Cychwyn wnes o ddoc Traeth Bychan,
Meddwl am hen ddyddiau pell,
Môr yn torri ar Drwyn Dinas,
Haul yn t'wynu ar Drwyn y Gell.
Aros enyd ar Drwyn Morcyn,
Hiraeth oedd o dan fy mron,
Nid oedd smac na cetsh na scwnar,
Heddiw'n hwylio ar y don.
Porth y Rhos a Phorth yr Aber,
Rhwng Dau Dir a'i gelyn coch,
Wir ni chewch chi gelyn cochach,
Waeth gen i pa le y bôch.
Dros Trwyn Melyn, Dan y Dalar,
Cerrig Slent sydd ar fy ôl,
Ac o'm blaen mae Pentra Moelfra
Gyda'r cychod yn ei gôl.
Tan yr Allt a Phorth y Neigwl,
Lle bu llawer sgarmes hyll,
Gwaywffyn o Alecsandra,
Bwa saeth o goed y cyll.
'Sgota crancod ar Drwyn Neigwl,
Yna lansio cychod scriw,
Hogia'r pentra am y gora'
I fod yn giaptan wrth y llyw.
Heibio'r cwt sy' ym Mhorth Llydan,
Meddwl am yr amser gynt,
Troed yr Iâr a Throed y Ceiliog
Dyfai yno yn y gwynt.
Trwyn y Gripil, Swnt a'r Ynys,
Y Pwll Dyfn sy' ar y chwith,
Ar Drwyn Pella a Thrwyn Pibo
Gwnai y wylan fach ei nyth.
Croesi'r Swnt am Eglwys Sigli,
Pen Clawdd Mawr a Phorth Jewes,
Yna'r Glwyd lle caem gysgod
Pan yr oedd hi'n chwythu'n ffres.
Yma 'roedd yr hen long gerrig,
Hwylio wnaem am bedwar ban.
Ond yn awr ma'i wedi sincio
Er na symudodd 'rioed o'r fan.
Gro Porth Helaeth, Royal Charter,
Hen atgofion yno'n stôr
Heibio'r Bryn at Borth y Cwrwg,
Llefydd da am ddrec y môr.
Tywod aur ar Draeth y Moryn,
Dyma'n wir olygfa dlos,
Ond t'wyllodrus oedd yr harddwch
I bysgotwyr yn y nôs.
Craig y Ddafad a Traeth Lligwy,
Traeth yr Ora a Phorth Fôr,
Dwndwr mawr o'r carafanau
Lle bu adar gynt mewn côr.
Dyma'r Morfa, dyma'r Storws,
Dyma fi ar ben y daith,
Ger y Glaslyn a Phwll Pegi
Lle bûm yn drochi lawer gwaith.
Blant y pentra ceisiwch gofio
Yr hen enwau, doed a ddel
Bydd eu clywed ar eich gwefus,
I fy nghlustiau fel y mêl.
gan D.A. Owens
In Hiraeth, the sacred sites of the pre-Celtic, and pre-historic people of the Neolithic west are a connection to their hidden descendants on the Celtic lands of Britain. The ancient megaliths, found all over these islands, were not built by Celts, but were sacred to them. These monuments often reflect the change in season through the movement of the sun, and astronomy was a highly regarded druidic discipline. There are very many megalithic sites all over Britain and Ireland, and I have only listed those pertinent to the story, but the subject makes for a fascinating read.
Bryn Celli Ddu
Meaning ‘the mound in the dark grove’, this Neolithic monument is situated near Llanddaniel Fab on Ynys Môn, Anglesey, and is the most important burial passage in Wales. Inside the chamber is a free standing pillar whose purpose is unclear, though it may be connected with the alignment of the sun at the summer solstice.
