Tag Archives: Welsh

For the Love of Language

LlyfrauIaithWriters are language lovers. Words and phrases are our tools, our tubes of paint and brushes, our clay and chisels. After my first visit to Cymru(Wales), I had a new dilemma and a new story to tell. The dilemma is the language I had heard in this Celtic country and the story is the history of its oppression and triumph.

As I mentioned in my post about emigrating to Cymru, I could not be one of those who move to a country and demand that the people, culture and language change to accommodate me. I moved to Cymru to become a participant in the success of the Cymry to withstand the onslaught of the dominant language and culture of the island that four distinct cultures share. In my post, Potted Brythonic, I outlined the linguistic history of the British Isles and the early strength of the Brythonic Celtic language, Cymraeg(Welsh), from Llydaw(Brittany) and Kernyw(Cornwall) to Yr Alban(Scotland).

All through the first year I lived in the capital city, I met folks who hated, loathed and despised the native language of their own country. This attitude confounded me.

Some of these people were not Welsh and had no real love of the country they lived in—they were English immigrants who truly believed that Wales did not exist except in a fantasy world of a few old codgers intent on keeping a dead language alive.

A few of the non-Welsh-speaking Welsh also wanted to see the language disappear—more out of a sense of longing for access to a culture and way of life they had been denied. If they couldn’t have it, no one else should either. Both of these attitudes are prevalent throughout the world, no matter where or who. We are a naturally envious lot and often want what we are least likely to get without great effort.

I am not a natural linguist, nor especially good with languages, my own or foreign. A great help was my love of language as an instrument and as an art form in itself. I had studied enough Spanish and French in school, as well as the structure and form of English to be aware of the interconnection between all Indo-European languages which have a Latin component.

Since Cymru was once a Roman colony, many of its official institutions (schools, the law, church, government etc.) have a Latin-based name. This is true of all European countries that were colonized by the Romans, hence the term Romance Language for every tongue spoken in Europe from Romanian to Italian, French, Spanish and Welsh.

Tintern Abbey Ruins

Abaty Tintern

Although the Brythonic Celtic languages are less recognizable as Romance languages, their official institutions and some common words such as ffenest/fenêtre/finestra/fenestra=window and pont/pont/ponte/pons=bridge, show this connection to their common Latin root. A word such as eglwys doesn’t seem to equate, however its Latin root, ecclesia clearly shows the link to iglesia and église.

But, as you can see from my half-shelf of books (above) on many languages, both Welsh and English are absent. A misguided assumption of familiarity? Nid ddylai rhywun fod mor sicr o’i allu. (One should not be so sure of one’s ability.)

But what is writing without knowledge and the seeking of it?

I am still a learner.




Filed under Cymraeg/Welsh Language, Cymreig/Welsh, Y Cymry/Welsh People

Welsh & Medieval Cookery Course

FEBRUARY 7-28: WELSH & MEDIEVAL COOKERY with Instructor Lily Dewaruile 

applesonwallA man’s gotta eat. Throughout history, great and heinous acts have happened around the table. From the State Dinner to the Kitchen Table, food and dining have played a role in events that shape our world. From the dawn of humankind, we have explored and experimented with what goes into our bellies. This course will concentrate on the food that fueled Celtic warriors before battles, soothed the political wounds of royalty and fed the tillers and millers through the Middle Ages. More than venison and Baldrick’s beloved turnip, what medieval clerics and princes ate was specific to social status and country of origin. Recipes for modern cooks and attention to historical accuracy—set your table for the woodsman and the duchess. Forget the potatoes. CLICK THE TITLE OF THE CLASS TO REGISTER.

About the Presenter: Lily Dewaruile (pen name of American novelist, Leigh Verrill-Rhys) lived in Cymru/Wales for thirty years, an immigrant to this Celtic country who fell in love with the language and the history as well as un Cymro arbennig (one special Welshman). While she and her Cymro were raising three fine young men, Lily continued her writing about her adopted country, set in one of her favorite periods in its history, the 9th and 10th Centuries. Her novels reflect her deep admiration for the people whose strength and commitment to their way of life and culture, endure and overpower those who come to conquer. Though none of her characters, nor many of the events of these novels, are real, they reflect the spirit and essence of Cymru.

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Filed under Cymreig/Welsh, Hanes Cymru/Welsh History

A Celtic Festival Celebrating Winter: Calan Gaeaf

Ceridwen, the Witch

Ceridwen, the Witch, illustration by Ioan Einion, Y Lolfa, © Alys Einion

On October 31, All Hallows’ Eve has been celebrated across the Christian World since the formation of a structured church. Calan Gaeaf (Kal-ahn GEYE-ahv), as it is known in Wales, celebrates the start of winter and has been a festival since earliest pagan Celtic times. In Ireland, the festival is known as Samhain (SOW-en), celebrating the decay of life and is derived from an ancient cult of the dead.

Like all the seasonal pagan festivals, Calan Gaeaf is an attempt to appease the forces of nature of which our distant ancestors had no true understanding. In other words, a superstition. All of the Celtic countries have folk traditions that commemorate the turns of the seasons. In Cymru, horns frightened away evil spirits.

The coelcerth (bonfire) was the focal point of the night’s festivities. The celebrants ran back and forth in the smoke, daring to go as close as possible. The closer the runners went, the more fortunate their prospects for the coming year. Villagers threw stones into the fire and searched for them the following morning. A stone that was not found was a portend of bad news to come, perhaps even death. As the last embers faded, all of the onlookers ran screaming from the site to escape Yr Hwch Ddu Gwta (the black tailless sow). They took handfuls of ash home to spread good luck.

