Copyright
John Rhys.

Celtic folklore, Welsh and Manx (Volume 1) online

. (page 33 of 35)
Online LibraryJohn RhysCeltic folklore, Welsh and Manx (Volume 1) → online text (page 33 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


noticed that when the neglected well burst forth she,
Muirgen or Liban, was not drowned like the others

1 M. Loth's remarks in point will be found in the Revue Ccltique, xiii.
496-7, where he compares with tut the Breton fens, ' lutin, genie malfaisant
ou bienfaisant ' ; and for the successive guesses on the subject of the name
Morgan tut one should also consult Zimmer's remarks in Foerster's Introduc-
tion to his Eire, pp. xxvii-xxxi, and my Arthurian Legend, p. 391, to
which I should add a reference to the Book of Bally mote, fo. 360*, where we
have o na bantuathaib, which O'Curry has rendered 'on the part of their
Witches' in his Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish, iii. 526-7.
Compare da bhantuathaigh, ' two female sorcerers,' in Joyce's Keating's
History of Ireland, pp. 122-3.



376 CELTIC FOLKLORE [CH.

involved in the calamity, but lived in her chamber at
the bottom of the lake formed by the overflowing well,
until she was changed into a salmon. In that form she
lived on some three centuries, until in fact she was
caught in the net of a fisherman, and obtained the boon
of a Christian burial. However, the change into a swan
is also known on Irish ground : take for instance the
story of the Children of Lir, who were converted into
swans by their stepmother, and lived in that form on
Loch Dairbhreach, in Westmeath, for three hundred
years, and twice as long on the open sea, until their
destiny closed with the advent of St. Patrick and the
first ringing of a Christian bell in Erin l .

The next legend was kindly communicated to me by
Mr. Wm. Davies already mentioned at p. 147 above : he
found it in CyfaittyrAelwyd 2 , "The Friend of the Hearth,"
where it is stated that it belonged to David Jones' Store-
house of Curiosities, a collection which does not seem to
have ever assumed the form of a printed book. David
Jones, of Trefriw, in the Conwy Valley, was a pub-
lisher and poet who wrote between 1750 and 1780.
This is his story: ' In 1735 I had a conversation with a
man concerning Tegid Lake. He had heard from old
people that near the middle of it there was a well oppo-
site ILangower, and the well was called Ffynnon Gywer,
" Cower's Well," and at that time the town was round
about the well. It was obligatory to place a lid on the
well every night. (It seems that in those days somebody
was aware that unless this was done it would prove the



1 For all about the Children of Lir, and about Liban and Lough Neagh, see
Joyce's Old Celtic Romances, pp. 4-36, 97-105.

2 On my appealing to Cadrawd, one of the later editors, he has found me
the exact reference, to wit, volume ix of the Cyfaitt (published in 1889), p. 50 ;
and he has since contributed a translation of the story to the columns of the
South Wales Daily News for February 15, 1899, where he has also given an
account of Crymlyn, which is to be mentioned later.



vi] FOLKLORE OF THE WELLS 377

destruction of the town.) But one night it was forgotten,
and by the morning, behold the town had subsided and
the lake became three miles long and one mile wide.
They say, moreover, that on clear days some people see
the chimneys of the houses. It is since then that the
town was built at the loiver end of the lake. It is called
Y Bala \ and the man told me that he had talked with
an old Bala man who had, when he was a youth, had
two days' mowing of hay 2 between the road and the
lake ; but by this time the lake had spread over that
land and the road also, which necessitated the purchase
of land further away for the road ; and some say that
the town will yet sink as far as the place called ILanfor
others call it ILanfawd, " Drown-church," or ILan-
fawr, "Great-church," in Penftyn. . . . Further, when the
weather is stormy water appears oozing through every
floor within Bala, and at other times anybody can get
water enough for the use of his house, provided he dig
a little into the floor of it.'

