Copyright
John Rhys.

Celtic folklore, Welsh and Manx (Volume 2) online

. (page 14 of 29)
Online LibraryJohn RhysCeltic folklore, Welsh and Manx (Volume 2) → online text (page 14 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


a war in which their warriors and subjects were nearly
exterminated. Then comes Rhita Gawr, king of Wales,
and attacks them on the dangerous ground of their
being mad. He conquered them and shaved off their
beards l ; but when the other kings of Prydain, twenty-
eight in number, heard of it, they collected all their
armies together to avenge themselves on Rhita for the
disgrace to which he had subjected the other two. But
after a great struggle Rhita conquers again, and has
the beards of the other kings shaved. Then the kings
of neighbouring kingdoms in all directions combined to
make war on Rhita to avenge the disgrace to their
order; but they were also vanquished forthwith, and
treated in the same ignominious fashion as the thirty
kings of Prydain. With the beards he had a mantle
made to cover him from head to foot, and that was a
good deal, we are told, since he was as big as two ordi-
nary men. Then Rhita turned his attention to the
establishment of just and equitable laws as between king
and king and one realm with another 2 . But the sequel

1 The story of Kulhwch and Olwen has a different legend which
represents Nynio and Peibio changed by the Almighty into two oxen called
Ychen Bannadc : see the Oxford Mabinogion, p. 121, also my Arthurian
Legend, p. 304, and the remarks which are to follow in this chapter with
respect to those oxen.

3 For the story in Welsh see the lolo MSS., pp. 193-47 where a footnote
tells the reader that it was copied from the book of ' laco ab Dewi.' From
his father's manuscript, Taliesin Williams printed an abstract in English
in his notes to his poem entitled the Doom of Colyn Dolphyn (London, 1837),
pp. 119-20, from which it will be found translated into German in the notes
to San-Marte's Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Return Britannia, pp. 403-3.

RHYS O O



562 CELTIC FOLKLORE [CH.

to the shaving is related by Geoffrey of Monmouth, x. 3,
where Arthur is made to tell how the giant, after
destroying the other kings and using their beards in the
way mentioned, asked him for his beard to fix above the
other beards, as he stood above them in rank, or else to
come and fight a duel with him. Arthur, as might be
expected, chose the latter course, with the result that he
slew Rhita, there called Ritho, at a place said to be in
Aravio Monte, by which the Welsh translator under-
stood the chief mountain of Eryri 1 or Snowdon. So
it is but natural that his grave should also be there,
as already mentioned. I may here add that it is
the name Snowdon itself, probably, that underlies the
Senaudon or Stnadonn of such Arthurian romances as
the English version of Libeaus Desconus, though the
place meant has been variously supposed to be situated
elsewhere than in the Snowdon district : witness Sinodun
Hill in Berkshire 2 .

The story of Rhita is told also by Malory, who calls
that giant Ryons and Ryence ; and there the incident
seems to end with Ryons being led to Arthur's court
by knights who had overcome him. Ryons' challenge,
as given by Malory 3 , runs thus :

'This meane whyle came a messager from kynge
Ryons of Northwalys. And kynge he was of all Ireland
and of many lies. And this was his message gretynge
wel kynge Arthur in this manere wyse sayenge . that
kynge Ryons had discomfyte and ouercome xj kynges .
and eueryche of hem did hym homage . and that was this .

1 Oxford Bruts, p. 213 : compare p. 146, together with Geoffrey's "Latin,
vii. 3, x. 3.

See Kolbing's Altenglische Bibliothek, the fifth volume of which consists
of Libeaus Desconus, edited by Max Kaluza (Leipsic, 1890), lines 163, 591,
and Introduction, p. cxxxxiv. For calling my attention to this, I have to
thank my friend, Mr. Henry Bradley.

3 Malory's Mortt Datthur, i. 27 : see also i. 17-8, 28; ii. 6, 8-9.



x] DIFFICULTIES OF THE FOLKLORIST 563

they gaf hym their berdys clene flayne of . as moche as
ther was . wherfor the messager came for kyng Arthurs
herd. For kyng Ryons had purfyled a mantel with
kynges berdes . and there lacked one place of the mantel .
wherfor he sente for his berd or els he wold entre in
to his landes . and brenne and slee . & neuer leue tyl he
haue the hede and the berd.'

