Llyn’s Tylwyth Teg

In the course of the summer of 1882 I was a good deal in Wales, especially Carnarvonshire, and I made notes of a great many scraps of legends about the fairies, and other bits of folklore. I will now string.

"Plant Rhys Ddwfn"

The term Plant Rhys Ddwfn, The Children of Rhys Ddwfn,' and Rhys Ddwfn means literally Rhys the Deep, but the adjective in Welsh connotes depth of character in the sense of shrewdness or cunning. Nay, even the English deep is often borrowed for use in the same sense, as when one colloquially says un dip iawn yw e, 'he is a very calculating or cunning fellow.' The following account of Rhys and his progeny is given by Gwynionydd in the first volume of the Brython, which deserves being cited at length 'There is a tale current in Lleyn and Dyfed, that there is, or rather that there has been, a country between Cemmes, the northern Hundred of Pembrokeshire, and Aberdaron in Lleyn. The chief patriarch of the inhabitants was Rhys Ddwfn, and his descendants used to be called after him the Children of Rhys Ddwfn. They were, it is said, a handsome race enough, but remarkably small in size. It is stated that certain herbs of a strange nature grew in their land, so that they were able to keep their country from being seen by even the most sharp sighted of invaders. There is no account that these remarkable herbs grew in any other part of the world excepting on a small spot, about a square yard in area, in a certain part of Cemmes. If it chanced that a man stood alone on it, he beheld the whole of the territory of Plant Rhys Ddwfn; but the moment he moved he would lose sight of it altogether, and it would have been utterly vain for him to look for his footprints. In another story, as will be seen presently, the requisite platform was a turf from St. David's churchyard. The Rhysians had not much land they lived in towns. So they were wont in former times to come to market to Cardigan, and to raise the prices of things terribly. They were seen of no one coming or going, but only seen there in the market. When prices happened to be high, and the corn all sold, however much there might have been there in the morning, the poor used to say to one another on the way home, "Oh! they were there to-day," meaning Plant Rhys Ddwfn. So they were dear friends in the estimation of Siôn Phil Hywel, the farmer, but not so high in the opinion of Dafydd, the labourer. It is said, however, that they were very honest and resolute men. A certain Gruffydd ab Einon was wont to sell them more corn than anybody else, and so he was a great friend of theirs. He was honoured by them beyond all his contemporaries by being led on a visit to their home. As they were great traders like the Phœnicians of old, they had treasures from all countries under the sun. Gruffydd, after feasting his eyes to satiety on their wonders, was led back by them loaded with presents. But before taking leave of them, he asked them how they succeeded in keeping themselves safe from invaders, as one of their number might become unfaithful, and go beyond the virtue of the herbs that formed their safety. "Oh!" replied the little old man of shrewd looks, "just as Ireland has been blessed with a soil on which venomous reptiles cannot live, so with our land: no traitor can live here. Look at the sand on the seashore: perfect unity prevails there, and so among us. Rhys, the father of our race, bade us, even to the most distant descendant, honour our parents and ancestors; love our own wives without looking at those of our neighbours; and do our best for our children and grandchildren. And he said that if we did so, no one of us would ever prove unfaithful to another, or become what you call a traitor. The latter is a wholly imaginary character among us; strange pictures are drawn of him with his feet like those of an ass, with a nest of snakes in his bosom, with a head like the devil's, with hands somewhat like a man's, while one of them holds a large knife, and the family lies dead around the figure. Good-bye!" When Gruffydd looked about him he lost sight of the country of Plant Rhys, and found himself near his home. He became very wealthy after this, and continued to be a great friend of Plant Rhys as long as he lived. After Gruffydd's death they came to market again, but such was the greed of the farmers, like Gruffydd before them, for riches, and so unreasonable were the prices they asked for their corn, that the Rhysians took offence and came no more to Cardigan to market. The old people used to think that they now went to Fishguard market, as very strange people were wont to be seen there.' On the other hand, some Fishguard people were lately of opinion that it was at Haverfordwest the fairies did their marketing: I refer to a letter of Mr. Ferrar Fenton's, in the Pembroke County Guardian of October 31, 1896, in which he mentions a conversation he had with a Fishguard woman as to the existence of fairies: 'There are fairies,' she asserted, 'for they came to Haverfordwest market to buy things, so there must be.

