Site of Irish king’s landing in Mabinogi, Harlech

Link to Welsh translationSite of Irish king’s landing in The Mabinogi, Harlech

According to a legend in The Mabinogi, it was in this area that Matholwch, king of Ireland, stepped ashore to ask for Branwen, sister of the king of Great Britain. His arrival eventually resulted in the third unhappy blow to this island.

The manuscripts of The Mabinogi which survive complete date from the 14th century. Harlech Castle had recently been built, with steps down to the seashore just below the castle. Since then the sea has retreated. The legends were already centuries old by the 14th century, and one manuscript notes that the Irish Sea was smaller in olden times, consisting of two rivers.

Branwen’s story starts with her brother Bendigeidfran, a giant, with his court on the rock of Harlech (where the castle now stands). A fleet of ships approached, carrying Matholwch, who was invited to land on the shore below the rock. That night Bendigeidfran called a meeting to take counsel.

Branwen was given to Matholwch and a celebratory feast was held on Anglesey, but her brother Efnisien mutilated Matholwch’s horses. He felt insulted because his permission had not been sought. Bendigeidfran made amends by replacing the horses and giving Matholwch a magic cauldron, which had been made in Ireland.

Branwen and Matholwch had a son, but their happiness wasn’t to last. There was growing tumult over Efnisien’s insult and Branwen was banished to the kitchen, where the butcher beat her daily. After three years, she tied a note to her pet starling, which flew over the sea to summon Bendigeidfran, who was in Caernarfon. His men sailed to Ireland while he waded across, and the Irish thought an island and forest were approaching.

The visitors were received in peace until Efnisien, feeling insulted again, suddenly threw his nephew into the fire. During the ensuing fight, he killed himself in destroying the magic cauldron, and a poison dart pierced Bendigeidfran’s foot. When the Irish were defeated, only seven of Bendigeidfran’s men had survived. He told them to cut off his head and eventually take it to London.

After returning to Anglesey, Branwen blamed herself for the destruction of two islands, and died of a broken heart.

Postcode: LL46 2UG    View Location Map

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