Rhita is not said, it is true, to have been a Gwyfrel,
1 Goidel ' ; but he is represented ruling over Ireland, and
his name, which is not Welsh, recalls at first sight those
of such men as Boya the Pict or Scot figuring in the life
of St. David, and such as ILia Gvitel, ' ILia the Goidel,'
mentioned in the Stanzas of the Graves in the Black Book
of Carmarthen as buried in the seclusion of Ardudwy *.
Malory's Ryons is derived from the French Romances,
where, as for example in the Merlin, according to the
Huth MS., it occurs as Rion-s in the nominative, and
Rion in regime. The latter, owing to the old French
habit of eliding <^or fh, derives regularly enough from
such a form as the accusative Rithon-em ~, which is the one

1 See Evans' Autotype Facsimile, fo. 33*: could the spot so called (in the
Welsh text argel Ardudwy} be somewhere in the neighbourhood of ILyn
Irdyn (p. 148), a district said to be rich in the remains of a prehistoric
antiquity? J. Evans, author of the North Wales volume of the Beauties of
England and Wales, says, after hurriedly enumerating such antiquities, p. 909 :
' Perhaps in no part of Britain is there still remaining such an assemblage of
relicks belonging to druidical rites and customs as are found in this place,
and the adjacent parts.'

2 As to Rion, see Gaston Paris and Ulrich's Merlin (Paris, 1886), i. 202,
239-46. Other instances will readily occur to the reader, such as the
Domesday Roelend or Roelent for Rothclan, in Modern Welsh Rlntctlati ; but
for more instances of this elision by French and Anglo-Norman scribes
of vowel-flanked <f and th, see Notes and Queries for Oct. 28, 1899, pp. 351-2,
and Nov. 18, p. 415 ; also Vising's Etude stir le Dialecte anglo-narmand du
xij e Siecle (Upsala, 1882), p. 88 ; and F. Hildcbrand's article on Domesday, in
the Zeitschriftfitrromanische Philologie, 1884, p. 360. According to Suchier in
GrOber's Grundriss der rotn. Philologie, i. 581, this process of elision became
complete in the twelfth century : see also Schwan's Gratnmatik dcs -///-
franzosischen (Leipsic, 1888), p. 65. For most o these references, I hav<
to thank my friend and neighbour, Mr. Stevenson of Exeter College.

O O 2



5 6 4 CELTIC FOLKLORE [CK.

occurring in Geoffrey's text ; and we should probably
be right in concluding therefrom that the correct old
Welsh form of the name was Rithon. But the Goidelic
form was at the same time probably Ritta, with a genitive
Rittann, for an earlier Ritton. Lastly, that the local
legend should perpetuate the Goidelic Ritta slightly
modified, has its parallel in the case of Trwyd and Trwyth,
and of Eckel and Egel or Ecel, pp. 541-2 and 536-7.

The next story a points to a spot between y Dinas or
Dinas Emrys and ILyn y Dinas as containing the grave
of OwenyMhacsen, that is to say, ' Owen son of Maxen.'
Owen had been fighting with a giant whose name local
tradition takes for granted with balls of steel ; and there
are depressions (panylau 2 ) still to be seen in the ground
where each of the combatants took his stand. Some, how-
ever, will have it that it was with bows and arrows they
fought, and that the hollows are the places they dug to
defend themselves. The result was that both died at
the close of the conflict ; and Owen, being asked where
he wished to be buried, ordered an arrow to be shot
into the air and his grave to be made where it fell. The
story is similarly given in the lolo MSS., pp. 81-2,
where the combatants are called Owen Finctu ab Macsen
Wledig, ' Owen of the Dark Face, son of Prince Maxen/
and Eurnach Hen, ' E. the Ancient/ one of the Gwyctyl or
' Goidels ' of North Wales, and otherwise called Urnach
Wydel. He is there represented as father (i) of the Serrigi
defeated by Catwattawn or Cadwaffon Law-Mr, ' C. the
Long-handed/ at Cerrig y Gwydyl, ' the Stones of the
Goidels/ near Matldraeth 3 , in Anglesey, where the great
and final rout of the Goidels is represented as having

1 It comes from the same ILwyd MS. which has already been cited at
PP- 2 33~4 : see the Cambrian Journal for 1859, pp. 209-10.

a I notice in the maps a spot called Panylau, which is nearer to ILyn
Gwynain than to ILyn y Dinas.