In reference to the idea that the town is to sink,

1 Judging from the three best-known instances, y bala meant the outlet of
a lake : I allude to this Bala at the outlet of ILyn Tegid ; Pont y Bala, ' the
Bridge of the bala,' across the water flowing from the Upper into the Lower
Lake at ILanberis ; and Bala Denlyn, ' the bala of two lakes,' at Nanttte.
Two places called Bryn y Bala are mentioned s. v. Bala in Morris' Celtic
Remains, one near Aberystwyth, at a spot which I have never seen, and the
other near the lower end of the Lower Lake of ILanberis, as to which it has
been suggested to me that it is an error for Bryn y Bela. It is needless to
say that bala has nothing to do with the Anglo-Irish bally, of such names as
Ballymurphy or Ballynahwit : this vocable is in English bailey, and in South
Wales belli, ' a farm yard or enclosure,' all three probably from the late Latin
balium or ballium, ' locus palis munitus et circumseptus.' Our etymologist
never stop short with bally : they go as far as Balaklava and, probably,
Ballarat, to claim cognates for our Bala.

2 Cadrawd here gives the Welsh as ' 2 bladur ... 2 ctyit o awr, and
observes that the lacuna consists of an illegible word of three letters,
that word was either sef, < that is,' or neu, ' or,' the sense would be as gn
above. In North Cardiganshire we speak of a day's mowing as gwatti

' a man's work for a day, 1 and sometimes of a gwaith gwr bach, '
work for a short day.'



378 CELTIC FOLKLORE [CH.

together with the neighbouring village of ILanfor, the
writer quotes in a note the couplet known still to
everybody in the neighbourhood as follows :

Y Bala aeth, cCr Bala aiff, Bala old the lake has had, and Bala new
A ILanfor aiffyn ILyn. The lake will have, and ILanfor too.

This probably implies that old Bala is beneath the
lake, and that the present Bala is to meet the like fate at
some time to come. This kind of prophecy is not very
uncommon : thus there has been one current as to the
Montgomeryshire town of Pool, called, in Welsh,
Traftwng or Trattwm, and in English, Welshpool, to
distinguish it from the English town of Pool. As to
Welshpool, a very deep water called ILyn Du, lying
between the town and the Castcff Cock or Powys Castle,
and right in the domain of the castle, is suddenly to
spread itself, and one fine market day to engulf the
whole place 1 . Further, when I was a boy in North
Cardiganshire, the following couplet was quite familiar
to me, and supposed to have been one of Merlin's
prophecies :

Cacr Fyrdin, cei oerfore ; Carmarthen, a cold morn awaits thee ;

Daear ath Iwnc, dw'r i'th le. Earth gapes, and water in thy place will be.

In regard to the earlier half of the line, concerning Bala
gone, the story of Ffynnon Gywer might be said to
explain it, but there is another which is later and far
better known. It is of the same kind as the stories

1 See By-Gones for May 24, 1899. The full name of Welshpool in Welsh
is Trattwng ILywdyn, so called after a ILywelyn descended from Cuneda, and
supposed to have established a religious house there ; for there are other
Trattwngs, and at first sight it would seem as if Trattwng had something to
do with a lake or piece of water. But there is a Trattwng, for instance, near
Brecon, where there is no lake to give it the name ; and my attention has
been called to Thos. Richards' Welsh-English Dictionary, where a trattwng is
said to be 'such a soft place on the road ^or elsewhere) as travellers may be
apt to sink into, a dirty pool.' So the word seems to be partly of the same
derivation as go-ttwng, ' to let go, to give way.' The form of the word in
use now is Trattwm, not Trattivng or Traflum.



vi] FOLKLORE OF THE WELLS 379

related in Welsh concerning ILynclys and Syfadon ;
but I reserve it with these and others of the same sort
for chapter vii.

