The Schooner Elizabeth

Folklore

The Schooner Elizabeth

In October 1827, the schooner Elizabeth sank off Duffcarrick Head, north of Courtown with the loss of all twenty-nine hands. The ship was out of Milford in Pembrokeshire and its captain William Griffiths was a native of Fishguard. His body was interred in Wexford soil in Prospect cemetery near Ballymoney. It is not known if the bodies of the other crew members were recovered.

A fine headstone can still be seen to this day with the inscription below.

“Here lie the remains of William Griffiths of Fishguard, Pembrokeshire, S. Wales late master of the skooner Elizabeth of Milford, who closed his earthly voyage with all the crew on the 28th Oct. 1827 Aged 35 years.

From many storms and dangers the Lord delivered me
Through Neptune’s waves and Boreas from all he set me free.
But at a rock nigh here I lost my tender breath
In high rough waves and breaking seas I suffered pangs of Death.”

Sources:
The Schools Collection, Vol. 0888, pp.120-1

Available Online at:
www.duchas.ie
Accessed November 21st 2019

North Wexford Historical Society: Headstone Recordings 

Available Online At:
www.northwexfordhistoricalsociety.com
Accessed November 21st 201

The Tinnaberna Fishermen

Folklore

The Tinnaberna Fishermen

The tragedy of the Tinnaberna Fishermen took place in the 1810s. Tinnaberna was a small fishing village on the north Wexford coast near Kilmuckridge. Two fishing cots set out to sea on the feast of St. Martin’s, November 11th. Both were blown out far into the Irish Sea by a storm. One was lost, but the second made land on the coast of Wales. The crew were given food and shelter by a farmer, but could not communicate with him as he only spoke Welsh. The men eventually made their way to Ballycotton, County Cork and walked back to Wexford to be greeted by relatives who thought they had been lost forever. The story of the tragedy became the subject of a ballad which is still sung locally.

Sources:
The Schools Collection, Vol. 0886, pp.24-5 

Available Online at: 
www.duchas.ie
Accessed November 21st 2019
Gaul, L. “Songs, Ships and High Seas” in The Past, No. 31, 2011-’12, pp.95-102

Saint Aidan in Wales

Folklore

Saint Aidan in Wales

Aidan’s power and influence amongst the Britons of Wales appears to have been considerable. In one story, Aidan was encouraged by David and others to use his miraculous powers to cure the son of the King of the Britons, who was blind, deaf and lame. The boy was sent to Aidan, who prayed earnestly for his recovery and in due course the boy was miraculously cured. Following this miracle, we are told that Aidan’s name became known throughout the kingdom. 

Stories like these illustrate that holy men such as Aidan were relied upon by the most powerful family in the kingdom. The ecclesiastics who wrote these stories, who would have been the successors of Aidan, undoubtedly wanted to impress this point on their own rulers.

St. Mogue's (St. Aidan's) holy well in Ferns, Co. Wexford

Another story from Aidan’s period in Wales shows how events of the eleventh and twelfth centuries had an impact upon how Aidan’s story was communicated. It tells how the native Britons of Wales were confronted by the prospect of an invasion by a large Saxon army. Aidan was sent by David to the battlefield and prayed for the Britons, who were outnumbered by their Saxon foes. Following Aidan’s intercession, the Saxons turned and fled and were pursued and slaughtered by the Britons over the following seven days. 

“Not one man of the Britons fell by the hands of the Saxons all that time through the favour of God and the miracles of Maedoc. And no Saxon invaded Britain while Maedoc was there after the manifestation of these miracles”. It is possible that this story was composed at a time when Wales was under threat of invasion by the Normans and can be interpreted as an attempt by the Welsh to warn off potential invaders.

Other Stories

Many other stories are told of Aidan’s time in Wales. He healed a man who had a facial deformity, “whose face was all as flat as a board, without eyes or nose”. Once when carrying ale back to the monastery, the container was damaged and the ale was spilt. But Aidan made the sign of the cross, repaired the damage and carried the ale back to his fellow monks.

