funeral,
Nefyn, his wife, returned, and bewailed him with many
tears ; she was never more seen on the dry land. Tegid
had now the charge of the family, and he conducted
himself in all things as behoved a man and a gentleman
of high principles and great generosity. He was very
wealthy, but often grieved by the thought of his father's
murder. One day, when he and two of his brothers
were out in a boat fishing in the neighbouring bay, they
were driven by the wind to the most wonderful spot
they had ever seen. The sea there was as smooth as
glass, and as bright as the clearest light, while beneath
it, and not far from them, they saw a most splendid
country with fertile fields and dales covered with
pastures, with flowery hedges, groves clad in their
green foliage, and forests gently waving their leafy
luxuriance, with rivers lazily contemplating their own
tortuous courses, and with mansions here and there of
the most beautiful and ingenious description ; and
presently they saw that the inhabitants amused them-
selves with all kinds of merriment and frolicking, and
that here and there they had music and engaged them-
selves in the most energetic dancing ; in fact, the
rippling waves seemed to have absorbed their fill of the
music, so that the faint echo of it, as gently given forth
by the waves, never ceased to charm their ears until
they reached the shore. That night the three brothers


had the same dream, namely that the Black Knight who
had throttled their father was in hiding in a cave on the
coast : so they made for the cave in the morning, but
the Black Knight fled from them and galloped off on the
waves as if he had been riding for amusement over
a meadow. That day their sisters, on returning home
from school, had to cross a piece of sea, when a tempest
arose and sunk the vessel, drowning all on board, and
the brothers ascribed this to the Black Knight. About
this time there was great consternation among the
fishermen on account of a sea-serpent that twined itself
about the rocks near the caves, and nothing would do
but that Tegid and his brothers should go forth to kill
it ; but when one day they came near the spot frequented
by it, they heard a deep voice saying to them, " Do not
kill ypur sister," so they wondered greatly and suddenly
went home. But that night Tegid returned there alone,
and called his sister by her name, and after waiting a
long while she crept towards him in the shape of a sea-
serpent, and said that she must remain some time in
that form on account of her having run away with one
who was not her husband ; she went on to say that she
had seen their sisters walking with their mother, and
their father would soon be in the cave. But all of a
sudden there came the Black Knight, who unsheathed
a sword that looked like a flame of fire, and began to
cut the sea-serpent into a thousand bits, which united,
however, as fast as he cut it, and became as whole as
before. The end was that the monster twisted itself in
a coil round his throat and bit him terribly in his breast.
At this point a White Knight comes and runs him
through with his spear, so that he fell instantly, while
the White Knight went off hurriedly with the sea-
serpent in a coil round his neck. Tegid ran away for
his life, but not before a monster more terrible than


anything he had ever seen had begun to attack him. It
haunted him in all kinds of ways : sometimes it would be
like a sea, but Tegid was able to swim : sometimes it
would be a mountain of ice, but Tegid was able to climb
it : and sometimes it was like a furnace of intense fire,
but the heat had no effect on him. But it appeared
mostly as a combination of the beast of prey and the
venomous reptile. Suddenly, however, a young man
appeared, taking hold of Tegid's arm and encouraging
him, when the monster fled away screeching, and a host
of knights in splendid array and on proudly prancing
horses came to him : among them he found his brothers,
and he went with them to his mother's country. He
was especially welcome there, and he found all happy
and present save his father only, whom he thought of
fetching from the world above, having in fact got leave
to do so from his grandfather. His mother and his
brothers went with him to search for his father's body,
and with him came Gwydion ab Don and Gwyn ab Nud",
but he would not be wakened. So Tegid, who loved
his father greatly, asked leave to remain on his father's
grave, where he remains to this day. His mother is
wont to come there to soothe him, and his brothers send
him gifts, while he sends his gifts to Nefyd Naf Neifion,
his grandfather ; it is also said that his twin-sister, Cerid-
wen, has long since come to live near him, to make the
glad gladder and the pretty prettier, and to maintain her
dignity and honour in peace and tranquillity.'

The latter part of this tale, the mention of Ceridwen,
invoked by the bards as the genius presiding over their
profession, and of Tegid remaining on his father's grave,
is evidently a reference to JLyn Tegid, or Bala Lake, and
to the legend of Taliessin in the so-called Hancs or
history of Taliessin, published at the end of the third
volume of Lady Charlotte Guest's Mabinogion. So the