"Rhiw and Anelog"

During my visit to Aberdaron, my wife and I went to the top of Mynyd Anelog, and on the way up we passed a cottage, where a very illiterate woman told us that the Tylwyth Teg formerly frequented the mountain when there was mist on it; that they changed people's children if they were left alone on the ground; and that the way to get the right child back was to leave the fairy urchin without being touched or fed. She also said that, after baking, people left the gradell for the fairies to do their baking: they would then leave a cake behind them as pay. As for the fairies just now, they have been exorcised (wedi 'ffrymu) for some length of time. Mrs. Williams, of Pwtt Defaid, told me that the rock opposite, called Clip y Gylfinir, on Bodwyddog mountain, a part of Mynyd y Rhiw, was the resort of the Tylwyth Teg, and that they revelled there when it was covered with mist; she added that a neighbouring farm, called Bodermud Isa', was well known at one time as a place where the fairies came to do their baking. But the most remarkable tale I had in the neighbourhood of Aberdaron was from Evan Williams, a Smith who lives at Yr Arcl Las, on Rhoshirwaen. If I remember rightly, he is a native of Llaniestin, and what he told me relates to a farmer's wife who lived at the Nant, in that parish. Now this old lady was frequently visited by a fairy who used to borrow padell a gradell from her. These she used to get, and she returned them with a loaf borne on her head in acknowledgement. But one day she came to ask for the loan of her troell bach, or wheel for spinning flax. When handing her this, the farmer's wife wished to know her name, as she came so often, but she refused to tell her. However, she was watched at her spinning, and overheard singing to the whir of the wheel.

"Aberdaron"

The smith told me another short tale, about a farmer who lived not long ago at Deunant, close to Aberdaron. The latter used, as is the wont of country people, to go out a few steps in front of his house every night before going to bed, but once on a time, while he was standing there, a stranger stood by him and spoke to him, saying that he had no idea how he and his family were annoyed by him. The farmer asked how that could be, to which the stranger replied that his house was just below where they stood, and if he would only stand on his foot he would see that what he said was true. The farmer complying, put his foot on the other's foot, and then he could clearly see that all the slops from his house went down the chimney of the other's house, which stood far below in a street he had never seen before. The fairy then advised him to have his door in the other side of his house, and that if he did so his cattle would never suffer from the clwy' byr. The result was that the farmer obeyed, and had his door walled up and another made in the other side of the house: ever after he was a most prosperous man, and nobody was so successful as he in rearing stock in all that part of the country. To place the whole thing beyond the possibility of doubt, Evan Williams assured me that he had often seen the farmer's house with the front door in the back. I mention this strange story in order to compare it, in the matter of standing on the fairy's foot, with that of standing with one's foot just inside a fairy ring. Compare also standing on a particular sod in Dyfed in order to behold the delectable realm of Rhys Ddwfn's Children.

"Nefyn"

At Nefyn, in Lleyn, I had some stories about the Tylwyth Teg from Lowri Hughes, the widow of John Hughes, who lives in a cottage at Pen Isa'r Dref, and is over seventy-four years of age. An aunt of hers, who knew a great many tales, had died about six years before my visit, at the advanced age of ninety-six. She used to relate to Lowri how the Tylwyth were in the habit of visiting Singrug, a house now in ruins on the land of Pen Isa'r Dref, and how they had a habit of borrowing a padell and gradell for baking: they paid for the loan of them by giving their owners a loaf. Her grandmother, who died not long ago at a very advanced age, remembered a time when she was milking in a corner of the land of Carn Boduan, and how a little dog came to her and received a blow from her that sent it rolling away. Presently, she added, the dog reappeared with a lame man playing on a fiddle; but she gave them no milk. If she had done so, there was no knowing, she said, how much money she might have got. But, as it was, such singing and dancing were indulged in by the Tylwyth around the lame fiddler that she ran away as fast as her feet could carry her. Lowri's husband had also seen the Tylwyth at the break of day, near Madrun Mill, where they seem to have been holding a sort of conversazione; but presently one of them observed that he had heard the voice of the hen's husband, and off they went instantly then. The fairies were in the habit also of dancing and singing on the headland across which the the old earthworks called Dinllaen. When they had played and enjoyed themselves enough, they used to lift a certain bit of sod and descend to their own land. My informant had also heard the midwife story, and she was aware that the fairies changed people's children; in fact, she mentioned to me a farm house not far off where there was a daughter of this origin then, not to mention that she knew all about Elis Bach. Another woman whom I met near Porth Dintlaen said, that the Dintlaen fairies were only seen when the weather was a little misty.At Nefyn, Mr. John Williams (Alaw Lleyn) got from his mother the tale of the midwife. It stated that the latter lost the sight of her right eye at Nefyn Fair, owing to the fairy she there recognized, pricking her eye with a green rush.