3 See Morris' Celtic Remains, s. v. Serigi, and the lolo MSS., p. 81.



x] DIFFICULTIES OF THE FOLK LOR 1ST 565

taken place l ; (2) of Daronwy, an infant spared and
brought up in Anglesey to its detriment, as related in
the other story, p. 504 ; and (3) of Solor, who commands
one of the three cruising fleets of the Isle of Prydain 2 .
The stronghold of Eurnach or Urnach is said to have
been Dinas Ffaraon, which was afterwards called Din
Emreis and Dinas Einrys. The whole story about the
Goidels in North Wales, however, as given in the
lolo MSS., pp. 78-80, is a hopeless jumble, though
it is probably based on old traditions. In fact, one
detects Eurnach or Urnach as Wrnach or Gwrnach in
the story of Kulhwch and Olwen 3 in the Red Book,
where we are told that Kei or Cai, and others of Arthur's
men, got into the giant's castle and cut off his head in
order to secure his sword, which was one of the things
required for the hunting of Twrch Trwyth. In an
obscure passage, also in a poem in the Black Book, we
read of Cai fighting in the hall of this giant, who is then
called Awarnach 4 . Some such a feat appears to have
been commemorated in the place-name Gwryd Cai,
1 Cai's Feat of Arms,' which occurs in ILewelyn's grant
of certain lands on the Bedgelert and Pen Gwryd
side of Snowdon in 1198 to the monks of Aber-
conwy, or rather in an inspeximus of the same :
see Dugdale's Monasticon, v. 673% where it stands
printed g-wryt, kei. Nor is it unreasonable to guess
that Pen Gwryd is only a shortening of Pen Gwryd
Cai, ' Cai's Feat Knoll or Terminus ' ; but compare
p. 217 above. Before leaving Cai I may point out that

1 The lolo MSS., p. 81, have Syrigi Wytfel son of Mwrchan son of
Eurnach Hen.

a See Triads, ii. 12, and the Mabiiiogion, p. 301 : in Triads, i. 72, iii. 86,
instead of Solor we have Doler and Dolor.

3 See the Oxford Mabinogion, pp. 125-8.

4 Evans' Autotype Facsimile, fo. 48" ; see also my preface to Dent's
Malory, p. xxvii ; likewise p. 457 above.



5 66 CELTIC FOLKLORE [CH.

tradition seems to ascribe to him as his residence the
place called Caer Gat', ' Cai's Fort/ between Bala and
ILanuwchliyn. If one may treat Cai as a historical
man, one may perhaps suppose him, or some member
of his family, commemorated by the vocable Burgo-
cavi on an old stone found at Caer Gai, and said
to read : Ic iacit Salvianus Burgocavi films Cnpitiani l
' Here lies Salvianus Burgooms, son of Cupitianus.'
The reader ma}^ also be referred back to such non-
Brythonic and little known figures as Daronwy, Cath-
balug, and Brynach, together perhaps with Mengwaed,
the wolf-lord of Artlechwed, pp. 504-5. It is worth
while calling attention likewise to Goidelic indications
afforded by the topography of Eryri, to wit such cases
as Bwlch MwrcJian or Mwlchan, ' Mwrchan's Pass,'
sometimes made into Bwlch Mwyalchen or even Bwlch
y Fwyalchen, ' the Ousel's Gap,' near ILyn Gwynain ; the
remarkable remains called Muriaiir Dre, 'the Town
Walls' otherwise known as Tre'r Gwytfclod*, 'the
Goidels' town' on the land of Gwastad Annas at the
top of Nanhwynain ; and Bwlch y Gwydel, still higher
towards Pen Gwryd, may have meant the ' Goidel's Pass.'
Probably a study of the topography on the spot would
result in the identification of more names similarly
significant ; but I will call attention to only one of them,

1 See my Lectures on Welsh Philology, pp. 377-9 ; and, as to the Caer Gai
tradition, the Arch. Camb. for 1850, p. 204, and Morris' Celtic Remains,
p. 63. I may add as to ILamavchtfyn, that the oldest inhabitants pronounce
that name JLanuuMyn.