story has undoubtedly been pieced together, but not all
invented, as is proved by the reference to the curious
cap which the husband was to keep out of the sight of
his mermaid wife. In Irish legends this cap has particular
importance attached to it, of which Glasynys cannot have
been aware, for he knew of no use to make of it. The
teaching of the song to the wife is not mentioned after
the marriage ; and the introduction of it at all is remark-
able : at any rate I have never noticed anything parallel
to it in other tales. The incident of the tempest, when
the mermaid spoke to somebody by the side of the boat,
reminds one of Undine during the trip on the Danube.
It is, perhaps, useless to go into details till one has
ascertained how much of the story has been based on
genuine Welsh folklore. But, while I am on this point,
I venture to append here an Irish tale, which will serve
to explain the meaning of the mermaid's cap, as neces-
sary to her comfort in the water world. I am indebted
for it to the kindness of Dr. Norman Moore, of
St. Bartholomew's Hospital, who tells me, in a letter
dated March 7, 1882, that he and the Miss Raynells of
Killynon heard it from an old woman named Mrs. Dolan,
who lived on the property of the late Mr. Cooke of
Cookesborough, in Westmeath. The following was
her tale : ' There was a man named Mahon had a farm
on the edge of Loch Owel. He noticed that his corn
was trampled, and he sat up all night to watch it. He
saw horses, colts and fillies rather, come up out of the
lake and trample it. He chased them, and they fled
into the lake. The next night he saw them again, and
among them a beautiful girl with a cap of salmon skin
on her head, and it shone in the moonlight ; and he
caught her and embraced her, and carried her off to his
house and married her, and she was a very good house-
wife, as all those lake people are, and kept his house


beautifully ; and one day in the harvest, when the men
were in the fields, she went into the house, and there she
looked on the hurdle for some lard to make colcannon l
for the men, and she saw her old cap of fish skin, and
she put it on her head and ran straight down into the
lake and was never seen any more, and Mahon he was
terribly grieved, and he died soon after of a decline.
She had had three children, and I often saw them in the
Mullingar market. They were farmers, too, on Loch


Let me now return to the fresh-water fairies of
Snowdon and give a reference to Pennant's Tours in
Wales: in the edition published at Carnarvon in 1883
we are told, ii. 326, how Mr. Pennant learned 'that,
in fairy days, those diminutive gentry kept their
revels ' on the margins of the Snowdon lake, called
ILyn Coch. There is no legend now extant, so far
as I can ascertain, about the ILyn Coch fairies. So
I proceed to append a legend differing considerably
from all the foregoing : I owe it to the kindness of my
friend Mr. Howell Thomas, of the Local Government
Board. It was written out by Mr. G. B. Gattie, and
I take the liberty of prefixing to it his letter to
Mr. Thomas, dated Walham Grove, London, S.W.,
April 27, 1882. The letter runs as follows :

' I had quite forgotten the enclosed, which I had
jotted down during my recent illness, and ought to have
sent you long ago. Of course, the wording is very
rough, as no care has been taken on that point. It is
interesting, as being another version of a very pretty old
legend which my mother used to repeat. She was
descended from a very old north Welsh family ; indeed,

1 Dr. Moore explains this to be cabbages and potatoes, pounded and
mixed with butter or lard.


I believe my esteemed grandfather went so far as to
trace his descent from the great patriot, Owen Glendower
himself! My mother delighted not only in the ancient
folklore legends and fairy tales of the Principality, with
which she was perfectly familiar, but especially in the
lovely national melodies, all of which she knew by
heart; and, being highly accomplished, would never
tire of playing or singing them. You will see the legend
is, in the main, much as related by Professor Rhys,
though differing somewhat in the singular terms of the
marriage contract. The scene of the legend, as related
by my late mother, was, of course, a lake, the Welsh
name of which I have, unfortunately, forgotten, but it
was somewhere, I think, near ILanberis, and the hero
a stalwart young farmer.'

The legend itself reads as follows :

' One hot day, the farmer, riding by the lake, took
his horse into the water to drink, and, whilst looking
straight down over his horse's ears into the smooth
surface, he became aware of a most lovely face, just
beneath the tide, looking up archly at him. Quite
bewildered, he earnestly beckoned, and by degrees the
head and shoulders which belonged to the face emerged
from the water. Overcome with emotion, and nearly
maddened by the blaze of beauty so suddenly put before
him, he leaped from his horse and rushed wildly into
the lake to try to clasp the lovely vision to his heart.
As this was a clear case of " love at first sight," the
poor young man was not, of course, answerable for his
actions. But the vision had vanished beneath the waves,
to instantly reappear, however, a yard or two off, with
the most provoking of smiles, and holding out her
beautiful white hands towards her admirer, but slipping
off into deep water the moment he approached.

' For many days the young farmer frequented the


lake, but without again seeing the beautiful Naiad, until
one day he sat down by the margin hoping that she
would appear, and yet dreading her appearance, for this
latter to him simply meant loss of all peace. Yet he rushed
on his fate, like the love-sick shepherd in the old Italian
romance, who watched the sleeping beauty, yet dreaded
her awakening : lo perderb la pace, quando si svegliera !

