Saint Aidan in Wales


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.

“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.

Ancient Connections: Stories that Connect and Confound


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.


Shemi Wâd’s Flight


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.


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