For the next legend belonging here I have to
thank the Rev. J. Fisher, a native of the parish of
ILandybi'e, who, in spite of his name, is a genuine Welsh-
man, and- what is more a Welsh scholar. The fol-
lowing are his words : ' ILyn ILech Owen (the last word
is locally sounded zv-en, like oo-en in English, as is also
the personal name Owen) is on Mynyd Mawr, in the
ecclesiastical parish of Gors Las, and the civil parish of
ILanarthney, Carmarthenshire. It is a small lake, form-
ing the source of the Gwendraeth Fawr. I have heard
the tradition about its origin told by several persons, and
by all, until quite recently, pretty much in the same
form. In 1884 I took it down from my grandfather,
Rees Thomas (b. 1809, d. 1892), of Cil Coll ILandebie
a very intelligent man, with a good fund of old-world
Welsh lore who had lived all his life in the neighbour-
ing parishes of ILandeilo Fawr and ILandybi'e.

' The following is the version of the story (translated)
as I had it from him : There was once a man of the
name of Owen living on Mynycf Mawr, and he had a well,
"Jfynnon" Over this well he kept a large flag ("jflagen
neu lech faivr": " fflagen" is the word in common use
now in these parts for a large flat stone), which he was
always careful to replace over its mouth after he had
satisfied himself or his beast with water. It happened,
however, that one day he went on horseback to the well
to water his horse, and forgot to put the flag back in its
place. He rode off leisurely in the direction of his
home ; but, after he had gone some distance, he casually
looked back, and, to his great astonishment, he saw that
the well had burst out and was overflowing the whole
place. He suddenly bethought him that he should ride



380 CELTIC FOLKLORE [CH.

back and encompass the overflow of the water as fast
as he could ; and it was the horse's track in galloping
round the water that put a stop to its further overflow.
It is fully believed that, had he not galloped round
the flood in the way he did, the well would have been
sure to inundate the whole district and drown all.
Hence the lake was called the Lake of Owen's Flag,
" JLyn Lech Owen!'

1 1 have always felt interested in this story, as it
resembled that about the formation of Lough Neagh,
&c. ; and, happening to meet the Rev. D. Harwood
Hughes, B.A., the vicar of Gors Las (St. ILeian's), last
August (1892), I asked him to tell me the legend as he
had heard it in his parish. He said that he had been
told it, but in a form different from mine, where the
" Owen " was said to have been Owen Glyndwr. This
is the substance of the legend as he had heard it :-
Owen Glyndwr, when once passing through these parts,
arrived here of an evening. He came across a well,
and, having watered his horse, placed a stone over it in
order to find it again next morning. He then went to
lodge for the night at Dyftgoed Farm, close by. In the
morning, before proceeding on his journey, he took his
horse to the well to give him water, but found to his
surprise that the well had become a lake.'

Mr. Fisher goes on to mention the later history of the
lake : how, some eighty years ago, its banks were the
resort on Sunday afternoons of the young people of
the neighbourhood, and how a Baptist preacher put an
end to their amusements and various kinds of games by
preaching at them. However, the lake-side appears to
be still a favourite spot for picnics and Sunday-school
gatherings. Mr. Fisher was quite right in appending
to his own version that of his friend; but, from the
point of view of folklore, I must confess that I can make



vi] FOLKLORE OF THE WELLS 381

nothing of the latter : it differs from the older one as
much as chalk does from cheese. It would be naturally
gratifying to the pride of local topography to be able to
connect with the pool the name of Owen Glyndwr ; but
it is worthy of note that this highly respectable attempt to
rationalize the legend wholly fails, as it does not explain
why there is now a lake where there was once but a
well. In other words, the euhemerized story is itself
evidence corroborative of Mr. Fisher's older version,
which is furthermore kept in countenance by Howells'
account, p. 104, where we are told who the Owen in
question was, namely, Owen Lawgoch, a personage
dear, as we shall see later, to the Welsh legend of the
district. He and his men had their abode in a cave on
the northern side of Mynyd" Mawr, and while there
Owen used, we are informed, to water his steed at a
fine spring covered with a large stone, which it required
the strength of a giant to lift. But one day he forgot to
replace it, and when he next sought the well he found
the lake. He returned to his cave and told his men
what had happened. Thereupon both he and they fell
into a sleep, which is to last till it is broken by the
sound of a trumpet and the clang of arms on Rhiw Goch :
then they are to sally forth to conquer.