This is just outside the village of Moelfre on Ynys Môn. Din Lligwy is a neolithic site representing three ages in history. There is a burial chamber, dated at about 3,000BC, covered with a twenty-five ton capstone. A short distance away, there are the remains of a Romano-Celtic circle of huts, together with a workshop. The remains of pottery and a musical instrument were found at the hut sites and the workshop indicates that it belonged to a blacksmith. On the hillside overlooking the beach, is Capel Lligwy, a ruined twelfth century church.
Barclodiad y Gawres
The Welsh means ‘apron of the giantess’ and it is a Neolithic burial chamber on the coastal path on Ynys Môn. It is a cruciform passage grave decorated with carved stones. It is very similar in style to graves in the Brú na Bóinne in Ireland.
In Nevern, Pembrokeshire, the dolmen at Pentre Ifan is the largest and best-preserved Neolithic dolmen in Wales. Dating from 3,500 BC it was thought to have been built as a communal burial chamber.
Tre’r Ceiri - Home of the Giants, is a hill fort settlement on the Llyn Peninsula in Gwynedd, North Wales. Dating from about 200 BC, the site was still inhabited during the Romano - Celtic period. The stones walls around the settlement are still mostly intact, making it one of the most spectacular of ancient monuments.
Brú na Bóinne – Palace of the Boyne
Brú na Bóinne , the world heritage centre, occupies a 780 hectare area around a bend in the River Boyne in County Meath, Ireland. Built between 3500 and 3200 BC, it is the largest and most important of Megalithic sites in Europe and consists of three main areas, Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth.
It dates from about 3200 BC and is older than both Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. Inside, Newgrange consists of a passageway and burial chambers, and is surmounted by a large circular mound containing decorated kerbstones. It is the art on these stones which sets Newgrange apart from many other monuments. Spirals, circles and arcs vie with abstract line formations providing beautiful and fascinating patterns.
Newgrange was built in alignment with the movement of the sun. Just as Bryn Celli Ddu receives the first light of the summer solstice, the early light of the winter solstice fills the chamber at Newgrange. As the sun rises around 21st -22nd of December, a beam of light enters the ‘light box’ just above the entrance, and the passage and chamber are lit.
Knowth and Dowth
The passage graves at Knowth date from between 2500 and 2000 BC. There are eighteen in all, one large and seventeen smaller tombs. Again the art here is breathtaking, and carved into the stones in each of the passages and chambers. Rather than having a solstice alignment, Knowth has an equinox alignment with the sun.
Dowth is smaller than its neighbours on the Brú na Bóinne site, but the art and carving are just as beautiful. Dowth shares a solstice alignment with Newgrange.
Also on the River Boyne is the Hill of Tara. Situated between Navan and Dunshaughlin in County Meath, this ancient monument is made up of several parts.
The Mound of Hostages – Dumha Na nGiall
This ancient passage tomb dates from around 3000 and 2500 BC. It is similar in design, but smaller than its neighbour in Newgrange and its stones are undecorated. It was designed to be illuminated by the early morning sun on about the 4th of February and the 8th of November – Imbolc and Samhain in the pagan calendar. These are known as cross-quarter days, occurring at midpoints between the solstices and equinoxes.
Fort of the Kings – Ráith Na Riogh
To the south of the mound is the Fort of Kings, an Iron Age enclosure at the summit of the hill. Inside this are two linked earthworks called Cormac’s House – Treach Cormac, and the Royal Seat – Forradh. In the middle of the Forradh is a single standing stone – Lia Fáil (Stone of Destiny).
The Lia Fáil is a stone like no other in Irish mythology. It was one of the four legendary treasures that the Tuatha Dé Dannan brought back from distant magical realms. The others were a spear, a cauldron and a sword.
The stone possessed the magic to determine the next High King of Ireland; when the rightful heir touched the stone, it was said to roar so loudly with joy, it could be heard all over Ireland. When Cúchulainn’s protégé failed to make the stone roar, he split it with his sword, causing it to remain quiet for a very long time.
