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Fairy Ways And Words

Heavens defend me from that Welsh fairy!


In the previous chapters, the fairy lore of the Principality was hastily skimmed without any method; and I fear that, now I have to reproduce some of the things which I gleaned somewhat later, there will be, if possible, still less method. The general reader, in case he chances on these pages, will doubtless feel that, as soon as he has read a few of the tales, the rest seem to be familiar to him, and exceedingly tiresome. It may be, however, presumed that all men anxious to arrive at an idea as to the origin among us of the belief in fairies, will agree that we should have as large and exhaustive a collection as possible of facts on which to work. If we can supply the data without stint, the student of anthropology may be trusted in time to discover their value for his inductions, and their place in the history of the human race.


In the course of the summer of 18821 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 some of them together as I found them. I began at Trefriw1, in Nant Conwy, where I came across an old man, born and bred there, called Morris Hughes. He appears to be about seventy years of age: he formerly worked as a slater, but now he lives at ILanrwst, and tries to earn a livelihood by angling. He told me that fairies came a long while ago to Cowlyd Farm, near Cowlyd Lake, with a baby to dress, and asked to be admitted into the house, saying that they would pay well for it. Their request was granted, and they used to leave money behind them. One day the servant girl accidentally found they had also left some stuff they were in the habit of using in washing their children. She examined it, and, one of her eyes happening to itch, she rubbed it with the finger that had touched the stuff; so when she went to ILanrwst Fair she saw the same fairy folks there stealing cakes from a standing, and asked them why they did that. They inquired with what eye she saw them: she put her hand to the eye, and one of the fairies quickly rubbed it, so that she never saw any more of them. They were also very fond of bringing their children to be dressed in the houses between Trefriw and ILanrwst; and on the flat land bordering on the Conwy they used to dance, frolic, and sing every moonlight night. Evan Thomas of Sgubor Gerrig used to have money from them. He has been dead, Morris Hughes said, over sixty years: he had on his land a sort of cowhouse where the fairies had shelter, and hence the pay. Morris, when a boy, used to be warned by his parents to take care lest he should be stolen by the fairies. He knew Thomas Williams of Bryn Syttty, or, as he was commonly called, Twm Bryn Syttty, who was a changeling. He was a sharp, small man, afraid of nothing. He met his death some years ago by drowning near Eglwys Fach, when he was about sixty-three years of age. There are relatives of his about ILanrwst still: that is, relatives of his mother, if indeed she was his mother (os oed hfn fam idb fo,ynte). Lastly, Morris had a tale about a mermaid cast ashore by a storm near Conway. She entreated the fishermen who found her to help her back into her native element > and on their refusing to comply she prayed them to place her tail at least in the water. A very crude rhyme describes her dying of exposure to the cold, thus:—

1 This chapter, except where a later date is suggested, may be regarded as written in the summer of 1883.

1 Trefriw means the town of the slope or hillside, and stands for Tref y Riw, not tref y Rhiw, which would have yielded Treffriw, for there is a tendency in Gwynetf to make the mutation after the definite article conform to the general rule, and to say y law, 'the hand,' and y raw, 'the spade,' instead of what would be in books y ttaw and y rhaw from yr ttaw and yr rhaw.

Yforforwyn ary tmeth, The stranded mermaid on the beach

Crio gwacdun arw wnaeth, Did sorely cry and sorely screech,

of" y deuai drycin drannoeth: Afraid to bide the morrow's breeze:

Yr hin yn oer a rhewi wnaeth. The cold it came, and she did freeze.

But before expiring, the mermaid cursed the people of Conway to be always poor, and Conway has ever since, so goes the tale, laboured under the curse; so that when a stranger happens to bring a sovereign there, the Conway folk, if silver is required, have to send across the water to ILansanffraid for change.