Now the story as told by Howells and Fisher provokes
comparison, as the latter suggests, with the Irish legend
of the formation of Lough Ree and of Lough Neagh in
the story of the Death of Eochaid McMaireda 1 . In both

1 See the Book of the Dun Cow, fo. 39 ft -4i b , and Joyce's Old Glti,-
Romances, pp. 97-105 ; but the story may now be consulted in O'Grady's
Silva Gadelica, i. 233-7, translated in ii. 265-9. On turning over the leaves
of this great collection of Irish lore, I chanced, i. 174, ii. 196, in an allusion
to a well which, when uncovered, was about to drown the whole loca'ity
but for a miracle performed by St. Patrick to arrest the flow of its waters.
A similar story of a well bursting and forming Lough Reagh, in County
Galway, will be found told inverse in the Book of Leinstcr, fo. 2o2 b : see
also fo. 170% and the editor's notes, pp. 45 53.



382 CELTIC FOLKLORE [CH.

of these legends also there is a horse, a kind of water-
horse, who forms the well which eventually overflows
and becomes Lough Ree, and so with the still larger
body of water known as Lough Neagh. In the latter
case the fairy well was placed in the charge of a
woman ; but she one day left the cover of the well open,
and the catastrophe took place the water issued forth
and overflowed the country. One of Eochaid's daugh-
ters, named Liban, however, was not drowned, but only
changed into a salmon as already mentioned at p. 376
above. In -my Arthurian Legend, p. 361, 1 have attempted
to show that the name Liban may have its Welsh equiva-
lent in that of JLion, occurring in the name of ILynJL'ion,
or ILion's Lake, the bursting of which is described in
the latest series of Triads, iii. 13, 97, as causing a sort
of deluge. I am not certain as to the nature of the
relationship between those names, but it seems evident
that the stories have a common substratum, though it is
to be noticed that no well, fairy or otherwise, figures
in the ILyn ILion legend, which makes the presence of
the monster called the afanc the cause of the waters
bursting forth. So Hu the Mighty, with his team of
famous oxen, is made to drag the afanc out of the lake.
There is, however, another Welsh legend concerning
a great overflow in which a well does figure : I allude
to that of Cantre'r Gwaelod, or the Bottom Hundred,
a fine spacious country supposed to be submerged in
Cardigan Bay. Modern euhemerism treats it as defended
by embankments and sluices, which, we are told, were
in the charge of the prince of the country, named Seith-
ennin, who, being one day in his cups, forgot to shut the
sluices, and thus brought about the inundation, which
was the end of his fertile realm. This, however, is not
the old legend : that speaks of a well, and lays the
blame on a woman a pretty sure sign of antiquity, as



VI]



FOLKLORE OF THE WELLS



the reader may judge from other old stories which will
readily occur to him. The Welsh legend to which
I allude is embodied in a short poem in the Black Book
of Carmarthen 1 : it consists of eight triplets, to which is
added a triplet from the Englynion of the Graves. The
following is the original with a tentative translation :



Seithenhin saivde allan.

ac edrychuirde varanres mor.

maes gititnev rytoes.

Boed emendiceid y wiorvin
aehellygaut guydi cvin.
finaun wenestir - mor terruin.

Boed emendiceid y vachteith.
ae . golligaut guydi gueith.
finaun wenestir mor diffeith.

Diaspad vererid y ar vann caer.

hid ar dim y dodir.

gnaud guydi traha trangchir.



Seithennin, stand thou forth

And see the vanguard of the main :

Gwydno's plain has it covered.

Accursed be the maiden
Who let it loose after supping,
Well cup-bearer of the mighty main.

Accursed be the damsel
Who let it loose after battle,
Well minister of the high sea.

Mererid's cry from a city's height,
Even to God is it directed :
After pride comes a long pause.



