Welsh Folkltales: Myfanwy Fychan of Castell Dinas Bran

Philip de Laszlo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Above the Welsh town of Llangollen, the ruins of Castell Dinas Bran or Crow City Castle, stand broken and forlorn against the wild sky. Today it is a place of fractured walls and stones but in the past, it was the setting for a tragic story of unrequited love. There are different versions varying in detail and several poems and songs exist extolling the virtues of Myfanwy Fychan. The Welsh poet, Hywel ap Einion, wrote the original work and appears to be addressing Myfanwy as the focus of his own love. Presented here is a retelling of the tale.


There was once an impoverished young bard by the name of Hywel ap Einion, and a young woman of rare beauty named Myfanwy, the daughter of the Earl of Arundel, the lord of Dinas Bran. Word spread of her beauty throughout the land and handsome, rich, and powerful men flocked to try to win her heart, but none could.

You see, Myfanwy was incredibly vain and precocious and she got a great thrill from repeatedly being told by her suitors how beautiful and desirable she was to them. In her mind, nothing was better than to have several handsome and rich suitors competing for her attention. For all her vanity, Myfanwy had a great love for poetry and music. What she really wanted was a lover who would feed this vanity by writing beautiful poetry and songs dedicated to her and her alone and sing it to her.

Hundreds of rich and handsome suitors came from near and distant lands to try and woo and win the heart of Myfanwy of Castell Dinas Bran. All failed because they could not express her beauty in poetry and song that matched her assessment of herself.

Hywel ap Einion was a talented, but penniless young bard, who lived in the valley overlooked by Castell Dinas Bran. Although he had only seen Myfanwy from afar as she walked upon the ramparts of Dinas Bran or rode past on a white pony he had fallen in love with her.

He liked to think that one day, as she walked upon the ramparts and looked over the valley, she had turned her face and their eyes had met from afar. The light from her eyes had met with his, and she had smiled upon him. He remembered the day she had rode past on her pony. As she passed him by, he swore she had inclined her head his way and smiled.

On these flimsy treads of evidence Hywel decided to take a chance and he climbed the hill to Castell Dinas Bran and begged the doorkeepers to allow him appear before Myfanwy. Because he was a bard and a true bard, he had placed his feelings towards her in words and set it to music. Now he wanted to sing it to her as much in the hope that she would like it as in the need to unburden himself. The doorkeepers laughed, and made jest of him, but went to Myfanwy and told her that the penniless bard Hywel ap Einion was outside seeking permission to sing to her a song he had written exalting her beauty.

Proud Myfanwy thought of a penniless bard singing of her beauty was below her dignity, but her vanity required that she listen to the song, so she gave permission. Hywel sang, and Myfanwy was delighted by his song, and so he wrote more songs and sang them to her. She became so pleased by his refrains that she would allow no other suitor to court her because they could not express her beauty in words in the way that he did. Hywel believed she has fallen in love with him and wrote increasingly to please her.

Unfortunately, for Hywel, a handsome, rich young man visited the court of Dinas Bran, and he too sang and wrote poetry, but far more eloquent and with a far better voice than he. The newcomer wrote and sang to Mythanwy of her beauty, and she enjoying the flattery fell in love with him casting off Hywel. Rejected and devasted Hywel wandered alone through the forests and wilds composing a last love poem dedicated to Mythanwy,

Oh, fairer thou, and colder too,

Than new fall’n snow on Aran’s brow.

Oh, lovely flower of Trevor race,

Let not a cruel heart disgrace

The beauties of thy heavenly face!

Thou art my daily thought; each night

Presents Myfanwy to my sight.

Hywel ap Einion

© zteve t evans


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The Legend of Gogmagog and the Giants of Albion

This article was originally posted on #FolkloreThursday.com called British Legends: Gogmagog and the Giants of Albion by zteve t evans on 25 January 2018.

According to British legend, Gogmagog was the last survivor of a mythical race of giants that ruled the island of Albion before the arrival of Brutus of Troy and his Trojan followers. Geoffrey of Monmouth, in The Historia Regum Britanniae (‘The History of the Kings of Britain’) written about 1136, tells the story of how the Trojans came into conflict with Gogmagog and the giants of Albion. 

Although Geoffrey made it clear where Brutus and the Trojans originated, he revealed nothing of the history of Gogmagog and the giants of Albion. Later writers promoted several versions of a story of the origin of the giants. One tells more about Gogmagog and how he returned to haunt the descendants of the Trojans, taking over a ruined hilltop fortress in Wales now known as Dinas Brân. 

This article attempts to tie the threads together to reveal more of the story of Gogmagog and the giants of Albion. It begins by briefly recalling the voyage of Brutus of Troy and the prophecy of the goddess Diana, and then the conflict between the Trojans and the giants of Albion. We then move forward in time to later centuries to the time of William the Conqueror, when a Norman knight by the name of Payn Peverel confronts the demonically possessed Gogmagog on Dinas Brân, forcing him to reveal his history and purpose and foretelling the future of Peverel and his descendants. 

