Feasts and Festivals: July and August

Heol Awst is the main street of the ancient market town of Caerfyrddin. In the opening chapter of my forthcoming novel, 220px-Eisteddfod_1991Vengeance’s Son, the growing family of Huw Brodawel walks through the 10th Century street, avoiding the horses but unable to avoid an altercation with Heledd’s nemesis, Alys Talgarth.

Throughout Cymru and Iwerddon, the summer months of July and August are famous for their horse-trading events. Farmers gather in fairs from one end of the country to the other, but none is more renown than the gathering referred to as The Royal Welsh, held in mid Wales at Llanelwedd, near Llanfair-ym-Muallt.

However, in medieval times, another renown event was Gwyl Awst, held in Caerfyrddin — a horse show and market event that brought citizens from as far away as the continent to deal in horse-flesh. The same interest in horse trading and races takes place in Iwerddon in July – the Galway Races. My family and I were not as aware of the Irish event in July when we visited our Gaelic neighbors a few years ago. Accommodation was not readily available, even for a family with three hearty, sleepy boys.

Heol Awst is also known as Lammas Street. This name refers to Lammas Day, celebrated on August 1st, when the fields were thrown open for common grazing. Lammas is a corruption of “loaf-mass” – a celebration in the early church when the first loaves of the harvest were consecrated.

mererid2001No festival is as widely celebrated than the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol (National Eisteddfod) – a festival arising from the earliest bardic events. This takes place during the first full week of August. The EG is a celebration of all things Welsh and Wales, but especially the Welsh language (Cymraeg). Iolo Morgannwg is credited with having revived the bardic festival – a competition for money and patronage between poets. The EG has grown into an Arts Festival, larger than any other in the world and, together with its daughter festival in May for the young people and children of Wales – Eisteddfod yr Urdd, offers entertainment and creative competition in all forms of the Arts.

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Wales All Over England & Scotland, Part II

In my previous article, I introduced my premise that the Brythonic Celts were the first and significant occupants of three of the five countries that now make up the island nations of Great Britain and Ireland:

road thru llanymdyfri

Along the drovers’ route to Llundain through eastern Sir Gâr/Carmarthenshire

While I have been working on my second series, The Inheritors, I have been reviewing the first segment of this family saga, The Conquerors. The second book of the first segment, Salvation, takes place in Cwmdu (Black Valley) and I thought about how the pronunciation of Cwmdu could be illuminated for non-Welsh speakers. I came up with COOM-dee. Most of us will recognize ‘combe’ pronounced ‘coom,’ since it is found in place names all over England.

Among those place names is further evidence of Welsh occupation of the country now known as England (as well as the country to the north now known as Scotland).

We went east from Cymru/Wales to Caint/Kent and Caergaint/Canterbury. Many of these places were the forts (caerau) established by the Brythonic Celt tribes, consequently taken over by, first, the Roman invaders, reclaimed by the Celts once the Roman Empire collapsed. Within the few following centuries, these centers of civilization were relentlessly attacked and sacked by further invaders: the Vikings, Danes, Angles and Saxons. Each invasion and assault left its mark on the history and lore of the island of Britain, and with the exception of the north in Efrog, none more lasting than the Anglo-Saxons, and eventually, the Normans.

stone porth sir gar

Remains of a porth/portcullis of a caer/fort in western Sir Gâr/Carmarthenshire

Far from obliterating the Brythonic Celts, the Anglo-Saxons assimilated notable aspects of the Celtic culture and communities. The Celts were, over time, themselves assimilated but not without trace. The east coast of Britain is evidence of the ancient struggle between the Brythonic communities and the Teutonic invaders.

To the north of Caergaint, on the coast is the seacoast town of Margate. ‘Mar’ is a variation of the Welsh word for sea: ‘mor’ as well as the Latin ‘mare’. Gate is the English translation for the Welsh ‘porth’ and the Latin ‘porta’.

Across the Thames Estuary (Abertafwys), one of the biggest cities on the North Sea coastal flatlands is Colchester. ‘Chester’ is the Latin for the Welsh word ‘Caer’. We’ve seen this in place names throughout the country known as England (Lloegr). The Latin ‘cest’ meaning ‘girdle’ has remained a significant feature in place names, replacing the Brythonic ‘caer’. ‘Col’ is Welsh for ‘corn’ which is used as a general term for any variety of grain. Colchester is at the center of what is referred to as the ‘bread basket’ of Britain.

Northwest of the wheat fields is the famous university city of Cambridge. ‘Cam’ means ‘step’ as well as ‘injustice’ and ‘crooked’. Whichever of those meanings best described the city in ancient times is a mystery (at least to me) but the modern name for Cambridge is ‘Caergrawnt’. ‘Grawn’ is another word for ‘grain’ – again the wheat fields effect. Or the other possible origin is ‘crawn’ meaning ‘pus’ or its now obsolete meaning ‘treasure’. Because ‘caer’ is feminine and causes a soft mutation of words it modifies, ‘crawn’ is probably the more likely candidate.

