Talybolion was a medieval Welsh commote (cwmwd)* in the northwest of the Island of Anglesey. The name sounds similar to Talebolion as it appears in the text. Broken down into its two components, tâl (payment) and ebolion (colts), Talebolion could mean ‘payment of colts’. However, Talybolion would translate as the ‘end of the chasms’ or ‘end of the ridges’, indicating a quite different origin to the place-name from the one suggested in the story.
* see bookmark for page 3
Location of the former commote of Talybolion:
Reference to placing people in an ‘iron house’, and then attempting to destroy them through heating it, occurs in two Irish stories, Mesca Ulad ('The Intoxication of the Men of Ulster'), and Orgain Denna Ríg ('The Destruction of Dind Ríg'). Both stories are preserved in the Book of Leinster.
Coracles are small traditional fishing boats made of wickerwork, with a waterproof covering such as animal hide. They were particularly popular in Wales but were also used in other parts of Britain and in Ireland. One of their most notable features was that they could be easily carried on the fisherman's back. They are occasionally still used on the Welsh rivers Teifi, Tywi and Tâf.
A kneading trough is a wooden receptacle used in breadmaking.
Arfon was one of the Welsh medieval cantrefs (see bookmark for page 3). It was situated in the northwestern part of Wales, opposite the Isle of Anglesey. The name is still used for one of the administrative areas of the county of Gwynedd.
Caer Saint is an old name for the town of Caernarfon in present-day Gwynedd. Caer means fort, and Saint is a version of Seiont, the river which enters the Menai Strait at Caernarfon. During the Roman occupation of Britain Caernarfon was the site of a Roman fort called Segontium, and later Edward I built a castle there. In the story 'The Dream of the Emperor Maxen', an alternative name for Caernarfon is Aber Saint ('the mouth of the River Seiont').
Edeirnion is one of the medieval Welsh commotes (cymydau) situated in the Corwen area of Northeast Wales. It may be seen on the map in bookmark p.3, to the west of Nanheudwy and to the east of Penlynn Is Treweryn.
Bryn Saith Marchog (‘The Hill of the Seven Horesemen/Knights') is a small rural village situated between Rhuthun and Corwen in present-day Denbighshire.
The Liffey (Irish: Abhainn na Life) is an Irish river that rises in the Wicklow Mountains and reaches the Irish sea at Dublin Bay. It runs through Dublin, the capital of Ireland.
In Gwyn Jones' and Thomas Jones' 1948 translation of The Mabinogion, the Welsh name Llinon is translated not as Liffey but as Shannon (Irish: Abhain na Sionainne).
An attempt to explain the origins of the well-known Welsh proverb, A bo ben, bid bont ('Let him who wishes to be a chief be a bridge').
Traditional Welsh-language poetry is known as ‘strict-metre poetry’ (canu caeth) because it follows very clearly defined rules regarding metre and the use of cynghanedd (the repetition of consonants according to certain pre-defined patterns). Included in the twenty four categories of strict-metre poems are various types of three- and four-lined verses known as ENGLYNION (singular: englyn). The four-line English englyn below (written by the Welsh-language poet Twm Morys as a humorous illustration) follows all the complex rules of the type of englyn known as the englyn unodl union:
I travelled to a river – and I found
A fish all of silver.
I watched him growing dimmer;
Maybe love made him a blur.
Below, an englyn unodl union in Welsh:
Ei aberth nid â heibio - ei wyneb 'His sacrifice will not be passed over - his dear face
Annwyl nid â'n ango', Will not be forgotten,
Er i'r Almaen ystaenio Even though Germany has stained
Ei dwrn dur yn ei waed o. Her iron fist in his blood'
(This was written by the Welsh poet Hedd Wyn (Ellis Humphrey Evans) in memory of a friend who was killed in the First World War. Following Hedd Wyn’s own death at Passchendaele in 1917, it was inscribed on his memorial in the village of Trawsfynydd in Gwynedd).
Click here to read an amusing account of Welsh strict metre poetry by Twm Morys.
The Gwynfryn (‘the White Mound’) is the name given to a burial mound said to lie under the White Tower of the Tower of London, the 11th century royal fortress in Central London. Legend has it that not only is Bendigeidfran’s head buried there, but that the head was dug up by King Arthur in order to challenge Bendigeidfran’s claim to be the protector of the kingdom.
There is a long tradition of keeping ravens at the Tower of London, a practice which has been associated with the fact that Bendigeidfran means ‘Blessed Raven’. Even today, at least six ravens are kept permanently at the Tower, and it is claimed that should the ravens ever leave, the White Tower will crumble and a terrible disaster will befall Britain.
The birds of Rhiannon also feature in the story 'How Culhwch won Olwen', where they are described as having the power to ‘wake the dead and lull the living to sleep’.
The birds of Rhiannon appear to have captured the imagination of several composers. They have given their name to two musical works: Joseph Holbrooke’s 1926 symphonic poem (Op.87) and James MacMillan’s 2001 tone-poem for orchestra. The Welsh singer/songwriter Fflur Dafydd has also written a song called Abercuawg, whose opening lines are Deffro’n nos yn clywed adar Rhiannon yn canu yn fy mhen ('Waking at night and hearing the birds of Rhiannon singing in my head').