Brutus of Troy

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, after the fall of Troy some of the survivors of the sack of the city, led by the Trojan hero Aeneas, fled to Italy and settled there. Their descendants began building a new civilization. One of the descendants of Aeneas in Italy was a young man who became known as Brutus of Troy. After killing his father in a hunting accident, Brutus was punished by being exiled. He left Italy and making his way to Greece, where he found many descendants of the survivors of Troy still held in slavery by a Greek king. Leading the Trojans in revolt, he won their release and led them on an epic sea voyage searching for new land to settle and rebuild their lives.

While at sea, Brutus came to an abandoned island named Leogecia and found a temple dedicated to Diana, Jupiter, and Mercury, and after performing the appropriate rites he asked the goddess for guidance. Diana appeared to him in a dream and told him of a rich and fertile island populated only by a few giants. She prophesied that he would be the first of a long line of kings that would rule the island and spread across the world. When Brutus finally arrived on the island it was called Albion, and he found it was as Diana had told him. The giants were few in number, and the tallest and most powerful was named Gogmagog.

Gogmagog and the Giants of Albion

After Brutus and the Trojans, arrived they explored the island and found it very much to their liking. Individually, the giants were much bigger and for the most part stronger than the Trojans. Only Corineus, one of the Trojan captains, could match them. However, there were only twenty-four of them and they could not match the Trojan weaponry, armour, and numbers, and the Trojans battled the giants seeking to claim Albion as their own.

One day, Brutus decided to hold a festival of thanksgiving to the gods. During the festival, with many games and events underway, Gogmagog and the giants launched an attack hoping to take the Trojans by surprise. Although the giants at first had the upper hand killing many, Brutus rallied his men and in the battle all of the giants, except their leader Gogmagog, were killed. He was spared by Brutus specifically to fight Corineus, who defeated him. With Albion now free of giants, Brutus shared out the land among his captains and followers as he saw fit. In legend, Brutus became the founder and first king of Britain and Corineus became the founder and first ruler of Cornwall.

Although Gogmagog was killed, he was to return centuries later during the Norman Conquest of Britain by King William the Conqueror. This story is told in the medieval legends or “ancestral romance” of The History of Fulk Fitz-Warine, a mixture of legend, romance, and imagination by an unknown author or compiler in about 1325-40.

Dinas Brân

According to this text, Gogmagog reappeared when William the Conqueror was travelling around Britain surveying his new domain. As he travelled in the wild hills and valleys, he came across a prominent hill that was crowned by a ruined town enclosed in wide stone walls that for a long time had lain desolate and empty. Today, the hill is called Dinas Brân and overlooks Llangollen in Wales, but the ruins that crown its top are those of a later castle and not those that intrigued William which had been built many centuries before his arrival.

As the day was drawing to a close, he decided to pitch his tents on a level plain that lay below the imposing ruins. Curious and not a little awed, he asked about the place from a local Briton and was told the following story:

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The Legend of Saint Collen of Llangollen

St.Collen parish church: Stained glass window ( 1986 ) showing Saint Collen – by Wolfgang Sauber – CC BY-SA 3.0

Early life of St Collen

Saint Collen was a 7th century warrior monk who appeared to be more interested in living a life of quiet dedication to his religion, than fighting.  Nevertheless when he was called upon he proved to be a brave and effective warrior.  He gave his name to the Welsh town of Llangollen, with Llan meaning religious settlement, and golen, a derivative of Collen, which means hazel.  He built a church on the south bank of the River Dee which is the only one in Wales dedicated to him.  He is often associated with the 13th century Colan Church which is also known as St Colan Church in the Cornish village of  Colan, and Langolen a small community in Brittany, France.  Not much is known about his early years but he was believed to have been educated in Orleans, Gaul, staying there for about eight years before returning to his homeland to live in Porth Hanwig, which is now known as Southampton in England.

Fighting for the Pope

According to legend a pagan warrior chief from Greece by the name of Bras was ravaging parts of continental Europe with his war-bands.  Bras challenged the Papacy to find a champion who would fight him in single combat.  The losers would have to convert to the religion of the winner.  The Pope took this challenge seriously and possibly through some form of divine intervention was inspired to send emissaries to look for his champion to Porth Hanwig. Collen was the man they found and fortunately he was prepared to take up the challenge.

At the appointed time and venue the duel took place with the Pope and his retinue and the followers of Bras watching. Soon after the fight began Bras dealt Collen a blow which wounded his hand.  Bras offered him the opportunity to surrender and sportingly offered him a jar of magic ointment that would heal his wound.  The ointment was accepted by Collen who applied it and it healed his hand but refused to surrender.  Instead he threw the jar into a nearby river preventing either of them from using it again.  The fight then resumed and Collen managed to defeat Bras and made him beg for mercy.  Collen agreed to spare his adversary but insisted that the original terms of the fight be followed.  Bras agreed and the Pope baptized him there and then.  As was agreed his followers and people were also baptized and became Christians.