These are the Roman, Welsh and English names for a small island off the north-west coast of Gwynedd, North Wales. It is called ‘Mam Cymru – Mother of Wales’ for the fertile land and history of food production, and also the ‘Dark Isle’ for its association with the ancient druids and their supposedly arcane practises.
The Romans were convinced that Ynys Môn was a stronghold of druidic learning and a ‘rallying point of rebellion’. When Suetonius Paulinus took governorship of Britain, he made a point of quashing any insurrection before it arose.
‘Suetonius Paulinus prepared accordingly to attack the island of Mona, which had a considerable population of its own, while serving as a haven for refugees; and, in view of the shallow and variable channel, constructed a flotilla of boats with flat bottoms. By this method the infantry crossed; the cavalry, who followed, did so by fording or, in deeper water, by swimming at the side of their horses.’
Tacitus then goes on to explain what the Romans were faced with.
‘On the beach stood the adverse array, a serried mass of arms and men, with women flitting between the ranks. In the style of Furies, in robes of deathly black and with disheveled hair, they brandished their torches; while a circle of Druids, lifting their hands to heaven and showering imprecations, struck the troops with such awe at the extraordinary spectacle that, as though their limbs were paralysed, they exposed their bodies to wounds without an attempt at movement. Then, reassured by their general, and inciting each other never to flinch before a band of females and fanatics, they charged behind the standards, cut down all who met them, and enveloped the enemy in his own flames. The next step was to install a garrison among the conquered population, and to demolish the groves consecrated to their savage cults: for they considered it a pious duty to slake the altars with captive blood and to consult their deities by means of human entrails.’
As governors came and went, Anglesey began to rebuild itself, often rebelling with the aid by the Ordovice tribe in Eryri (Snowdonia), but Agricola finished what Paulinus had started and by AD78, Ynys Môn was finally conquered by the Romans.
Swnt is essentially a very old row of fishermen’s cottages. It overlooks a pebbled beach across the narrow channel, Y Swnt, to the Island/Ynys Moelfre. It is home to many sea birds and has an unusual cave that might just be the home of Robyn Rogo.
Britain is a small island surrounded by perilous seas and big tides. Consequently, we have produced excellent sailors over the millennia. Every fisherman, in every village around the entire coast, knew the vagaries of his local water - his life depended on it. There have always been tragedies, but as the waterways got busier during the industrial revolution, the losses became larger.
In 1824, Sir William Hilary founded the RNLI as a charity after witnessing a massive loss of life to the sea from his home on the Isle of Man.
‘With courage, nothing is impossible’ is a phrase of Hilary’s that encompasses the ethos of the RNLI.
The prevalence of lifeboat stations around the wildest parts of the west coast of Britain, and their particular brand of valour lent the RNLI the honour of being the only mainstream friends of the reclusive druids in the Hiraeth story.
Rugby union is a full contact sport where a team of fifteen players attempts to ‘put down’ the oval shaped ball over the line of the opposing team. This is called a ‘try’ and is worth five points. It can be converted to seven points if a kicker can then put it through the middle of the ‘H’ shaped posts. The ball must always be passed backwards and tackling above the shoulders is illegal.
Rugby is a fascinating game. A complete mixture of courage and cunning, where playing as a team is an absolute imperative - if you want to win. Richard Harris, an Irishman with a Scottish name described it like this –
“Rugby belongs to the heart, not the head. Something to be embraced, or spurned – there can be no middle ground. There are those who stare blank-faced when I talk of rugby, but others instantly understand my breathless enthusiasm and stomach-churning anxiety. We are the lucky ones.”
Insular Celts had played a running ball game called ‘Caid’, a Welsh word meaning ‘bull’s scrotum’ for thousands of years. It morphed into the Welsh game ‘Cnapan’ which is very similar to the Cornish game ‘hurling to goales’ and both these games share the physicality of rugby union as we know it today.
The rugby world cup is called the ‘William Webb Ellis Trophy’. Legend has it that this schoolboy from Rugby school, in England, decided one day to pick up a football and run with it. It may or may not be true, but it doesn't really matter.
