Until in early nineteenth century it was very common for people to believe in fairies, and the people of Glamorgan were no exception. In Glamorgan the fairies were known as ‘Y Tylwyth Teg’ meaning the ‘Fair Family’. In the Gower (English speaking) they were known as the ‘Very Folks’.
Many people found themselves afraid of the Y Tylwyth Teg and were afraid of speaking their names as they may “incur the wrath” of the fairies.
There are not many detailed descriptions of the fairies in Glamorgan Folklore but here are a few that have survived the times:
· Rhondda - Some reports suggest that they appeared very white like “fleeces of sheep”.
· Gower - They would appear a foot in height and would be seen wearing scarlet and green.
· Rhymney Valley – They would be seen wearing red jackets and green hats.
· It is also thought that sometimes the ‘very folks’ would appear in the form of a little old woman.
The Fairy Battle
There have been several reports of fairy sightings in Glamorgan. One of which is a reported battle between two opposing groups of fairies, this battle was said to have taken place on a hillside between Merthyr Tydfil and Aberdare.
“One party endeavoured to dispossess the other of a little rising ground which they occupied, and at last succeeded, when the great confusion prevailed; black and white horses became intermixed, and their riders engaged with the greatest fury, whilst some in particular rode through their broken ranks cheering their party.
Needle spears as numerous as trees in groves were in one minute held up and in another let down. They then seemed as if engaged sword in hand, yet none could be perceived , but now and then something like penknife blades dazzled; after a sharp encounter the army headed by the leaders in white, completely drove away the other and the field being cleared, the whole disappeared in a light mist, and not a vestige remained.”
Another report from an aged woman who resided in Neath recalls how she saw “Hundreds of fairies riding by one evening about dusk.” “They were riding little white horses, no bigger than dogs, and they chose to ride four abreast.” –A man form the same area recalls that he saw “fairies riding through the air on little white horses which never seemed to touch the ground.” He also heard the sound of fairy music in the air.
The ‘Y Tylwyth Teg’ were also known as ‘Bendith en (y) Mamau’ - ‘The Mothers’ Blessing’ they are thought to be an unpleasant group of Welsh fairies. They were known to steal children and had a reputation for abducting men, women and children. When stealing children they often replaced the child with their undesirable children.
The people of Glamorgan feared the ‘Bendith en (y) Mamau’ – if the stories are anything to go by they had good reason to be scared.
One account tells of a man who foolishly joined a group of fairies whilst they were dancing at the foot of Cwm Ivy Tor, West Gower. He was promptly stabbed in the foot with a fork.
“For many days the man was lame and at last sought the advice of a wise woman. She told him to go and in all humility place his foot once again in the ring where he had been injured. Once this was done he soon recovered.”
A woodman living with his wife in a little cottage at the top of Mynydd Eglwys Ifan between Abertridwr and Pontypridd used to speak to the ‘Tylwyth Teg’ while working in the forest where they lived. One day he failed to return home as usual and his wife was at a loss to know what had become of him. Time passed and one evening a traveller stopped at the cottage, asking for a place to rest. The woodsman’s wife readily gave him supper and a bed for the night. Next morning she asked the stranger whether he would seek out the ‘Tylwyth Teg’ and ask them what had happened to her husband. The stranger readily agreed and returned later that day to tell her that the woodman was safe and would return to her in about a year. The fairies were keeping him safe because one day, when cutting down a big branch, he allowed it to fall on one of the ‘Tylwyth Teg’, thus killing him. Keeping him prisoner was their way of punishing the woodman for his negligence.
Sometimes fairies abducted human beings simply for their own entertainment and also became they enjoyed their company.
Shon Tomos Shon Rhydderch (John Jones, alias ‘Cobbler Jig’) who died at Ty’n y Graig, aged 91, on 31st January, 1827 and was buried at Crynant in the Vale of Neath, claimed to have seen the fairies many times himself and often told the story of Gitto Bach.
Little Gitto who lived on the Rhos in the Crynant often walked alone to the top of the mountain to see that his father’s sheep were safe. On his return he showed his brothers and sisters a number of pieces of a peculiarly white paper. Letters were stamped on them and they looked exactly like crowns but were made of paper. When questioned Gitto would only say that the little children he played with on the mountain had given them to him. One day Gitto Bach went missing and was nowhere to be found. Two years went by and one morning Gitto was found upon the doorstep, apparently the same size and shape as before and wearing the same ragged clothes he had on when last seen years ago. He told his mother that he had only been missing since yesterday and showed her a bundle given to him by the little children on the mountain for dancing with them while they played upon their harps. The bundle contained a dress of a very white paper without a seam or any trace of sewing which the boy’s mother burnt at once.
Fairies used their musical talent as a weapon. The ‘Every Folks’ were said you use a fiddleto great effect - whilst the ‘Bendith en (y) Mamau’ used their music to charm humans into their power.
A woman from Llangynywd, near Masteg was spirited away one day as was at home with her children. “She was lured outside by some of the finest, most enchanting music she had ever heard, drawn into the fairy circle and taken away for ten years. At the end of this time, ten years to the very day that she had been taken, she was freed and returned home. She would not believe that she had been taken away for more than ten minutes. ”
(author) I Craigfryn Hughes’ grandmother was born near Pontypool but moved to Llanfabon when she was twelve years old. She used to sing and recite several of the songs that the fairies sang whilist dancing in the fairy rings between Pantannas and Pen Craig Daf. She described these rings as “greener than the ground around.”
Here is one of the songs Mr Hughes’ grandmother sang.
Canu, canu, drwy y nos,
Danwnsio, dawnsio ar Waen y Rhos
Y’n golenuni ‘r lleuad dlos
Pawb ohonom sydd yn llon
Heb un gofid dan ei fron
Canu, dawnsio ar y ton
Dedwydd ydym ni!
Sing, sing, through the night
Dance, dance on Waen y Rhos
In the light of the pretty moon
Happy are we
Each of us is merry
Without a care under his breast
Sing, dance on the green field
Happy are we!
The Great Feast
In the Vale of Neath it was Mellte farm which was plagued by the fairies. At his wits’ end the farmer took a wise man’s advice and decided to leave the area to escape the fairies. However, just as he was leaving he noticed that they had decided to come too so he turned back. Then the wise an told him to announce a great feast and, as soon as the guests were seated, to bring in one dish and one dish only which would contain nothing but a cooked sparrow. When they saw this the fairies would be so disgusted at the meagre fare offered them that they would leave the farmer’s lands for good. Luckily for the farmer, the wise man turned out to be right.
Author: Alan Roderick
Illustrations by Bozena Roderick