In gratitude for his services the Pope gave Collen a miraculous lily which was also a holy relic which was said to have been present at the Virgin Birth of Jesus. Although it had withered it had once flowered again in the presence of doubting pagans who dismissed the possibility of the Virgin Birth. Its miraculous flowering was seen as a divine sign of proof that the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus. This holy relic was later kept and revered in the cathedral of the city of Worcester in Britain.

Glastonbury Tor


Glastonbury Tor – Attribution: Alan Simkins – CC BY-SA 2.0

Collen returned to Britain, settling in Colan, near Newquay after spending time at Langolen, Brittany.  Later, he moved to Ynys Witrin which is now known as Glastonbury where he became a monk.  It only took three months before he was promoted to abbot. Life in an abbey did not seem to suit hims and he then spent the next three years traveling around the countryside preaching the Gospel to the local people.  Eventually he returned to the abbey seeming to settle down for five years, but he had become so disillusioned with the society of his time he became a hermit living near a spring at the foot of Glastonbury Tor

Gwyn ap Nudd

One day at this hermitage he overheard two of the followers of Gwyn ap Nudd, the King of Annwyn, or the Otherworld, who was also known as the King of the Faeries. Disgusted with them he angrily admonished the men who lived locally telling them it was wrong to believe in such demons.

The two local men were unrepentant and told Collen that he would be invited to recant his words and would be visited by the messengers of  Gwyn ap Nudd.  Shortly afterwards a messenger of the King of Annwyn’s messengers arrived at Collen’s hermitage summoning him to a meeting with Gwyn on top of Glastonbury Tor.  The messengers were dressed in red and blue which were the colors of Gwyn ap Nudd. Collen refused to go and turned them away.  This happened twice more and he became annoyed with the messenger’s attitude so he bottled some holy water and climbed to the top of the tor.

On the summit, to his surprise, he found a beautiful castle which he had not seen before.  It was manned and guarded by the most strikingly handsome and best presented soldiers he had ever seen.  They were all dressed in the colors of blue and red, which were the colors of Gwyn ap Nudd.  Wonderful music filled the air and beautiful maidens danced and sang.  From the ramparts a herald dressed in blue and red hailed him and blew on a trumpet.  From the castle door an emissary came dressed in blue and red and respectfully escorted Collen into the castle to the hall of the King of Annwyn who sat amid his courtiers on his golden throne.

Gwyn invited Collen to sit and dine with him offering the finest food and drink imaginable.  He clapped his hands and the most wonderful entertainments began and Collen was most graciously treated by the King of Annwyn’s followers.  Gwyn told Collen that if he would stay he would give him anything his heart desired. He asked him if he had ever seen soldiers and followers as fair as those that followed him wearing  his red and blue colors. Despite all these fair folk and the great temptations Collen was not moved or in any way inspired by the promises.  Sternly, he told Gwyn he saw the red as meaning they would all burn in hell and the blue as the coldness of the corpse.  Quickly taking out his holy water he sprinkled it over the King of Annwyn and his folk and instantly Gwyn ap Nudd, the castle and all of his followers disappeared leaving Collen alone on the Tor.

Finding his sanctuary

Despite his victory over the King of the Otherworld, Collen became dismayed by what had happened and he prayed to God asking him for a place where he might live out his life in peace and seclusion.  In his dreams he was told to travel to the east and then to the north until he found a horse that was all alone and waiting for him.  Following the advice of his dream he traveled some one hundred and fifty miles over hill and dale until he found the horse waiting for him at a place known then as Rhysfa Maes Cadfarch, which is known as Llangollen today. He decided to build a sanctuary in the center of an area he could ride around on his horse in one day and was easily placed to help the local people.  Finding a suitable site he built a hermitage and chapel for himself to live a life full of prayer and quiet contemplation and service.   Another legend has his arriving in the area by coracle presumably along the River Dee.

The giantess of Bwlch Rhiwfelen

However his peace was disturbed when he discovered the area was part of the territory of a giantess who ate humans and lived in the high mountain pass of Bwlch Rhiwfelen and brought fear and terror to the local people. He decided he had to do something to help so he went up to the pass with his sword intending to fight and kill the giantess.

The giantess soon took up the fight after exchanging a few sharp words with him.  He called upon the Lord for help and strength and succeeded in cutting off one of his foe’s arms. She tried to cry out to the giant of the Eglwyseg Rocks to come to her aid, but Collen cut off her other arm and killed her before she could summon him.  He washed the blood of the giantess from himself and his sword in a nearby spring now called Ffynnon Gollen.  From then on he lived the peaceful life he seemed to have craved.   He was thought to have died on 21st of May possibly in the 7th century and was buried by the local people in his chapel that was sited to the west of the present day church of St Collen in Llangollen.

© 01/03/2015 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright March 1st, 2016 zteve t evans