Listen here to Joseph Holbrooke's 'Birds of Rhiannon' on Spotify.
Gwales (sometimes Ynys Gwales) is the Island of Grassholm which lies about 8 miles off the southwest coast of Pembrokeshire.
In his 1901 book Celtic Folklore: Welsh and Manx, Sir John Rhŷs, first Professor of Celtic at the University of Oxford, refers to the belief that there is a submerged island near Grassholm, which intermittently rises to the surface. Indeed, one of Sir John’s sources claimed to have met an eye-witness to this event!
Today, Grassholm is a gannet sanctuary owned by the RSPB.
Aber Henfelen is probably the Bristol Channel, which separates South Wales from Somerset, Devon and Cornwall in southwest England. It extends from the estuary of the River Severn to the Atlantic Ocean.
The Alaw is a river on the Island of Anglesey which reaches the sea at Aber Alaw (‘the mouth of the Alaw’), not far from Holyhead. In 1813 a farmer removing stones from a cairn near the village of Elim on the banks of the Alaw came across a stone burial chest (in an area which had always been known as Ynys Bronwen), in which was a pottery urn containing ashes and bone fragments. This was then believed to be the 'four-sided' grave described in the 'Second Branch of the Mabinogi' and given the name Bedd Branwen (Branwen's Grave). Further excavations carried out in the 1960s led to the discovery of other urns containing bones and human ashes, which have been dated to the early Bronze Age period (c.1800-1600 BCE). Some of the urns and accompanying grave goods may be seen at the Gwynedd Museum and Art Gallery in Bangor.
Click here to see a photo of Bedd Branwen.
Click here to see photos of the urns found at Bedd Branwen.
From about the first century AD, Ireland was divided into provinces or kingdoms. The Irish terms for ‘fifth’ and for ‘province’ are the same (cóiced, or cúige, in modern Irish), which reflects the fact that there were originally five provinces: Connaught (Connacht); Leinster (Lagin); Meath (Mide); Munster (Muma); and Ulster (Ulaid). By the 11th century Meath was no longer in existence, and the other four provinces lost their official identity after the English conquest when Ireland was divided into counties. However, Ireland still maintains its division into the four provinces in certain areas such as sport; for example, Ireland’s professional rugby teams play under the names of Connacht, Leinster, Munster and Ulster.
In the early Middle Ages when Britain consisted of numerous petty kingdoms, the concept of one ruler ‘paying homage to’ (acknowledging the superiority of) another was an important one. It served two purposes: that of allowing a less powerful leader to continue in his role; and reassuring the more powerful leader that no attempt would be made to usurp his authority. In the 10th century, Hywel Dda, King of Deheubarth, paid homage to both Edward the Elder of England and his son Athelstan.
The name Caswallon is thought to be a version of Cassivellaunos, who is said to have fought against Julius Caesar and his forces when they invaded Britain in 54 BC.
The name Beli has been connected with that of Bel or Belenus, the Celtic sun god, who in Roman times was equated with Apollo. Alternatively, the name may have some connection with Belgius, a Gaulish leader of the 3rd century BC.
Corodovan leather (also known as cordwain) was high-quality leather which came from Cordoba, a city and province in southern Spain, where it was originally manufactured by the Moors. It was used especially for making shoes, which is why a superior type of shoemaker came to be known as a cordwainer. Cordwainers were different from cobblers, who merely repaired shoes. Leather manufactured according to the original methods of the Moors is still known as cordovan or shell cordovan.
The pound was a monetary unit from the 8th century onwards, after King Offa of Mercia introduced the silver penny. It was the collective name for 240 silver pennies whose combined weight was one pound of silver. Pound notes, however, did not come into use in Britain until very much later, the first ones being produced in Scotland in 1696. Pound coins did not come into use until 1983.
Gwynedd was one of the petty kingdoms which came into existence in post-Roman Britain (see map for bookmark, page 3). Due to the nature of its terrain, which included the whole of Snowdonia, it was difficult to attack and it became one of the most powerful Welsh kingdoms.
During the 12th century, Gwynedd evolved into a principality. Its rulers included Llywelyn ap Iorwerth (Llywelyn the Great) and Llywelyn ap Gruffudd (Llywelyn the Last), who was proclaimed overall Prince of Wales in 1258. Llywelyn ap Iorwerth was responsible for building the native (as distinct from Anglo-Norman) Welsh castles to be found at Dolbadarn, Dolwyddelan and Cricieth.
Following the local government boundary re-organisation of 1974, the name Gwynedd was revived for a county containing five areas: Môn (Anglesey), Arfon, Aberconwy, Dwyfor and Meirionnydd. However, following further boundary changes in 1996, Môn became a separate county and Aberconwy became part of the county borough of Conwy. Today, therefore, Gwynedd consists of three areas: Arfon, Dwyfor and Meirionnydd.