Diaspad mererid . y ar van kaer hetiv. Mererid's cry from a city's height to-
hid ay duuy dadoluch. Even to God her expiation : [day,

gnaud guydi traha attreguch. After pride comes reflection.



Diaspad mererid am gorchuit heno.

ac nimhaut gotiluit.

gnaud guydi traha tramguit.

Diaspad mererid y ar gwinev kadir
kedaul duv ae gorev.
gnaud guydi gormot eissev.



Mererid's cry o'ercomes me to-night,
Nor can I readily prosper:
After pride comes a fall.

Mererid's cry over strong wines,
Bounteous God has wrought it :
After excess comes privation.



1 See Evans' autotype edition of the Black Book of Carmarthen, fos. 53 b ,
54*, also 32 a : the punctuation is that of the MS. In the seventh triplet
kedaul is written k e adaul, which seems to mean kadanl corrected into
kedaul; but the a is not deleted, so other readings are possible.

2 In the lolo MSS., p. 89, finaun wenestir is made into F/ynon-U 'nn^ti
and said to be one of the ornamental epithets of the sea ; but I am convinced
that it should be rather treated as ffynnon fenestr with wenestir or fencstr
mutated from mcnestr, which meant a servant, attendant, cup-bearer: for one
or two instances see Pughe's Dictionary. The word is probably, as suggested
by M. Loth in his Mots Latins, p. 186, the old French menestrc, ' cup-bearer, 1
borrowed. Compare the mention of Nechtan's men having access to the
secret well in Sid Nechtain, p. 390 below, and note that they were his three
menestrcs or cup-bearers.



384 CELTIC FOLKLORE [CH.

Diaspad mererid . am kymhell heno Mererid's cry drives me to-night
y urth uyistauell. From my chamber away :

gnaud guydi traha trangc pell. After insolence comes long death.

Bet seithenhin synhitir vann Weak-witted Seithennin's grave is it

rug kaer kenedir "a glan. Between Kenedy r's Fort and the shore,

mor maurhidic a kinran. With majestic Mor's and Kynran's.

The names in these lines present great difficulties :
first comes that of Mererid, which is no other word than
Margarita, ' a pearl/ borrowed ; but what does it here
mean ? Margarita, besides meaning a pearl, was used
in Welsh, e. g. under the form Marereda \ as the proper
name written in English Margaret. That is probably
how it is to be taken here, namely, as the name given
to the negligent guardian of the fairy well. It cannot
very well be, however, the name belonging to the ori-
ginal form of the legend ; and we have the somewhat
parallel case of Ffynnon Grassi, or Grace's Well ; but
what old Celtic name that of Mererid has replaced in
the story, I cannot say. In the next place, nobody
has been able to identify Caer Kenedyr, and I have
nothing to say as to Mor Maurhidic, except that a
person of that name is mentioned in another of the
Englynion of the Graves. It runs thus in the Black
Book, fol. 33 a :

Bet mor maurhidic diessic unben. The grave of Mor the Grand, . . . prince,
post kinhen kintcic. Pillar of the . . . conflict,

mab peredur pcnuietic. Son of Peredur of Penwedlg.

The last name in the final triplet of the poem which
I have attempted to translate is Kinran, which is other-
wise unknown as a Welsh name ; but I am inclined to
identify it with that of one of the three who escaped
the catastrophe in the Irish legend. The name there
is Cnrndn, which was borne by the idiot of the family,

1 See the Cynnnrodor, viii. 88 (No. xxix), where a Marereda is mentioned
as a daughter of Madog son of Meredyd" brother to Rhys Gryg.



vi] FOLKLORE OF THE WELLS 385

who, like many later idiots, was at the same time a
prophet. For he is represented as always prophesying
that the waters were going to burst forth, and as advising
his friends to prepare boats. So he may be set, after
a fashion, over against our Seithcnhin synlutir vann,
' S. of the feeble mind.' But one might perhaps ask
why I do not point out an equivalent in Irish for the
Welsh Seithennin, as his name is now pronounced.
The fact is that no such equivalent occurs in the Irish
story in question, nor exactly, so far as I know, in any
other.