To the northwest of Cambridge is the smaller town of Kettering. Although there seems little connection between this obviously Anglo-Saxon word, ‘ket’ is actually a Anglicization of the word ‘coed’ meaning wood. Similarly, we have Ketteridge and Kettlethorpe, all of which are within the vast forest regions, as well as Cheddleton and Cheadle.  Further west and north is another university city, Leicester, again taking the ‘caer/cess/cest’ approach I mentioned in Part I. The city’s known in Welsh as ‘Caerlŷr’ from Llŷr, the Brythonic king who inspired Shakespeare’s tragic Lear.

Perhaps one of the most familiar of the northern cities is Manceinon. Never heard of it? Does Manchester sound more familiar? ‘Man’ means ‘place’ and ‘ceinion’ is associated with ‘cain’ meaning ‘beautiful’. ‘Ceinion’ are ‘works of art’, ‘gems’, ‘jewels’. In ancient times, Manceinion must have been an extraordinarily beautiful place to live. More recently, it is associated with industry, mining as well as two of the most famous sports teams, Manchester United and Manchester City.

In Part III, we will investigate the origins of Efrog which inspired the name of the largest city in the United States and Caeredin or Dinedin as it is also known.

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Wales All Over England (and Scotland)

CastellCennenWhile I have been working on my second series, The Inheritors, I have been reviewing the first segment of this family saga, The Conquerors. The second book of the first segment, Salvation, takes place in Cwmdu (Black Valley) and I thought about how the pronunciation of Cwmdu could be shown phonetically for non-Welsh speakers. I came up with ‘COOM-dee’. Most of us will recognize ‘combe’ pronounced ‘coom,’ since it is found in place names all over England.

Among those place names is further evidence of Welsh occupation of the country now known as England (as well as the country to the north now known as Scotland), centuries prior to the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons.

Taking a circular tour of England, we find Ross-on-Wye which is a direct Anglicization of Rhos-ar-Wy (Gwy is the name of the river, mutated by the adjective ‘ar’) ‘Rhos’ means moor or plain.

Southeast of Ross, we reach Bath, a favorite tourist destination, especially for Jane Austen readers. In Welsh, this spa town is known as Caerfaddon, (‘baddon’ means bath and is mutated by the feminine noun, ‘caer’ meaning fort). The Romans created the baths which are now visited by millions every year. During the Roman occupation of Briton, this town became an outpost for soldiers, a fort (from cess and cest from the Latin for ‘rest’ and ‘girdle’ (surround). The Romans took over many hill forts (caerau bryn) from the Brythonic Celts (Cymry/the Welsh people). Roman occupation of Briton ended by 410AD and the Anglo-Saxons (Saeson) arrived on the eastern coast of Briton around 450AD.

Northeast of Bath, we come to Oxford, a direct translation of Rhydychen (‘rhyd’ means ford as across a river and ‘ychen’ means oxen), a place where oxen cross the river. East, along the Gwy, we arrive in High Wycombe. ‘Wy’ is the mutated name of the river, Gwy, (as above) and is the geographic marker for the M40. This motorway was placed along a thoroughfare constructed by the Romans who used an original tract used by the Cymry to drive oxen to market. High Wycombe is an adaptation of Cwm-uwch-Wy (narrow valley above Gwy) which, along with all the other major towns located on the banks of the Gwy River, was and is a market town.

CastellCennen3The string of market towns leads to London. Any cattle or other goods, not already sold along the route, were sold at Smithfield. This enormous livestock market is still a major destination for farmers throughout the countries of Britain. London was known to the Romans as Londinium, to the Cymry as Llundain — possibly from the Latin lun meaning crescent shape or moon(‘llun’ means moon and Monday in Cymraeg/Welsh). It was a bog but centrally located and easily defended, until Buddug (meaning ‘victory’) attacked in 60AD:

But this early prosperity wasn’t to last. In 60 AD, Boudica (Buddug – Ed.), queen of the Iceni tribe of Norfolk, chose Londinium as a key target for her revolt against Roman rule. Her timing was perfect – the Roman army was away, quelling an uprising on the Welsh island of Anglesey. Boudica and her rabble razed the whole 40 acres city to the ground, killing thousands of traders who had settled there. Her attack left a thick burnt layer of red ash in the soil which is clearly visible in archaeological excavations. It was the first great fire of London. (History.co.uk)

Southeast of Llundain is the cathedral town of Canterbury, known by the Cymry as Caergaint.  ‘Caint’ is the Welsh for the county of Kent. Kent is an approximation of the original place name given to it by the Brythonic Celts (Cymry).

In my next post, we will go north – the rush is on to the next stop: the university town of Cambridge.

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In Honor of the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

armenianvioletI am reposting this article and book review, originally published in January 2014, to commemorate the 100th anniversary, 24 April 2015, of this tragic event — as Pope Francis has called it, “the first genocide of the 20th Century.” The failure of the world to recognize this atrocity empowered Hitler to condemn to death millions in Europe. Stalin also had no compunction in slaughtering eleven million Russians.

