Sunday, 20 February 2011

The Faerie Feast

I thought you might be interested to hear another story of the Verry Volk, this time a story of an enchanted faerie feast.

This story was told by the Rev. John David Davis, to the American Folklorist W.Y. Evans Wentz just over 100 years ago. Evans Wentz considered him to be one of the “oldest and best” authorities on the Gower Faeries and recorded the tale in his “Fairy Faith in the Celtic Countries” from where the following is taken.

"I heard the following story many years ago: The tenant on the Eynonsford Farm here in Gower had a dream one night, and in it thought he heard soft sweet music and the patter of dancing feet. Waking up, he beheld his cow-shed, which opened off his bedroom, filled with a multitude of little beings, about one foot high, swarming all over his fat ox, and they were preparing to slaughter the ox. He was so surprised that he could not move. In a short time the Verry Volk had killed, dressed, and eaten the animal. The feast being over, they collected the hide and bones, except one very small leg-bone which they could not find, placed them in position, then stretched the hide over them; and, as the farmer looked, the ox appeared as sound and fat as ever, but when he let it out to pasture in the morning he observed that it had a slight lameness in the leg lacking the missing bone."

It appears that the farm still maintains a herd of cattle. They're the native Welsh Black Cattle who are the subject of several Welsh faerie tales. Seeing them standing there it was as if no time had passed since the faerie feast. And of course, that is often the way when we step into the world of the Fae. Curiously, I also noticed the arms of the Isle of Man, a triskele of three legs, on display. Coincidence? Well, it's a strange thing to see above a farm door in Wales for sure!

So where is this enchanted farmhouse? Just off the main South Gower Road, close to the sign for Fairy Hill, of course!

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Pennard Castle and the Verry Volk

I want to tell you a little about the faeries of the Gower in South Wales, known as the Verry Volk.

Whenever I come across this name it makes me smile. It was recorded by the American anthropologist, Evans-Wentz in his book ‘The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries’ (at the beginning of the 1900’s) and I can’t help thinking that what he heard was simply the local pronunciation of ‘Faerie Folk’ and was ‘pixie-led’ into thinking otherwise. I imagine the fae enjoying a joke at the learned mans expense. Nevertheless, Gower faeries are now the Verry Volk, whatever the origin of the name.

These little faeries are said to dress in red and green and dance under the moonlight. Though they can be mischievous, they are generally benevolent and do not pose a threat to children. If someone wishes to be extra cautious around the faeries they might turn their jacket inside out, making themselves invisible to them. However, it's probably best to keep on their good side, as this story tells us.

The Wedding Feast

Pennard Castle on the Gower was once the stronghold of a successful warrior chief. Our story takes place on the night of his wedding.

Pennard Castle
The wedding celebrations were in full swing and, it has to be said, the chief had enjoyed a little more drink than might be wise, when one of his guards heard mysterious music coming from the castle yard. It was midnight and he was afraid so he called a porter and the two went to investigate. Sure enough there were faeries dancing to the music of tiny harps right inside the castle yard. Well he reported this to his master but the chief, who wouldn't have tolerated faeries in his castle when he was sober, let alone when he was drunk, ordered his soldiers to drive them out.

Three Cliffs Bay as seen from the castle
It is said that the wisest people there that night strongly advised him not to risk the wrath of the faeries but he took no notice. He rushed into the yard swinging his sword in the direction where the faeries had been seen and as he did a voice was heard to say, "since thou hast, without reason, broken in upon our innocent sport, thou shalt be without castle or feast". Immediately a cloud of sand whistled round them until the storm was so strong that it tore down the walls of the castle. They say that Ireland lost a mountain of sand to Wales that night, and to this day the castle ruins stand deep in sand.

Wild Thyme growing inside the castle

There are a couple of routes to the castle but the prettiest is via Parkmill. This route is a bit of a walk but well worth it, if only to see the Blackthorn growing along the way. In case you don't know, Blackthorn is considered to be protected by the Lunantisidhe. These are Irish faeries who, folklore has it, aren't always kindly towards people. When you do arrive at the castle you may also spot Wild Thyme growing on the inside. This is a plant often associated with the fae and one of the main ingredients of ancient recipe entitled 'to enable one to see the fairies'. The day i visited there was a small, and slightly trampled, 'fairy ring' of Puffballs growing inside the castle ruins. It was only when i got home that i found out that Puffballs used to be called Pucks-fist, and in Ireland they are called Cos-a Phooka meaning Pucks Foot. Evidence of the Verry Volk perhaps?
A Fairy Ring

Sunday, 6 February 2011

St. Patrick and the Faeries - Part 2

It might be fair to say that, in my last blog, the connection between St. Patrick and the Fae was 'circumstantial'. Based on the evidence of his own 'Confession' it seems that Banwen has a strong case for claiming to be his birthplace, but the fact there are also stories of faeries in the area may be nothing more than coincidence. However, i would like to present to you another story that i have discovered, one in which this particular Saint's faerie connection can't be denied. This story is set just a short distance towards the coast from Banwen and the Sarn Helen Roman road, at a place called Crymlyn (meaning curved lake).
'Crumlyn Lake, near the quaint village of Briton Ferry, is one of the many in Wales which are a resort of the elfin dames. It is also believed that a large town lies swallowed up there, and that the Gwragedd Annwn have turned the submerged walls to use as the superstructure of their fairy palaces. Some claim to have seen the towers of beautiful castles lifting their battlements beneath the surface of the dark waters, and fairy bells are at times heard ringing from these towers. The way the elfin dames first came to dwell there was this:

A long, ay, a very long time ago, St. Patrick came over from Ireland on a visit to St. David of Wales, just to say 'Sut yr y'ch chwi?' (How d'ye do?); and as they were strolling by this lake conversing on religious topics in a friendly manner, some Welsh people who had ascertained that it was St. Patrick, and being angry at him for leaving Cambria for Erin, began to abuse him in the Welsh language, his native tongue. Of course such an insult could not go unpunished, and St. Patrick caused his villifiers to be transformed into fishes; but some of them being females, were converted into fairies instead. It is also related that the sun, on account of this insolence to so holy a man, never shed its life-giving rays upon the dark waters of this picturesque lake, except during one week of the year.' (From British Goblins by Wirt Sykes).

Despite many attempts to drain the lake the area remains boggy and is now a nature reserve. The swallowed town is said to be the original town of Swansea. 

Just to finish, i thought you might be interested in seeing this. It is from the 11th Century, much later than the standing stone i talked about in Part 1, and part of a Celtic Cross. It is carved in in the Irish style and thought to show a priest at prayer. It was found on  mountain near Banwen. Could it be it's an image of St. Patrick? Maybe they knew something then which has long since been forgotten.