My next informant was John Duncan Maclaren, who was born in 1812, and lives at Trefriw. His father was a Scotsman, but Maclaren is in all other respects a Welshman. He also knew the Sgubor Gerrig people, and that Evan Thomas and Lowri his wife had exceeding great trouble to prevent their son Roger from being carried away by the fairies. For the fairy maids were always trying to allure him away, and he was constantly finding fairy money. The fairy dance, and the playing and singing that accompanied it, used to take place in a field in front of his father's house; but Lowri would never let her son go out after the sun had gone to his battlements (ar ol i'r haulfyrid i lawr igaera). The most dangerous nights were those when the moon shone brightly, and pretty wreaths of mist adorned the meadows by the river. Maclaren had heard of a man, whom he called Sion Catrin of Tyn Twtt, finding a penny every day at the pistytt or water-spout near the house, when he went there to fetch water. The flat land between Trefriw and ILanrwst had on it a great many fairy rings, and some of them are, according to Maclaren, still to be seen. There the fairies used to dance, and when a young man got into one of the rings the fairy damsels took him away; but he could be got out unharmed at the end of a year and a day, when he would be found dancing with them in the same ring: he must then be dexterously touched by some one of his friends with a piece of iron and dragged out at once. This is the way in which a young man whom my notes connect with a place called Bryn Glas was recovered. He had gone out with a friend, who lost him, arid he wandered into a fairy ring. He had new shoes on at the time, and his friends brought him out at the end of the interval of a year and a day; but he could not be made to understand that he had been away more than five minutes, until he was asked to look at his new shoes, which were by that time in pieces. Maclaren had also something to say concerning the history and habitat of the fairies. Those of Nant Conwy dress in green; and his mother, who died about sixty-two years ago, aged forty-seven, had told him that they lived seven years on the earth, seven years in the air, and seven years underground. He also had a mermaid tale, like that of Pergrin from Dyfed, p. 163. A fisherman from ILandritto yn Rhos, between Colwyn and ILandudno, had caught a mermaid in his net. She asked to be set free, promising that she would, in case he complied, do him a kindness. He consented, and one fine day, a long while afterwards, she suddenly peeped out of the water near him, and shouted: Sion (fan, cwyddy rwyda' a thyn tua'r lan, 'John Evans, take up thy nets and make for the shore.' He obeyed, and almost immediately there was a terrible storm, in which many fishermen lost their lives. The river Conwy is the chief haunt of the mysterious afanc, already mentioned, p. 130, and Maclaren stated that its name used to be employed within his memory to frighten girls and children : so much was it still dreaded. Perhaps I ought to have stated that Maclaren is very fond of music, and that he told me of a gentleman at Conway who had taken down in writing a supposed fairy tune. I have made inquiries of the latter's son, Mr. Hennessy Hughes of Conway; but his father's papers seem to have been lost, so that he cannot find the tune in question, though he has heard of it.

Whilst on this question of music let me quote from the ILwyd letter in the Cambrian Journal for 1859, pp. 145-6, on which I have already drawn, pp. 130-3, above. The passage in point is to the following effect:—

'I will leave these tales aside whilst I go as far as the Ogo £)u, " the Black Cave," which is in the immediate vicinity of Crigcieth1, and into which the musicians

1 Why the writer spells the name Criccieth in this way I cannot tell, except that he was more or less under the influence of the more intelligible spelling Crugcaith, as where Lewis Glyn Cothi. I. xxiv, sang

Rhys ab Sion d'r hysbys iailh,
Gwr yw acw o Grugcaith.

This spelling postulates the interpretation Crug-Caith, earlier Crugy Ceith, 'the mound or barrow of the captives,' in reference to some forgotten interment; but when the accent receded to the first syllablc the second was slurred almost out of recognition, so that Crng-ceith, or Cruc-ceM, became Cniceth, whence Cniq/tt and Criqeth. The Bruts have Crugyeith the only time it occurs, and the Record of Carnarvon (several times) Krukyth.

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