2 I cannot discover that it has ever been investigated by the Cambrian
Archaeological Association or any other antiquaries. Compare the case of
the neighbouring site with the traces of the copper smeltings mentioned
in the note on p. 532 above. To my knowledge the Cambrians have twice
failed to make their way nearer to the ruins than ILanberis, or at most
ILanberis Pass, significantly called in Welsh Pen Gorffwysfa for the older
name Gorffwysfa Ben's, 'Peris' Resting-place': thus we loyally follow
the example of resting set by the saint, and leave alone the archeology
of the district.



x] DIFFICULTIES OF THE FOLKLORIST 567

namely Be&gelert or, as it is locally pronounced, Beth-
gelart, though the older spellings of the name appear
to be Beth Kellarth and Beth Kelert. Those who are
acquainted with the story, as told there, of the man who
rashly killed his hound might think that Bed~gelert,
1 Gelert or Kelert's Grave,' refers to the hound; but
there is a complete lack of evidence to show this widely
known story to have been associated with the neigh-
bourhood by antiquity x ; and the compiler of the notes
and pedigrees known as Boned: y Saint was probably
right in treating Kelert as the name of an ancient saint :
see the Myvyr. Arch., ii. 36. In any case, Kelert or
Gelert with its rt cannot be a genuine Welsh name : the
older spellings seem to indicate two pronunciations
a Goidelic one, Kelert, and a Welsh one, Kelarth or
Kettarth, which has not survived. The documents,
however, in which the name occurs require to be
carefully examined for the readings which they supply.
Lastly, from the Goidels of Arfon must not be too
violently severed those of Mona, among whom we have
found, pp. 504-5, the mysterious Cathbalug, whose name,
still half unexplained, reminds one of such Irish ones as
Cathbuadach, 'battle-victorious or conquering in war';
and to the same stratum belongs Daronwy, p. 504, which
survives as the name of a farm in the parish of ILan-
fachreth. The Record of Carnarvon, p. 59, speaks both
of a Molendinum de Darronwy et Cornewe, ' Mill of
Daronwy 2 and Cornwy,' and of Villce de Dorronwy et

1 The subject has been discussed at length by Mr. Jacobs, in a note to the
legend, in his Celtic Fairy Tales, pp. 259-64 ; and quite recently by Mr. D. E.
Jenkins in his Bed Gelert (Portmadoc, 1899), pp. 56-74.

2 Professor J. Morris Jones, to whom I am indebted for the particulars
connected with these names, informs me that the local pronunciation is
Dronivy ; but Mrs. Rhys remembers that, years ago, at Amlwch, it was always
sounded Daronwy. The Professor also tells me that Dcrnog is never made
into Dyrnog : the Kuwgh of the Record is doubtless to be corrected into
Knwgh, and probably also Dornok into Dcrnok, which is the reading in the



568 CELTIC FOLKLORE [CH.

Kuwghdornok, 'Vills of Daronwy and of the Cnwch
Dernog,' which has been mentioned as now pronounced
Clwch Dernog, p. 457 : it is situated in the adjoining
parish of ILandeusant. The name is given in the same
Record as Dernok, and is doubtless to be identified with
the Ternoc not very uncommon in Irish hagiology.
With these names the Record further associates a hold-
ing called Wele Conus, and Conns survives in Weun
Gonnws, the name of a field on the farm of Bron Heulog,
adjoining Clwch Dernog. That is not all, for Connws
turns out to be the Welsh pronunciation of the Goidelic
name Cunagussus, of which we have the Latinized geni-
tive on the Bodfedan menhir, some distance north-
east of the railway station of Ty Croes. It reads :
CVNOGVSI HIC IACIT, ( Here lies (the body) of Cunagussus/
and involves a name which has regularly become in
Irish Conghus, while the native Welsh equivalent would
be Cynwst J . These names, and one 2 or two more which
might be added to them, suggest a very Goidelic popula-
tion as occupying, in the fifth or sixth century, the part
of the island west of a line from Amlwch to Mattdraeth.
Lastly, the chronological indications of the crushing

margin. Cornewe is doubtless the district name which we have still in
JLanfair y' Nghornwy, ' St. Mary's in Cornwy ' : the mill is supposed to be
that of Bodronyn.