"Abersoch and Llanengan"

Soon afterwards I went to the neighbourhood of Abersoch and Llanengan, where I was lucky enough to find Professor Owen of St. David's College, Lampeter, since appointed Bishop of St. David's, on a visit to his native place. He took me round to those of the inhabitants who were thought most likely to have tales to tell; but I found nothing about the fairies except the usual story of their borrowing padell a gradell, and of their changing children. However, one version I heard of the process of recovering the stolen child differs from all others known to me, it was given us by Margaret Edwards, of Pentre Bach, whose age was then eighty-seven. It was to the effect that the mother, who had been given a fairy infant, was to place it on the floor, and that all those present in the house should throw a piece of iron at it. This she thought was done with the view of convincing the Tylwyth Teg of the intention to kill the changeling, and in order to induce them to bring the right child back. The plan was, we are told, always successful, and it illustrates, to my thinking, the supposed efficacy of iron against the fairies.

Quite recently-at the end of 1899 in fact I received three brief stories, for which I am indebted to the further kindness of Alaw Lleyn, who lives at Brynhadlog near Edern in Lleyn, and two out of the three touch on the question of language. But as the three belong to one and the same district, I give the substance of all in English as follows,

"One"

There were at a small harbour belonging to Nefyn some houses in which several families formerly lived; the houses are there still, but nobody lives in them now. There was one family there to which a little girl belonged: they used to lose her for hours every day; so her mother was very angry with her for being so much away. 'I must know,' said she, 'where you go for your play.' The girl answered that it was to Pin y Wig, 'The Wig Point, 'which meant a place to the west of the Nefyn headland: it was there, she said, she played with many children. I Whose children?' asked the mother. 'I don't know,' she replied; 'they are very nice children, much nicer than I am.' ' I must know whose children they are,' was the reply; and one day the mother went with her little girl to see the children: it was a, distance of about a quarter of a mile to Pin y Wig, and after climbing the slope and walking a little along the 'Lop they came in sight of the Pin. It is from this Pin that the people of Pen yr Allt got water, and it is from. there they get it still. Now after coming near the Pin the little girl raised her hands with joy at the sight of the children. 'O mother,' said she, 'their father is with them today: he is not with them always, it is only sometimes that he is.' The mother asked the child where she saw them. 'There they are, mother, running down to the Pin, with their father sitting down.' 'I see nobody, my child,' was the reply, and great fear came upon the mother, she took hold of the child's hand in terror, and it came to her mind at once that they were the Tylwyth Teg. Never afterwards was the little girl allowed to go to Pin y Wig, the mother had heard that the Tylwyth Teg exchanged people's children.

Such is the first story, and it is only remarkable, perhaps, for its allusion to the father of the fairy children.

"Two"

There used to be at Edern an old woman who Occupied a small farm called Glan y Gors, the same family lives there still. One day this old woman had gone to a fair at Criccieth, whence she returned through Pwllheli. As she was getting above Gors Geirch, which was then a turbary and a pretty considerable bog, a noise reached her ears: she stopped and heard the sound of much talking. By-and-by she beheld a great crowd of men and women coming to meet her. She became afraid and stepped across the fence to let them go by. There she remained a while listening to their chatter, and when she thought that they had gone far enough she returned to the road and began to resume her way home. But before she had gone many steps she heard the same sort of noise again, and saw again the same sort of crowd coming, so she re crossed the fence in great fear, saying to herself, 'Here I shall be all night!' She remained there till they also had gone, and she wondered what they could be, and whether they were people who had been to visit Plas Madrun afterwards, on inquiry, she found that no such people had been there that day. Now the old woman was near enough to the passers-by to hear them talking (clebran) and chattering (bregliach), but not a word could she understand of what they uttered: it was not Welsh and she did not think that it was English-it is, however, not supposed that she knew English. She related further that the last crowd shouted all together to the other crowd in advance of them Wi, and that the latter replied Wi Wei or something like that. This account Alaw Lleyn has got, he says, from a great-granddaughter of the old woman, and she heard it all from her father, Bardd Llechog, who always had faith in the fairies, and believed that they will come again to be seen of men and women. For he thought that they had their periods, a belief which I have come across elsewhere, and more especially in Carnarvonshire Now what are we to make of such a story? I recollect reading somewhere of a phantom wedding in Scotland, but in Wales we seem to have nothing more closely resembling this than a phantom funeral. Nevertheless what the old woman of Glan y Gors thought she saw looks by no means unlike a Welsh wedding marching on foot, especially when, as I have seen done, one party tried--seemingly in good earnest to escape the other and to take the bride away from it. Moreover, that the figures making up the two crowds in her story are to be regarded as fairies is rendered probable by the next story, which describes the phantoms therein expressly as little men and little women.