Source:
“Life of Máedóc of Ferns” in C. Plummer (ed). Bethada Náem nÉrenn: Lives of the Irish Saints, Edited from the Original MSS. with Introduction, Translations, Notes, Glossary and Indexes, Vol. 2, The Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1922.
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Ancient Connections: Stories that Connect and Confound

Folklore

Ancient Connections: Stories that Connect and Confound

There’s more to historic research than that found on parchment and vellum or between the pages of books. Much still lives within a place’s culture, landscape and memory. So very importantly, during this project, we’re asking our communities to share with us those half remembered tales told to them as children, to tell us their colloquial names for places and to explore with us fragments of local folk knowledge that’s everyday stuff to them, but may well lead us together, to a little treasure trove of knowledge and understanding about their place. We’ll also be sharing some of the gems we unearth through our research in archives and with community members.

So let’s begin with a saint’s tale. St David’s Cathedral and St Edan’s Cathedral Church in Ferns, Ireland are both within the project areas, so the stories of saints and their comings and goings across the Irish sea, their interactions and miracles loom large in our research. Trying to tease apart what might be counted as history from the Age of Saints as opposed to mythology and folklore is virtually impossible. Our ancestor’s did not think of history or recording it as we do today, and much of saintly happenings were spread orally, growing in colour and wonder as the tales passed from tongue to ear.

In Pembrokeshire, we benefit from the work of author Brian John, who has lovingly collected local folktales over many years and published them in four excellent volumes: Pembrokeshire Folk Tales, The Last Dragon, Fireside Tales from Pembrokeshire and More Pembrokeshire Folk Tales. 

Saint David and the Chieftain Boia

Here’s just one of his collected tales that relates to Wales’ patron Saint, David – or Dewi to give him his Welsh name.

At the end of his missionary travels in about the year 560, according to the tale, Dewi was guided by an Angel to return to found a monastery in the land of his birth. And so he returned to Glyn Rhosyn with some companions, including Teilo, Ismael and Aidan (also known in Ireland as St Edan, who later founded the Cathedral in Ferns).

Once there, the companions lit a fire to warm themselves and prepare some food, but the curling smoke drew the attention of a local chieftain, Boia who ruled this corner of the land from his hill fort of Clegyr Boia. He was furious that intruders were planning to settle a short way from his fort – and without doing due homage to him, and paying the respect he felt he deserved. And so, with the encouragement of his wife, he took warriors down to Glyn Rhosyn to drive Dewi and his followers away. But as Boia and his men attacked, they were afflicted with a terrible fever and dropped to the ground and were forced to crawl away in retreat. When they returned to the fort, it was to find that their sheep and cattle were dead, and that Baia’s wife was in a frenzy of fury.

However, aware that he had encountered in these men powers beyond his understanding, and in a little awe and fear, Boia granted Dewi the land at Glyn Rhosyn for his community. Sure enough, as soon as he did so, the warriors were cured of their affliction and the livestock restored to life.

Boia’s wife however, was not so easily won over. She sent her maidens to bathe naked in the River Alun, to tempt Dewi’s followers away from their vows, but they held fast, and through fasting and prayer Dewi helped his companions withstand these great temptations. Finally, Boia’s wife led her step-daughter Dunawd down to the river Alun and sacrificed her to the old gods in an attempt to drive the Christian men away. Her failure drove her to utter madness and she fled, never to be seen again.

Boia was devastated by his loss and again tried to attack David, but an Irish chieftain by the name of Lisci had just landed nearby, and attacked Boia’s poorly defended camp and killed him. Lisci’s name remains in the landscape to this day in the name Porthlysgi.

To complete the tale with one final miracle, fire poured down from heaven during a great thunderstorm and the whole of Boia’s hill fort settlement was destroyed by the inferno. And all this must be utterly true because over 1400 years later, when archaeologists excavated Clegyr Boia, what you think they discovered? Beneath the turf lay the charred remains of huts and storehouses.

You can easily visit Clegyr Boia as it’s accessible from a little lane running out of the city of St David’s in Pembrokeshire (see the OS map above). There are also a number of holy wells nearby to explore – enjoy, and please unearth some more myths and legends as you walk.

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Featured

Mermaids Ahoy!

Folklore

Mermaids Ahoy!

Folklore is tantalising. Around the coast of Wales and indeed the British Isles, stories, themes and fantastical creatures appear time and time again. It conjures up a sense of a past filled with goblins and witches, tylwyth teg, sirens and selkies. Of course some of these appear in the stories of other lands too, albeit with a slightly different cultural slant. I’m a storyteller, so I’m not going to venture into the debate about whether or not these creatures are or were ever ‘real’. For me, they are alive in our storied imagination, in our landscape and in the shallows and depths off our coast.