Cymru/Wales was (and is) the only nation of the four countries of the United Kingdom to have acknowledged the Ottoman-Turk slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915.  The Armenian Genocide Memorial was dedicated in 2007. Armenians are still waiting for the world to end the denial of this event. Turkey may wish to forget and call the genocidal actions a lie, but the evidence against the Ottoman Caliphate is clear.

How would the world react if Germany denied the slaughter of six million Roma, Jewish and disabled Europeans? How would the world react if the United States denied slavery or its treatment of Native Americans or the existence of Japanese internment camps? Rwandan Genocide, Radical Islam, U.S. S. Liberty: these are only a few of the misdeeds that were, and are, empowered by denial.

Admitting misdeeds is the first step to reconciliation.


CarmarthenKarabagh2Subtitle: A Welsh Discovery of Armenia

Canon Patrick Thomas, Chancellor of St. David’s Cathedral and Vicar of Christ Church in Caerfyrddin, gave this book to me while we waited for the bride to arrive for a Christmastide wedding. I’ve always been interested in Armenia since so many of my school friends were from this country. What makes this book even more valuable to me is that Canon Patrick has discovered historical connections and similarities between Cymru (Wales) and Armenia that illuminate the strengths and sufferings of both small countries.

While Cymru did not suffer genocide at the hands of its neighbor (on April 24, 1915, the Turkish government and army began a campaign to slaughter 1.5 million Armenians in one of the most shameful acts in human history and the first act of genocide of the 20thC), the effort to destroy its culture and language has been continuous over the centuries. Hitler, on the eve of war in 1939, planning to put to death men, women and children of Polish derivation and language, said “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

The Senedd (the Welsh government) is one of only a few countries which has recognized and commemorated the atrocities inflicted on the Armenians by the Turks.

The Welsh and Armenian cultures and languages share similar struggles for survival against the onslaught of neighboring countries. As the first Armenian novelist, Khachatur Abovian, remarked, “The guardian of a nation is its language and faith. And if we were to lose them, woe unto us!”

Despite the hardships both countries have faced over many centuries, both Cymru and Armenia have a similar call to courage: “Er gwaethaf pawb a phopeth, ry’n ni yma o hyd!” (From one of Dafydd Iawn’s most famous songs, Yma O Hyd.) “In spite of everyone and everything, we are still here.”

From Carmarthen to Karabagh: a Welsh discovery of Armenia is available on Amazon.

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Patrick: Welsh Noble, Slave, Irish Saint

Saint Patrick Window

Patron Saint of Ireland and Cymro

On the eve of St. Patrick’s Day,  paying homage to a revered and venerated saint of the Early Celtic Christian Church is appropriate, especially for me, since Patrick (Succat Morgannwg as he was once known in his native Cymru (Wales) is a Welshman. Besides all the parades to be marched and pint glasses of heady brews to be lifted to celebrate the day on which St. Patrick died, there will be another ceremony.

This commemorative event takes place in the village where St. Patrick was born, in Banwen, near Castell Nedd (Neath), in the Dulais Valley, near Abertawe (Swansea). He was the son of a prosperous merchant in a part of Wales renown for its contribution to the Industrial Revolution.

At about 16 years of age, Patrick and his sister were captured and enslaved by Irish marauders. He spent many years in Ireland as a shepherd. He escaped to his home in Cymru (Wales) and studied in Llydaw (Brittany) before being ordained and travelling to Rome. After his ordination as a bishop, he returned to Ireland to carry on his personal mission of sheltering the homeless and feeding the hungry.

Location of St. Patrick’s Commemorative Stone In Banwen

A standing stone at the side of the Roman road, Sarn Helen, in Banwen commemorates the courage and bravery of this famous Cymro (Welshman), whose dedication and humility are celebrated throughout the world. A service at the site of the stone will be attended by villagers and eminent compatriots.

For more information about St. Patrick, Black Lab Books (New York) are publishing Thomas John Clark’s The Chronicles of St. Patrick in chapter-length editions. For a fictionalized story, Stephen Lawhead’s Patrick is intense and comprehensive. Below is a description of Lawhead’s book from its page on Amazon:

“Slave, soldier, lover, hero, saint,—his life mirrored the cataclysmic world into which he was born. His memory will outlast the ages.

Patrick Lawhead“Born of a noble Welsh family, he is violently torn from his home by Irish raiders at age sixteen and sold as a slave to a brutal wilderness king. Rescued by the king’s druids from almost certain death, he learns the arts of healing and song, and the mystical ways of a secretive order whose teachings tantalize with hints at a deeper wisdom. Yet young Succat Morgannwg cannot rest until he sheds the strangling yoke of slavery and returns to his homeland across the sea. He pursues his dream of freedom through horrific war and shattering tragedy—through great love and greater loss—from a dying, decimated Wales to the bloody battlefields of Gaul to the fading majesty of Rome. And in the twilight of a once-supreme empire, he is transformed yet again by divine hand and a passionate vision of ‘truth against the world,’ accepting the name that will one day become legend . . . Patricius!”

And what happened to Succat’s sister?

Gwyl Padraig Hapus i bawb a llongyfarchiadau Tîm Rygbi Cymru am ennill yn erbyn Iwerddon … eto!

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