That is what I wrote when penning these notes ; but
it has occurred to me since then, that there is an Irish
name, an important Irish name, which looks as if related
to Seithenhin, and that is Setanta Beg, ' the little Setan-
tian,' the first name of the Irish hero Cuchulainn. The
nt, I may point out, makes one suspect that Setanta is
a name of Brythonic origin in Irish ; and I have been
in the habit of associating it with that of the people of
the Setantii 1 , placed by Ptolemy on the coast of what
is now Lancashire. Whether any legend has ever been
current about a country submerged on the coast of Lan-
cashire I cannot say, but the soundings would make such
a legend quite comprehensible. I remember, however,
reading somewhere as to the Plain of Muirthemhne,
of which Cuchulainn, our Setanta Beg, had special
charge, that it was so called because it had once been
submarine and become since the converse, so to say, of
Seithennin's country. The latter is beneath Cardigan
Bay, while the other fringed the opposite side of the
sea, consisting as it did of the level portion of County
Louth. On the whole, I am not altogether indisposed
to believe that we have here traces of an ancient legend

1 There is another reading which would make them into Segantii, and
render it irrelevant to say the least of it to mention them here.

RHYS C C



386 CELTIC FOLKLORE [CH.

of a wider scope than is represented by the Black Book
triplets, which I have essayed to translate. I think
that I am right in recognizing that legend in the Mabi-
nogi of Branwen, daughter of ILyr. There we read
that, when Bran and his men crossed from Wales to
Ireland, the intervening sea consisted merely of two
navigable rivers, called ILi and Archan. The story-
teller adds words to the effect, that it is only since then
the sea has multiplied its realms l between Ireland and
Ynys y Kedyrn, or the Isle of the Keiri, a name which
has already been discussed : see pp. 279-83.

These are not all the questions which such stories
suggest; for Seithennin is represented in later Welsh
literature as the son of one Seithyn, associated with
Dyfed ; and the name Seithyn leads off to the coast of
Brittany. For I learn from a paper by the late M. le Men,
in the Revue Arche'ologique for 1872 (xxiii. 52), that the tie
de Sein is called in Breton Enez-Sun, in which Sun is a
dialectic shortening of Sizun, which is also met with as
Seidhun. That being so, one would seem to be right in
regarding Sizun as nearly related to our Seithyn. That
is not all the tradition reminds one of the Welsh legend :
M. le Men refers to the Vie du P. Maunoir by Boschet
(Paris, 1697) p. 126, and adds that, in his own time,
the road ending on the Pointe du Raz opposite the lie
de Sein passed ' pour etre 1'ancien chemin qui conduisait
a la ville d'ls (Kaer-a-Is, la ville de la partie basse).' It
is my own experience, that nobody can go about much in
Brittany without hearing over and over again about the
submerged city of Is. There is no doubt that we have
in these names distant echoes of an inundation story,
once widely current in both Britains and perhaps also
in Ireland. With regard to Wales we have an indica-

1 See the Mabinogion, p. 35 : the passage has been mistranslated in Lady
Charlotte Guest's Mabinogion, iii. 117.



vi] FOLKLORE OF THE WELLS 387

tion to that effect in the fact, that Gwydno, to whom the
inundated region is treated as having belonged, is asso-
ciated not only with Cardigan Bay, but also with the
coast of North Wales, especially the part of it situated
between Bangor and ILandudno 1 . Adjoining it is
supposed to lie submerged a once fertile district called
Tyno Helig, a legend about which will come under
notice later. This brings the inundation story nearer to
the coast where Ptolemy in the second century located
the Harbour of the Setantii, about the mouth of the
river Ribble, and in their name we seem to have some
sort of a historical basis for that of the drunken Sei-



Online LibraryJohn RhysCeltic folklore, Welsh and Manx (Volume 1) → online text (page 33 of 35)