1 The Book oflLan Ddv has an old form Cinust for an earlier Cingust or
Congust. The early Brythonic nominative must have been Cimogustu-s and
the early Goidelic Cunagusu-s, and from the difference of accentuation come
the o of Cong/ins, Connws, and the y of the Welsh Cynwst : compare Irish
Fergus and Welsh Gurgust, later Guriist (one syllable), whence Gnvst,
finally the accented rwst of ILanrwst, the name of a small town on the river
Conwy. Moreover the accentuation Ci'tnogusi is the reason why it was not
written Cunogussi: compare Bdrrivendi and Vendubari in one and the same
inscription from Carmarthenshire.

2 Such as that of a holding called Wele Dauid ap Gwelsantfrait, the latter
part of which is perversely written or wrongly read so for Gwas Sant Freit,
a rendering into Welsh of the very Goidelic name, Mael-Brigte, ' Servant of
St. Bridget.' This Wele, with Wele Conus and Wele More, is contained in
the Extent marginally headed Darronwy cum Hameletta de Kuwghdernok.



x] DIFFICULTIES OF THE FOLKLORIST 569

of the power of the Goidels, and the incipient merging of
that people with the Brythons into a single nation
of Kymry or ' Compatriots/ are worthy of a passing
remark. We seem to find the process echoed in the
Triads when they mention as a favourite at Arthur's
Court the lord of ArftechwecT, named Menwaed, who
has been guessed, p. 507 above, to have been a Goidel.
Then Serrigi and Daronwy are signalized as contem-
poraries of Cadwatton Law-hir, who inflicted on the
former, according to the later legend, the great defeat of
Cerrigy Gwydyl *. The name, however, of the leader of
the Goidels arrayed against Cadwatton may be regarded
as unknown, and Serrigi as a later name, probably of
Norse origin, introduced from an account of a tenth
century struggle with invaders from the Scandinavian
kingdom of Dublin 2 . In this conqueror we have

1 This comes in Triad i. 49 = ii. 40 ; as to which it is to be noted that
the name is Calwatiawn in i and ii, but CaswattawM in iii. 27, as in the
Oxford Mabinogion.

2 Serrigi, Serigi, or Syrigi looks like a Latin genitive torn out of its
context, but derived in the last resort from the Norse name Sigtrygg-r, which
the Four Masters give as Sitriucc or Sitriug; see their entries from 891 to
1091. The Scandinavians of Dublin and its neighbourhood were addicted
to descents on the shores of North Wales ; and we have possibly a trace of
occupation by them in Gauell Seirith, ' Seirith's holding,' in the Record of
Carnarvon, p. 63, where the place in question is represented as being in the
manor of Cemmaes, in Anglesey. The name Seirith was probably that written
by the Four Masters as Sichfmith Sichraidh (also Serridh, A. D. 971), that is to
say the Norse Sigrced'-r before it lost the /retained in its German equivalent
Siegfried. We seem to detect Seirith later as Sen in place-names in
Anglesey as for example in the name of the farms called Sen Fawr and Sen
Bach between ILandrygarn and ILannerch y Med*, also in a Pen Sen, 'Seri's
Knoll or Hill,' at Bryn Du, near Ty Croes station, and in another Pen Sen
on Holyhead Island, between Holyhead and ILain Goch, on the way to tlie
South Stack. Lastly Dugdale, v. 672 ll , mentions a Claud Scri, ' Seri's Dyke
or Ditch,' as being somewhere in the neighbourhood of ILanwnda, in
Carnarvonshire not very far perhaps from the Gwyrfai and the spot where
the lolo MSS. (pp. 81-2) represent Serrigi repulsed by Caswatton and driven
back to Anglesey, previous to his being crushed at Cerrig y Gwydyl. The
reader must, however, be warned that the modern Seri is sometimes pro-
nounced Sieri or S/teri, which suggests the possibility of some of the instances
involving rather a form of the English word sheriff.