Rugby was introduced to Wales in 1850 and played for the first time in Lampeter. Since then, rugby union in Wales has become more than a sport – in many ways it is like a religion. It has become a cause representing a sense of injustice still felt by the Welsh, especially towards the English. Phil Bennett, the captain of Wales in 1977, gave a pre-match pep talk to his players just before they met England on the pitch. It goes some way to illustrate this depth of feeling.
"Look what these bastards have done to Wales. They've taken our coal, our water, our steel. They buy our homes and live in them for a fortnight every year. What have they given us? Absolutely nothing. We've been exploited, raped, controlled and punished by the English — and that's who you are playing this afternoon."
Clearly, this kind of passion makes for exciting games, and the highlight of the rugby calendar is The Six Nations tournament. England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, France and Italy come together every spring to do battle.
Once upon a time, women’s rugby was considered a joke, but no longer. With national TV and radio coverage, women compete at the same standard for their countries, as do the men. They participate in their own World Cup, Six Nations and sevens tournaments.
The hand-to-hand fighting in Hiraeth is a mixture of Taekwondo, MMA and simple brawling. It is a hybrid style of fighting with no real rules.
Taekwondo is a Korean martial art of combat and self–defence, with its emphasis on fast, hard kicking and punching techniques. Taekwondo is a highly disciplined sport, combining the need for great concentration along with core strength, speed, stamina and aggression.
MMA - Mixed Martial Arts, is a full contact sport that allows the use of both punching, kicking and wrestling techniques.
Mona Jones has been on the run all her life without knowing why. Her parents were murdered when she was a teenager, and now at twenty-one her uncle and protector is dead too. This chain of events compels her to spend time amid a Welsh-speaking community in Moelfre, Ynys Môn (Anglesey). Here, her druidic ancestry begins to emerge, though it is spotted more quickly by those around her. She is branded by an enemy druid and finds herself at the centre of a druid civil war.
“The mark” unleashes Mona's power, but she also has a terrible weakness. She finds herself drawn to the warrior Cai, but they are separated when the community’s fleet is lured out to sea by the threat of an Irish attack. The Welsh druids are convinced there is a spy in their midst and both Mona and Cai become suspects. When Mona is attacked, her uncontrolled power explodes for a second time. The druids must decide if she is their saviour or their destroyer.
The characters in the Hiraeth books are inspired by the heroes and villains of the Táin, they undertake the journeys of enlightenment and tragedy from the Mabinogion but they also have to deal with the modern world and contemporary problems. They face the ferocious growth in technology, change in gender roles and climate, as well as battling enemies from within their hidden world.
The ongoing survival of Welsh, and the remaining Celtic languages is an important theme in the Hiraeth story. For thousands of years, the spoken language all over Britain was Celtic. An older but still recognisable form of Welsh was spoken from Cornwall to the lowlands of Scotland. Many places that have long since been empty of Celts still bear Celtic names.
Through invasion and conquest, the language changed along with the borders; with first the introduction of Latin, followed by the Germanic languages of the Saxon and Viking, and finally the French of the Normans. All of these conquerors knew that there was danger of rebellion while the language of the mother tongue persisted, and all sought various ways to eradicate it. There was some success over the centuries, and the ambitious realised very quickly that ‘English’ was a quicker route to success and promotion than the native Celtic tongue.
In 1272, when Edward I came to power, forty- five percent of the population of Britain and Ireland spoke Celtic or Gaelic. However, Edward ‘Longshanks’ was determined to eradicate the Celtic - particularly the Welsh and Scottish, language and culture. He succeeded in one but not the other.