1 The young man had brought the remains of his
frugal dinner with him, and was quietly munching, by
way of dessert, an apple of rare and delicious quality,
from a tree which grew upon a neighbouring estate.
Suddenly the lady appeared in all her rare beauty
almost close to him, and begged him to " throw " her
one of his apples. This was altogether too much, and
he replied by holding out the tempting morsel, exhibit-
ing its beautiful red and green sides, saying that, if she
really wanted it, she must fetch it herself. Upon this
she came up quite close, and, as she took the apple from
his left hand, he dexterously seized tight hold of her
with his right, and held her fast. She, however, nothing
daunted, bawled lustily, at the top of her voice, for help,
and made such an outrageous noise, that at length a
most respectable looking old gentleman appeared sud-
denly out of the midst of the lake. He had a superb
white beard, and was simply and classically attired
merely in a single wreath of beautiful water-lilies wound
round his loins, which was possibly his summer costume,
the weather being hot. He politely requested to know
what was the matter, and what the young farmer wanted
with his daughter. The case was thereupon explained,
but not without the usual amount of nervous trepidation
which usually happens to love-sick swains when called
into the awful presence of " Papa " to " explain their
intentions! "

'After a long parley the lady, at length, agreed to


become the young man's wife on two conditions, which
he was to solemnly promise to keep. These conditions
were that he was never to strike her with steel or day
(earth), conditions to which the young man very readily
assented. As these were primitive days, when people
were happy and honest, there were no lawyers to
encumber the Holy Estate with lengthy settlements,
and to fill their own pockets with heavy fees ; matters
were therefore soon settled, and the lady married to the
young farmer on the spot by the very respectable old
lake deity, her papa.

' The story goes on to say that the union was followed
by two sons and two daughters. The eldest son became
a great physician, and all his descendants after him were
celebrated for their great proficiency in the noble heal-
ing art. The second son was a mighty craftsman in all
works appertaining to the manufacture and use of iron
and metals. Indeed it has been hinted that, his little
corracle of bull's hide having become old and unsafe, he
conceived the brilliant idea of making one of thin iron.
This he actually accomplished, and, to the intense
amazement of the wondering populace, he constantly
used it for fishing, or other purposes, on the lake, where
he paddled about in perfect security. This important
fact ought to be more generally known, as it gives him
a fair claim to the introduction of iron ship-building,
pace the shades of Beaufort and Brunei.

' Of the two daughters, one is said to have invented
the small ten-stringed harp, and the other the spinning-
wheel. Thus were introduced the arts of medicine,
manufactures, music, and woollen work.

' As the old ballad says, applying the quotation to the
father and mother :-

They lived for more than forty year
Right long and happilie !


' One day it happened that the wife expressed a great
wish for some of those same delicious apples of which
she was so fond, and of which their neighbour often
sent them a supply. Off went the farmer, like a good
husband that he was, and brought back, not only some
apples, but a beautiful young sapling, seven or eight
feet high, bearing the same apple, as a present from
their friend. This they at once proceeded to set, he
digging and she holding ; but the hole not being quite
deep enough he again set to work, with increased
energy, with his spade, and stooping very low threw out
the last shovelful over his shoulder alas ! without
looking full into the breast of his wife. She dropped
the sapling and solemnly warned him that one of the
two conditions of their marriage contract had been
broken. Accident was pleaded, but in vain ; there was
the unfortunate fact he had struck her with clay \ Look-
ing upon the sapling as the cause of this great trouble
he determined to return it forthwith to his kind neigh-
bour. Taking a bridle in his hand he proceeded to the
field to catch his horse, his wife kindly helping him.
They both ran up, one on each side, and, as the unruly
steed showed no signs of stopping, the husband attempted
to throw the bridle over his head. Not having visited
Mexico in his travels, and thereby learned the use of
the lasso, he missed his horse's head and misfortune
of misfortunes struck his wife in the face with the
iron bit, thus breaking the second condition. He
had struck her with steel. She no sooner received
the blow than like Esau she " cried with a great
and exceeding bitter cry," and bidding her husband
a last farewell, fled down the hill with lightning speed,
dashed into the lake, and disappeared beneath the
smooth and glassy waters! Thus, it may be said
that, if an apple indirectly occasioned the beginning



of her married life, so an apple brought about its sad

Such is Mr. Gattie's tale, and to him probably is
to be traced its literary trimming ; but even when it is
stripped of that accessory, it leaves us with difficulties
of somewhat the same order as those attaching to some
of the stories which have passed through the hands of
Glasynys. However, the substance of it seems to be
genuine, and to prove that there has been a North-
walian tradition which traced the medical art to a lake
lady like the Egeria of the Physicians of Mydfai.


Allusion has already been made to the afanc story,

Online LibraryJohn RhysCeltic folklore, Welsh and Manx (Volume 1) → online text (page 13 of 35)