Halloween in Wales

As I sit here munching candy corn (which my 14 year old declares ‘the best candy’–even better than chocolate–though he can’t have any because he’s allergic to corn), I’m thinking about the Gareth & Gwen Medieval Mystery, The Fallen Princess, which takes place at Halloween.  Except that during the Middle Ages, it was called ‘All Hallow’s Eve’, the day before All Saint’s Day, and it was less about candy and more about a belief in actual spirits. All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween, has its roots in an older, pagan tradition, Read More…

Welsh Lesson Two

Taken from Basic Welsh: A Grammar and Workbook by Gareth King Welsh Lesson Two: Nouns and noun plurals   Nouns are sorted by whether the word denotes man or woman Tad – father              mam – mother   When the two vowels in a word are a/e: feminine When the two vowels in a word are o/y: masculine   Masculine endings:                          Feminine endings: -ad      -iad                                         -aeth            -as -der     -did     -dod                            -en            -es -dra                                                     -fa -eb      -edd -had -I         -iant -ni -rwydd -wch   -wr -ydd    -yn   Plural endings: -au      -iau Read More…

Welsh Lesson One

Taken from Basic Welsh: A Grammar and Workbook by Gareth King Welsh Lesson One: Identification Sentences hwn               this                       hwnna                    that y rhain          these                    y rheina              those e/o                 he                             hi                       she   hwn               this person (m)                       hon              Read More…

Owain Gwynedd’s birthday

When was Owain Gwynedd born?  Here’s the truth:  no idea. Okay, that’s not entirely true.  Like Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, nobody seems to have recorded the date Owain Gwynedd was born, or even the year.  This is fine as far as it goes, because we can make some general estimates.  The problem arises when the birthdays for his many, many children haven’t been recorded either.  Nor his siblings.  Nor the dates of his marriages. My go-to-guide, John Davies History of Wales doesn’t discuss birthdays or ages, probably because he knows it’s fraught Read More…

Geoffrey of Monmouth

Geoffrey of Monmouth was born sometime around 1100, probably in Monmouth in southeast Wales. “His father was named Arthur. Geoffrey was appointed archdeacon of Llandsaff in 1140 and was consecrated bishop of St. Asaph in 1152. He died c. 1155. Geoffrey is one of the most significant authors in the development of the Arthurian legends. It was Geoffrey who, in his Historia Regum Britanniae (completed in 1138) located Arthur in the line of British kings. Such an action not only asserted the historicity of Arthur but also gave him an Read More…

The Beginning of the Dark Ages in Britain

The ‘Dark Ages’ were ‘dark’ only because we lack extensive (or in some instances, any) historical material about the period between 407 AD, when the Romans marched away from Britain, and 1066, when William of Normandy conquered England. “Initially, this era took on the term “dark” . . . due to the backward ways and practices that seemed to prevail during this time. Future historians used the term “dark” simply to denote the fact that little was known about this period; there was a paucity of written history. Recent discoveries have Read More…

Owain Glyndwr

At my nativity The front of heaven was full of fiery shapes, Of burning cressets; and at my birth The frame and huge foundation of the earth Shaked like a coward … all the courses of my life do show I am not in the roll of commen men. –Shakespeare (Henry IV) Born in 1349, at the height of the Black Plague, Owain Glyndwr lived in a turbulent time in Wales.  With the defeat of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in 1282, Wales became nothing more than a vassal to the English Read More…

The Celts in Wales

The Irish, Welsh, and Scots all have a Celtic ancestry, but they settled their respective regions before the Roman conquest of Britain.  There is an amazing amount of debate as to the origin of the Celts:  were they Phoenician?  stocky and dark?  tall and blonde?  as culturally cohesive as the label suggests?   The standard theory is that the Celts were an Indo-European group that gradually migrated across Europe and Asia, with an identifiable, distinct culture by 750 BC.  As a group, they were well-known to the Greeks and Romans.  The map Read More…

Gwynedd after 1282

After the Treaty of Aberconwy in 1277 AD, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd was reduced to lordship over a small area of land in Gwynedd, mostly west of the Conwy River.  Over the course of the 1282 war, he took back much of what he’d lost.  He was killed, however, on 11 December 1282, and all of Wales ultimately fell the forces of Edward I.  The map at right shows:    Green:  Gwynedd, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s principality    Blue:  Territories of Dafydd ap Gruffydd    Pink:  Territories ceded forever to the English Crown Read More…

Welsh Idioms

To understand a language’s idioms, is to be fluent in the language.  Maybe this isn’t entirely true, but it’s close. When I lived in England, I remember being stumped by the phrase, “it’s like money for old rope.”  I didn’t know if that meant: 1) someone had given me money for old rope–in which case, that was a good thing; or 2) I was paying money for old rope–meaning I was getting ripped off.  As it turns out, the saying “originates from the days of public hangings. It was a perquisite of the hangman Read More…

Welsh Names and Places from the Books

  Aberystwyth –Ah-bare-IH-stwith Bwlch y Ddeufaen – Boolk ah THEY-vine (the ‘th’ is soft as in ‘forth’) Cadfael – CAD-vile Cadwallon – Cad-WA/SH/-on Caernarfon – (‘ae’ makes a long i sound like in ‘kite’) Kire-NAR-von Dafydd – DAH-vith Dolgellau – Doll-GE/SH/-ay Deheubarth – deh-HAY-barth Dolwyddelan – dole-with-EH-lan (the ‘th’ is soft as in ‘forth’) Gruffydd – GRIFF-ith Gwalchmai – GWALK-my (‘ai’ makes a long i sound like in ‘kite) Gwenllian – Gwen-/SH/EE-an Gwladys – Goo-LAD-iss Gwynedd – GWIN-eth Hywel – H’wel Ieuan – ieu sounds like the cheer, ‘yay’ so Read More…

Welsh Surnames

It is a standing joke among people who know Wales that there are only a handful of Welsh surnames (last names), consisting primarily of Jones, Evans, Roberts, Thomas, Williams, and Davies. Among English speakers, these last names are clearly derived from first names. Why is that? Why don’t the Welsh have the huge variety of surnames like the English do? The answer lies in the moment that the Welsh switched from the patronymic system of names (Sarah ferch Ronald; Carew ap Daniel) where a child’s name contained a first name, Read More…