A Great Story to Tell

The north Pembrokeshire coast between St David’s and Fishguard is a haven for mermaids! Every other cove it seems has a mermaid sighting or story connected with it. In fact, the sea captain Daniel Huws, reported seeing a mermaid town beneath the waters near Trefin when he sheltered there in 1858. A little closer to St David’s is Porth y Rhaw, where earlier in 1780 quarry men from Penbiri reported meeting a Mermaid. Here is their fishy tale…..

On fine summer days it was their custom to walk down to the sea to eat their lunch. This day was particularly glorious, with hardly a cloud in the sky or a breeze across the blue surface of the sea and only small waves lapping the shore. As they chatted and settled to their lunch, one of the quarrymen noticed a gwenhadwy- a mermaid sitting upon a rock in the shadow of the cliffs. 

According to their account, she was quite preoccupied with combing her long, golden tresses. The men noted that nothing much distinguished her upper parts to other ‘lasses of Wales’, but that her bottom half was clearly that of a fish. A couple of the braver quarrymen ventured closer – close enough to exchange a few words. They tried in vain to engage her in conversation, and while it was clear that she understood Welsh, all she would say to them was “medi yn Sir Benfro a chwynnu yn Sir Gar” which means “reaping in Pembrokeshire and weeding in Carmarthenshire”. Then she slipped off her rock and disappeared into the waves of Cardigan Bay, leaving the quarrymen eternally perplexed as to what she meant… but with a great story to tell!

Watch Out for Mermaids!

Porth y Rhaw can be visited via the Wales Coastal Path. There’s also a circular walk you can do using footpaths from the hamlet of Yspytty, skirting the old and now disused Peaberry Quarry site – which would have been the workplace of our quarrymen – to join the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. By following this along the coast heading north east, you can follow in the story’s footsteps and enjoy a spot of lunch and mermaid spotting in Porth y Rhaw! 

After lunch, continue along the path towards Ynnys Gwair and Castell Coch promontory Fort. This monument comprises the remains of a defended enclosure, which probably dates to the Iron Age period (c. 800 BC – AD 43). Its location on a narrow coastal promontory above the sea, creates part of the defensive circuit. The construction of two lines of ramparts placed across the neck of the promontory on the south divide it from the mainland. The northern end of this slopes steeply down to the sea. The original entrance lay at the western end of the defences where the inner bank had a slight in-turn; this has since been lost to coastal erosion.

After a look at the fort, walk along the coastal path for about a quarter of a kilometre before turning inland along a permissible path towards Tremynydd Fawr farm where you’ll join a public footpath towards the hamlet of Waun Beddau and the lane which will lead you back to Yspytty where you began. It’s about a 6.5 KM walk in total.

Enjoy…and let us know if you meet any mermaids!

Map of suggested walk courtesy of Ordinance Survey

Shemi Wâd’s Flight

Folklore

Shemi Wâd's Flight

James Wade, better known as Shemi Wâd was something of a local character and storyteller, and a number of folktales from north Pembrokeshire in particular either involve him, or are attributed to him. in a small, whitewashed cottage opposite Berachah Chapel in Broom Street, Goodwick (which was later renamed Duke Street). Shemi earned his crust as an itinerant worker: gardening for the local well-to-do, going from farm to farm to kill pigs and help out with the harvest. But he also owned a small boat, and spent much of his time fishing for Fishguard herrings which he sold on to be salted and fried, and also shellfish which he sold to locals and visitors during the season.

Shemi Wâd, National History Museum, Wales

He died on 2 January 1897 at the grand age of 80. His tombstone in Rhos-y-Caerau, Pencaer faces some of his favourite haunts, Garn Fawr, Garn Fechan and Garn Folch. Shemi was also somewhat notoriously known as the best tobacco spitter around, and anyone poking holes in his tall tales did well to stand more than six feet away. Here’s one of them.

A Tall Tale

One summer’s day, Shemi was fishing on the Parrog with a dozen hooks all baited to lure fish. After a long hot afternoon, waiting for a bite, Shemi felt his eyelids droop, so he took a few steps back, lay down on a grassy bank, tied the lines around his right ankle and within moments, he was fast asleep. He was so deeply asleep and bound in dreams that he didn’t notice the tide go out, exposing all the bait on his fishing lines.