Very gradually, the Welsh language declined as it was legislated against, punished and discouraged over time. Even as late as the 1880’s Welsh-speaking children were beaten and punished for uttering it in the classroom. A census of 1891 showed that only half the population in Wales was Welsh speaking, and it was a turning point; Aberystwyth, the first Welsh university was set up through public donation, and there was a flurry of Welsh publications, attempting to stem the tide. Into the fight stepped a strange mixture of saviours; Methodism, the male voice choir and rugby union all had a hand to play in the resurgence of the Welsh language in Wales.
The language, however, continued to dwindle, and in 1961, the number of Welsh speakers had fallen to just twenty-five percent. This dire situation persuaded Saunders Lewis, playwright, academic and one of the founder members and former leader of Plaid Cymru, to use an invitation to deliver the annual BBC Wales radio lecture to urge the people of Wales to save their language. The reaction of the Welsh was immediate and the campaign has not faltered since, with Wales becoming an officially bi-lingual country, including Welsh medium TV and radio, with its own bi-lingual parliament, civil servants and road signs.
For an English speaker, Welsh is a hard language to learn – and it is not the grammar, or even the strangeness of the spelling that makes it so. When speaking Welsh, your mouth and brain have to function differently; R’s have to be rolled, ll’s have to be sounded and there is beautiful musicality achieved through a different emphasis. Welsh feels different in your mouth and it sounds like poetry.
There is still a lot of fighting to be done. Welsh GCSE is mandatory in all Welsh schools, but only about one fifth of the Welsh population are Welsh speakers. Though in some ways, after the historic repression and lengthy border with England it is a wonder there are any at all. In the words of iconic singer-songwriter and politician Dafydd Iwan:
R’yn ni yma o hyd : We're still here
Er gwaetha pawb a phopeth : Despite everybody and everything
R’yn ni yma o hyd : We're still here
If you are inspired to learn Welsh, try these sites.
Pagan belief is implicit within the story of Hiraeth. However, it has been used as a backdrop to the general moral conduct of the characters, rather than a religion. They celebrate the changing seasons and see time in cyclical rather than linear terms. In reality, I have merely merged the ideas of Celtic polytheism, the Hywel Dda law system, Brehon Law, some Neo-druidic beliefs and the Pagan calendar.
The druidism in Hiraeth is meant to reflect the conjectured practices and structure of druidism found within the Celtic communities of Britain in about 400 BC. The spirit of druidism was revived in the eighteenth century and often suffers from the label ‘New Age’ nonsense. The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids however, seems to encompass the essence of the religious life of my characters. Working with nature, and respecting the planet is the main precept of the Order. Others are; the active fostering and continuation of the Celtic language, music and culture.
“Druids seek above all the cultivation of wisdom, creativity and love. A number of lives on earth, rather than just one, gives us the opportunity to fully develop these qualities within us.”
Samhain (pronounced SAH-win or SOW-in) is the festival of the dead, and occurs around the 31st of October. It has been subsumed as Halloween and All Souls’ festivals. In Celtic pagan belief, it is thought that the veil between this world and the ‘Otherworld’ is thinnest during Samhain, and that it holds the possibility of two way traffic between the worlds. In Welsh, it is called ‘Calan Gaeaf,’ the first day of winter and observed on 1st November. People avoid churchyards, stiles, and crossroads, since spirits are thought to gather there.
Sometime around 21st and 22nd of December comes the winter solstice. Together with the summer solstice, it is probably the oldest seasonal festival of humankind. The sun is reborn into a world of cold, dark and gloom and heralds a new year of life. Another name for it is ‘Alban Arthan’ or light of winter.
Imbolc (pronounced i-MOLK or i-MOLG) is the first of the three celebrations of spring. Around the 1st or 2nd of February snowdrops appear, and lambs are born, signalling the strengthening of the young sun. It was symbolised by the virgin maiden, and the early Christians subsumed it into their church, calling it Candlemas. In Welsh it is known as ‘Gwyl Fair y Canhwyllau’ ‘Mary's Festival of the Candles’ in Welsh.