57



CELTIC FOLKLORE [CH.



probably all that can be historical of the Caswatton of
the Mabinogion of Branwen and Manawydan, that
is, the Caswatton who ousts the Goidelic family of ILyr
from power in this country, and makes Pryderi of
Dyfed pay homage to him as supreme king of the
island. His name has there undergone assimilation to
that of Cassivellaunos, and he is furthermore represented
as son of Beli, king of Prydain in the days of its inde-
pendence, before the advent of the legions of Rome. But
as a historical man we are to regard Caswatton probably
as Cadwatton Law-hir, grandson of Cunecta and father
of Maelgwn of GwynecT. Now Cuneda and his sons,
according to Nennius ( 62), expelled the Goidels with
terrible slaughter ; and one may say, with the Triads,
which practically contradict Nennius' statement as to
the Goidels being expelled, that Cunecta's grandson
continued the struggle with them. In any case there
were Goidels still there, for the Book of Taliessin
seems to give evidence x of a persistent hostility, on
the part of the Goidelic bards of Gwynect, to Maelgwn
and the more Brythonic institutions which he may be
regarded as representing. This brings the Goidelic
element down to the sixth century 2 . Maelgwn's death
took place, according to the oldest manuscript of the
Annales Cambrics, in the year 547, or ten years after
the Battle of Camlan in which, as it says, Arthur and
Medrod fell. Now some of this is history and some
is not : where is the line to be drawn ? In any case,
the attempt to answer that question could not be justly
met with contempt or treated as trivial.

The other cause, to which I suggested that contempt

1 See my Hibbert Lectures, pp. 546-8.

! The case with regard to the extreme south of the Principality is some-
what similar ; for inscriptions in Glamorgan seem to bring the last echoes
there of Goidelic speech down to the seventh century: see the Archceologia
Cambrensis for 1899, pp. 160-6.



x] DIFFICULTIES OF THE FOLK LOR 1ST 571

for folklore was probably to be traced, together with the
difficulties springing therefrom to beset the folklorist's
paths, is one's ignorance of the meaning of many of
the superstitions of our ancestors. I do not wish this
to be regarded as a charge of wilful ignorance; for
one has frankly to confess that many old superstitions
and superstitious practices are exceedingly hard to
understand. So much so, that those who have most
carefully studied them cannot always agree with one
another in their interpretation. At first sight, some of
the superstitions seem so silly and absurd, that one
cannot wonder that those who have not gone deeply
into the study of the human mind should think them
trivial, foolish, or absurd. It is, however, not improb-
able that they are the results of early attempts to
think out the mysteries of nature ; and our difficulty is
that the thinking was so infantile, comparatively speak-
ing, that one finds it hard to put one's self back into
the mental condition of early man. But it should be
clearly understood that our difficulty in ascertaining
the meaning of such superstitions is no proof what-
soever that they had no meaning.

The chief initial difficulty, however, meeting any one
who would collect folklore in Wales arises from the
fact that various influences have conspired to laugh
it out of court, so to say, so that those who are
acquainted with superstitions and ancient fads become
ashamed to own it : they have the fear of ridicule
weighing on their minds, and that is a weight not
easily removed. I can recall several instances : among
others I may mention a lady who up to middle age
believed implicitly in the existence of fairies, and was
most anxious that her children should not wander away
from home at any time when there happened to be
a mist, lest the fairies should carry them away to their



572 CELTIC FOLKLORE [CH.

home beneath a neighbouring lake. In her later years,
however, it was quite useless for a stranger to question
her on these things: fairy lore had been so laughed
out of countenance in the meantime, that at last she
would not own, even to the members of her own
family, that she remembered anything about the fairies.
Another instance in point is supplied by the story of
Casteftmarch, and by my failure for a whole fortnight
to elicit from the old blacksmith of Aber Soch the
legend of March ab Meirchion with horse's ears.
Of course I can readily understand the old man's shy-
ness in repeatin the story of March. Science, how-
ever, knows no such shyness, as it is her business
to pry into everything and to discover, if possible,
the why and wherefore of all things. In this con-
text let me for a moment revert to the story of
March, silly as it looks: March was lord of Casteft-



Online LibraryJohn RhysCeltic folklore, Welsh and Manx (Volume 2) → online text (page 14 of 29)