Soon a flock of seagulls descended, swallowing the bait – hook, line and sinker. Moments later, Shemi’s snoring disturbed them and they all took flight, heading off across Cardigan Bay, dragging the still sound asleep Shemi with them! They flew all the way across to Ireland, coming to land finally in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. Shemi came down to earth with such a thud that finally he woke up. Startled, he freed himself from the fishing lines and stumbled around in the strange surroundings trying to get his bearings. He soon realised that he was in Ireland, but knowing nobody and with the night setting in, he went in search of somewhere he could shelter for the night. At the edge of the park he saw a row of cannons. Now Shemi was only a small, slight man and so he climbed into the barrel of one of the great guns, curled up and went to sleep.

What poor Shemi didn’t know was that the military fired a salute from the cannon ever morning. And so it was that a still slumbering Shemi was shot out of the barrel straight across the Irish sea. Lucky for him, he had a soft landing on the lush grass of Pencw, just above his Goodwick home.

Shemi swore ‘till his dying day that every detail of the story was true…..and those who heard the tale swore blind they believed him…..unless they were standing at least six feet away.

Sources:

The Story of the best tobbacco spitter around, County Echo Reporter, 13 December 2017

Tall Tale from Goodwick (8.4), Pembrokeshire Folk Tales by Brian John

Record-breaking Daredevil trip across the Irish Sea

Folklore

Record-breaking Daredevil trip across the Irish Sea

On the 16th of August, 1960 three young men from County Wexford decided to set sail for Wales. Instead of taking the usual passenger ship from Rosslare to Fishguard, they undertook a more daredevil and dangerous expedition. Seamus Organ (aged 21), Peter Donegan (aged 19) and Peter Sinnott (aged 18) visited a friend who had a homemade two seat canoe and asked to borrow it for the trip. The friend agreed but was sworn to secrecy because the boys knew that their parents would not be in favour of such a foolhardy trip.

Seamus Organ, Peter Donegan and Peter Sinnott

The three young lads set sail on the plywood canoe at 11pm from Ardamine beach, Courtown, County Wexford. To help them make the 85 mile /140km crossing, the boys brought supplies with them which consisted of three bottles of lemonade, nine bottles of water and four packets of biscuits! They also brought a radio and compass but the wake of a passing ship swamped their canoe shortly after leaving the beach and destroyed their radio, so they had no contact with land and could not receive the weather forecast. The journey across the Irish Sea took over 24 hours. Throughout that time the stern of the boat was submerged because it was only a 2 seater canoe, one person had to sit astride it, swapping seats every hour. The three hardy sailors even found a leak in the canoe shortly after leaving Ireland, but refused to turn back.

The danger didn’t end there, as they got closer to the Pembrokeshire shore, they encountered strong currents, rocks and swells that threatened to overturn the boat and resulted in the men spending six hours paddling the last two miles to shore. Once they had landed in a small cove near Stumble Head, they spent a further three hours trying to scale a 150ft cliff in darkness. When they finally reached the top of the cliff they made their way to the nearby coastguard’s house. He had been looking out for the three men because their disappearance caused a huge air and sea search on both sides of the Irish Sea. The police were called and the boys were promptly arrested because they had entered the country illegally. They were told that the last time someone had unexpectedly landed in that cove it was the French, about to invade!

A Heroes Welcome

The three adventurers were taken to the large port town of Fishguard where they reported their story to journalists. The story later appeared on the BBC six o’clock news for all to see. As if that wasn’t enough, the Lord Mayor of Fishguard gave the boys the freedom of the town before they were sent back home (along with their friends canoe) on a Fishguard to Rosslare mailboat!

As they got closer to landing in Wexford the boys saw their parents waiting for them in Rosslare. Anxious to avoid their parents wrath, they asked the skipper of the boat to lower their canoe into the water with a fishing net. He agreed and the boys paddled up the coast to Courtown avoiding their parents. Back in their home town the boys were met by the Gorey Piper band and received a heroes welcome. When they did meet their parents, all was well and they never tried anything like that again, warning others that “no one would do it except mad dogs and a few Courtown men” Peter Sinnott, Gorey Guardian, 2005.

In 2005, forty-five years after that impressive journey celebrations were held in Fishguard for the young Wexford men. The three young men were the first people to cross the channel in a two-man canoe in recorded history. There have been attempts to break their record but with no success. 

 

 

Sources:
Article in The Times Archive (August 20th 1960):
www.thetimes.co.uk

Article from the Gorey Guardian (August 18th 2005):
www.independent.ie