This is around the 21st of March and is also called 'Alban Eilir' – Light of Earth. The sun is getting even stronger during this second festival of spring. Daffodilsa, bluebells, buds and greenery begin to replace the hard, wet mud.
The third festival of spring and the beginning of summer - May 1st is a time of sexual maturity and mating. The flowers and trees are at full bloom and there is lushness to the earth. It is May Day in English and ‘Calan Mai’ in Welsh. “At Beltane the Lady of the Land takes the hand of the Horned God”.
The celebration of the full strength of the sun around the 21st of June is known as 'Alban Hefin' – Light of the Shore. Though the celebration is always tinged with the knowledge that summer is leaving and the days are shortening.
Lughnasadh (pronounced LOO-na-sa) is celebrated as the first of two harvest festivals; the fields are cut, but not yet harvested. It is a time of hard work. ‘In the fields John Barleycorn, who laid with the Lady in the woods at Beltane, has grown old, and now stands bent and bearded with a crocked cane. He looks to the Sun as he has changed from green to gold, and he known that his time has come. His life will feed the people, and it is this sacrifice that we honour at Lughnasadh.’
This is also called ‘Alban Elfed’ - Light of the Water. At around the 21st of September there is the second celebration of harvest. Thankfulness to the earth for food and a preparation for the coming darkness. In English it is the Harvest Festival and ‘Calan Awst’ in Welsh.
The world has a growing demand for energy but only finite resources of fossil fuels. It is now necessary, both economically and ecologically to find more sustainable and less destructive energy sources. This means investing in much more than just solar and wind power. Great minds are already at work on cutting edge ideas, and in reality there needs to be several ways forward, but here are just a few.
Moelfre is a beautiful old fishing village with a long maritime history, and is famed for the bravery of its sailors. The meaning of the Welsh language word ‘Moelfre’, is 'bald or barren hill', which describes the land behind Moelfre village, as seen from the sea. The active Moelfre Lifeboat Station and Moelfre Seawatch Centre attract many visitors every year.
David Arbonne Owens, who was a volunteer crewman on the Moelfre Lifeboat for many years, wrote the poem below. It is a poignant reminder of the gradual loss of Welsh place names throughout rural Wales.
HMS Conway was a 19th century wooden battleship and in 1859, was used as a naval training school or ‘school ship’ at a time when there was a shortage of naval officers. The ship was originally moored on the Mersey near Liverpool but moved to the Plas Newydd estate at Llanfairpwllgwyngyll on Ynys Môn just after World War Two. While being towed back for a refit in 1953, she ran aground on the notorious Swellies, was wrecked and finally burned.
The ‘Swellies’, or Pwll Ceris in Welsh, is a stretch of water bounded by the two bridges across the Menai Strait. It is notorious for underwater shoals and dangerous, complex tidal streams, and is affected greatly by the wind state in the Irish Sea. The local sailors, who knew the dangers ahead, advised the naval captain against moving the ship, but he ignored them. The ship was dragged to a shelving shore by a violent eddy, with the bow on shore but the aft still in thirty feet of water. Her back broke on the 14th of April 1953, and after two days of attempted rescue, the HMS Conway was declared a total constructive loss, and the ship was not insured.
After the loss of the last HMS Conway ship, the school flourished as a shore establishment, the 'Stone Frigate' at Plas Newydd. In May 1964 the new school was officially opened by HRH Prince Philip. The building cost £400,000 and held classrooms, galley, mess hall, divisional rooms, dormitories, staff accommodation and the captain’s quarters. There was a parade ground outside with the Mizzen Mast, and ship's figurehead at each end.
In 1968 due to financial difficulties, the British Shipping Federation took responsibility for nautical training and placements, while the Cheshire Education Authority took over the general education side. However its closure was precipitated by the decline of Britain's merchant fleet. On 11 July 1974 the last 85 cadets laid up the colours in Liverpool Cathedral. The buildings now house the Conway Centre, a residential arts and outdoor education centre.
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a mark - marc
a burden - baich
a loss - colled