"Three"

The small farm of Perth y Celyn in Edern used to be held by an old man named Griffith Griffiths. In his best days he stood six foot, and he has left behind him a double reputation for bodily strength and great piety. My informant can well remember him walking to chapel with the aid of his two sticks. The story goes that one day, when he was in his prime, he set out from Perth y Celyn at two in the morning to walk to Carnarvon to pay his rent: there was no talk in those days of a carriage for anybody. After passing through Nefyn and Pistylt, he came in due time to Bwlch Trwyn Swncwll 1: he writes this name also Bwlch Drws Wncwl, with the suggestion that it ought to be BwIch Drws Encil, and that the place must have been of importance in the wars of the ancient Kymry. The high-road, he goes on to say, runs through the Bwlch, and as Griffith was entering this gap what should he hear but a great deal of talking. He stopped and listened, when to his surprise he saw coming towards him, devoid of all fear, a crowd of little men and little women. They talked aloud, but he could not understand a single word they said: he thought that it was neither Welsh nor English. They passed by him on the road, but he moved aside to the ditch lest they should knock against him; but no feeling of fear came upon him. The old man believed them to have been the Tylwyth Teg.

In the story of the Moedin funeral the language of the toeli was not intelligible to the farmer and his wife, or to the tailor, and here in two stories from Lleyn we have it clearly stated that it was neither Welsh nor, probably, English. Since the fairies are always represented as old-fashioned in their ways, it is quite possible that they were once regarded as talking a more ancient language of the country. Which was it? An early version of these legends might perhaps have supplied the answer, and told us that it was Gwydelig or Goidelic, if not an earlier idiom, to wit that of the Aborigines before they learnt Goidelic from the Celts of the first wave of Aryan invasion,, whether it was in the region of the Eifl or in the Demetian half of Keredigion. As to the former it is worthy of note that when Griffith had reached Bwlch Trwyn Swncwl he was in the outskirts of the Eifl Mountains, on one of whose heights, not very far off, is the extensive prehistoric fortress of Tre'r Ceiri, or the Town of the Keiri, a vocable which may be provisionally rendered by 'giants.' In any case it dissociates that stronghold from the Brythonic people of Wales. We shall fi.nd, however, that a Goidel, or Pict, buried in a cairn on Snowdon, is known as Rhita Gawr, 'Rhita the Giant'; and it is possible that in the Keiri of Tre'r Ceiri we have no other race than that of mixed Goidels and Picts whom the encroaching Brythons found in possession of the west of our island. Nay, one may say that this is rendered probable by-the use made of the word ceiri in medieval Welsh: thus in some poetry composed by a certain Dafydd Offeiriad, and copied by Thomas Williams of Trefriw, we have a line alluding to Britain in the words.

"Coron ynys y Cesiri"

"The Crown of the Giants' Island."

Here Ynys y Cefiri inevitably recalls the fact that Britain is called Ynys y Kedyrn, or Island of the Mighty, in the Mabinogion, and also, in effect, in the story of Kulhwch and Olwen. But such stories as these, which enabled Geoffrey to say, i. 16, when he introduced his banal brood of Trojans, that up to that time Britain had only been inhabited by a few giants, are the legends, as will be pointed out later, of the Brythonicized Goidels of Wales. So one may infer that their ancestors had given this country the name of the Island of the Mighty, unless it should prove more accurate to suppose them to have somehow derived the term from the Aborigines.