Gwydion, the Wizard

Gwydion, the Wizard, illustration by Ioan Einion, Y Lolfa, © Alys Einion

The Cymry believed that their wishes expressed on this night, if made in good faith, would come true. Storytelling was the favored entertainment of the night. Ghosts might be seen at the camfa (stile) and prevent travellers from crossing. Since the dead were at play and roaming free on Calan Gaeaf, young children were kept indoors. Bwyd cennad y meirw (food to speak to the dead) was set outside and the hearth was readied before the household went to bed.

On this night, those who had died by drowning rose to the surface of the sea and rode the waves as white horses (ceffylau gwyn) on the white waves (tonnau gwyn). Gwrachod (witches) did not harm anyone on Calan Gaeaf while the church bells rang. Sabbats were once held near Penmaenmawr, Gwynedd at the Druid’s Circle but this activity ceased when the standing stones spoke aloud to object and two of the attending witches went mad.

Other stones in Morgannwg grant wishes on this night and wishes expresses near a tomb in Dyffryn, De Morgannwg are said to come true. The Derby Stone was disgusted by foul language and leaned to hit anyone who cursed nearby.

Source: The Celtic Calendar, Brian Day, Saffron Walden, 2003

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Filed under Cymru/Wales, Hanes Cymru/Welsh History

Naming Names

One of the first of many customs we notice when we visit Cymru(Wales) is that there are two names for most larger towns and cities (and the country itself): the original Cymraeg(Welsh) and an English approximation or replacement.  For example:  legend has it ‘Swansea’ is a Nordic word brought by the Viking invaders corrupted by usage from ‘Swan’s Eye’, possibly a proliferation of aquatic birds or, as likely, not a corruption at all but a description of a sea port with lots of swans flying around. The Cymraeg name of the city is Abertawe, meaning the estuary of the Tawe River.

Salvation: Book CoverFurther up the river, we find Pontardawe, meaning Bridge on/over Tawe (‘ar’ is a participle that causes a soft mutation but we will go into the language and its secrets at another time). In my novel, Salvation, Christophe Maides, a foreign invader, demonstrates his understanding of place names when he is guessing where Caryl might have been born.

Another example is the Dulais River. Pontarddulais, Aberdulais and Blaendulais will all put us in a geographic location along this river. If we know the name of the river, we will know where we are along its route when we come to Bryndulais.

We might also recognize Aberdeen – that well known city in the north of Scotland – Dee being the river and Aber signifying the estuary into which it flows. This is evidence the Brythonic Celtic language known now as Cymraeg(Welsh) was the predominant language throughout the four countries of the main island of Britain: Cymru, Yr Alban(Scotland), Kernyw(Cornwall) and Lloegr(England). The Celtic language of both (Kernyw)Cornwall and Llydaw(Brittany) are closely related to Cymraeg.

Until the Anglo-Saxon invasions of the Dark Ages and the final push in the 8th Century that drove a terminal wedge through the mid-section of Britain, Cymraeg was spoken in every region from Land’s End to Wick. The proximity of the most northerly region of Iwerddon(Ireland) facilitated a cross-flow of language and culture between Yr Alban (Alba in Scots Gaelic), and its Gaelic Celtic neighbor. In fact, there were ample opportunities for the Cymry(Welsh people) and the Gwyddelod(Irish people) to comingle in many ways.

Following the Anglo-Saxon invasion, many of the Cymry remained in Lloegr and assimilated the Saeson(English people) or were assimilated themselves but traces of their language abound still. With no access to their Brythonic Celtic cousins in Yr Alban, a void allowed the Gwyddelod to encroach further into Alba, eventually subsuming the native people and their language with a variation of the Gaelic Celtic language, taking as well Ynys Mannaw(Isle of Mann) with them.

As the Saeson moved westerly and northerly, they accumulated and assimilated as necessary, changing names of geographical locations or adopting an Anglified version, such as Llundain became London and Baddon became Bath. In Cymru, the capital city, Caerdydd (meaning Day Fort), became Cardiff – a meaningless simplification and unnecessary.

By far, the worst example of approximation is the small town of Llanilltud Fawr. Illtud was a saint in the early middle ages, during the period of Christian conversions (circa 400-600AD) throughout the British Isles. Llan means ‘church land’ and mawr means ‘great, powerful, big’. This particular town was named for the church of the saint’s name. (Mawr mutates to ‘fawr’ when it follows a feminine noun; Illtud was a woman – a great and powerful one at that.) This town in English has suffered the ignominy of being approximated to Llantwit Major.

I have never understood why that was allowed.

Hwyl am y tro,


PS: Cymru, Cymry, Cymraeg, Cymreig, Cymro, Cymraes are all the appellations for, in order,  the country, its people, their language, their culture, a man, a woman. The terms Wales and Welsh are those used by the Angles and Saxons to differentiate the Cymry from themselves and mean ‘foreigner, stranger.’ I don’t use these terms because they imply that the Cymry are strangers in their own land.

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Filed under Cymraeg/Welsh Language, Hanes Cymru/Welsh History, Y Cymry/Welsh People

Invasion at iBookstore

Invasion: Book 1, Pendyffryn: The ConquerorsInvasion, Book 1, is now at the iBookstore.

This is the first book in this family saga which begins in the last years of the life and reign of Rhodri Mawr, 876AD.

Gwennan Pendyffryn, the only child of an aging chieftain, assumes command of the garrison at the gaer, a small fortified village at the opening of this mountain valley. Her first thought is to accept the garrison commander as her husband, but as her father has said, he has only one redeeming quality: a quality that his other qualities do not encourage her to discover.

Assuming command by stealth comes naturally to Gwennan. Keeping her land free of the foreign invader when she fails to kill him becomes a deadly pursuit when her real intent becomes known.

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Filed under Hanes Cymru/Welsh History, Rhamant/Romance, Y Cymry/Welsh People