This last surmise is countenanced by the fact that in the Kulhwch story, the British Isles as a group are called Islands of the Mighty. The words are Teir ynys y kedyrn ae their rac ynys, that is, the Three Islands of the Mighty and their Three outpost Islands. That is not all, for in the same story the designation is varied thus: Teir ynys prydein ae their rac ynys, or Prydain's Three Islands and Prydain's Three outpost Islands; and the substantial antiquity of the designation I the Islands of Prydain,' is proved by its virtual identity with that used by ancient Greek authors like Ptolemy, who calls both Britain and Ireland a νῆσος Πρετανική, where Pretanic and Prydain are closely related words. Now our Prydain had in medieval Welsh the two forms Prydein and Prydyn. But some time or other there set in a tendency to desynonymize them, so as to make Ynys Prj,dein, 'the Picts' Island,' mean Great Britain, and Prydyn mean the Pictland of the North. But just as Cyniry meant the plural Welshmen and the singular Wales, so Prydyn meant Picts and the country of the Picts. Now the plural Prydyn has its etymological Goidelic equivalent in the vocable Critithni, which Is well known to have meant the Picts or the descendants of the Picti of Roman historians. Further, this last name cannot be severed from that of the Pictones in Gaul, and it is usually supposed to have referred to their habit of tattooing themselves. At all events this agrees with the apparent meaning of the names Prydyn and Cruithni, from bryd and cruth, the words in Welsh and Irish respectively for form or shaft, the designation being supposed to refer to the forms or pictures of various animals punctured on the skins of the Picts. So much as to the practical identity of the terms Prydyn, Cruithni, and the Greeks' Pretanic; but how could Cedyrrn and Prydein correspond in the terms Ynys y Kedyrn and Ynys Prydein? This one is enabled to understand by means of ceuri or ceiri as a middle term. Now cadarn means strong or valiant, and makes the plural cedyrn; but there is another Welsh word cadr which has also the meaning of valiant or powerful, and may have yielded some such a medieval form as ceidyr in the plural. Now this cadr is proved by its cognates not to have always had the meaning of valiant or strong: its original signification was more nearly fine, beautiful, or beautified.' Thus what seems to have happened is, that cadarn,'strong, powerful, mighty,' influenced the meaning of cadr, 'beautiful,' and eventually usurped its place in the name of the island, which from being Ynys y Ceidyr became Ynys y Cedyrn. But the former meant the 'Island of the fine or beautiful men, 'which was closely enough the meaning also of the words Prydain, Cruithni, and Picts, as names of a people who delighted to beautify their persons by tattooing their skins and making themselves distingué in that savage fashion. That is not all, for on examination it turns out that the word ceiri, which has been treated up to this point as meaning giants, is but a double, so to say, of the word cadr in the plural, both as to etymology and original meaning of beautiful. It is a word in constant use in Carnarvonshire, where it is ironically applied to pretentious men fond of showing themselves off, especially in the matter of clothes. 'D ydi nhw 'n geiri! 'Aren't they swells! ' Dyna i ch'i gawr! 'There's a fine fellow for you!' and so also with the feminine cawres. Of course the cawr of standard Welsh is familiar enough in the sense of giant to Carnarvonshire people, so the meaning can be best ascertained in the case of the plural ceiri, which they hardly ever meet with in print; and, so far as I have been able to ascertain, by ceiri they mean-in an ironical sense it is true-fine fellows, with reference not to great stature or strength but to their get-up. Thus one arrives at the true interpretation of the name Tre'r Ceiri as the Town of the Prydyn or Cruithni; that is to say, the Town of the Picts or the Aborigines, who showed themselves off decorated with pictures. So far also from Ynys y Ceiri being an echo of Ynys y Cedyrn, it turns out to be really the more original of the two. Such names, when they are closely examined, are apt to prove old beyond all hastily formed expectation.

"Footnote"

In the 1980's I saw an Australian sheep station owner being interview on t.v. He had several Aborigines farm hands working for him, and every morning they would wait for him outside his house, so that he could give out the jobs for the day. This particular morning one of his men was missing, and he could be seen talking to a tree at the far end of the yard!!!! After a few moments he walked towards the house with tears in his eyes, and announced to the farmer that his father was very ill, and that he had to go home. As he lived several hundred miles away it was over a week before he was back. And the farmer asked him how his father was, he replied that he had died only a couple of hours after he got home, but he said that every thing was o.k. now because they had said their goodbyes.

The t.v. documentary was about how man has lost the ability to "see" or communicate in this way, because of modern distractions like radio t.v. telephones and of course now the internet. Most of us are no longer in tune with the world about us, as our forefathers obviously were!!!

 

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