Sat. May 25th, 2019

Battles for Wales – Part Four

Cerrig y Gwyddel

 

Prehistoric Wales

 

During the prehistoric period, there was significant navigation across the Irish sea, even described as ‘The Celtic Mediterranean’ by one historian.

With the arrival of the Romans to Wales, it did not deter the travelling, trading and raiding from across the Irish sea.

In fact, the Romans had to deploy their military to prevent uncontrolled Irish raids and colonisation of the western peninsulas.

However, the late 380’s Wales lost the Roman influence which left the country wide open to more attacks from one of our nearest Celtic neighbours.

 

Wales, Left Defenceless

 

Macsen Wledig (Magnus Maximus) left Wales to fight for control of the Western empire taking the regiments he had under his command with him.

This left Wales defenceless from the marauding Irish. And it was not just Wales that came under attack from the Irish as they had already settled in to the south-west and north-west of Britain.

In 405 Nial the Irishman pillaged the coast of Wales and he wasn’t the only one as raiding along the west coast increased significantly over the next century.

 

Birth of a Nation

 

However, during this time, as Roman Britain disappeared into the history books, the Welsh nation and Welsh language began to appear.

Many small kingdoms developed, each with their own kings. However, the smaller kingdoms were absorbed by the stronger kings.

According Nennius, the 9th century Welsh monk, Cunedda, moved the Votidini tribe of the Manw Gododdin region or nowadays Clackmannanshire mid Scotland, to North Wales.

Section 62 of the Historia Brittonum contains the Old Welsh tradition of Cunedda’s roots, it says:

Maelgwn, the great king, was reigning among the Britons in the region of Gwynedd, for his ancestor, Cunedag, with his sons, whose number was eight, had come previously from the northern part, that is from the region which is called Manaw Gododdin, one hundred and forty-six years before Maelgwn reigned. And with great slaughter they drove out from those regions the Scotti who never returned again to inhabit them

The move intended to defend Wales from the Irish. Cunedda consolidated his position within Gwynedd and began the royal dynasty that would last for centuries.

 

Irish Colonisers

 

Nevertheless, the Irish continued to attack Wales’ west coast for quite some time. And made inroads into Pembroke and Brycheiniog (Breconshire) where their influence lasted much longer.

Brychan Brycheiniog was the king of the Breconshire province in the fifth century and who was also of royal Irish decent.

Crannogs, a fortified island built on poles in a lake, were common in Ireland at the time and evidence was found of King Brycheiniogs’ Crannog in Lake Llangorse.

Indeed, traces of Crannogs have been found in Llyn Llydaw at the foot of Snowden, and many Celtic roundhouses in north-west Wales are still called ‘Cytiau’r Gwyddelod’ (Irish Huts).

However, the Irish did not get the chance to gain enough of a foothold to govern anywhere in Wales. But their influence can be seen and felt all around the western and south-western areas.

 

Battle of Cerrig y Gwyddel

 

In around 470 a battle took place not far from the natural harbour facing the hills of Ireland, just east of Aberffraw, Ynys Môn.

The ancient township called Cerrig y Gwyddel and the former Celtic fort of Din Dryfol, Trefdraeth is where the final battles to push the Irish settlers out of north Wales occurred.

The battles would seem to suggest the end of Irish settlement in Wales, although cultural, religious and commercial connections continued for centuries.

Caswallon Lawhir, also known as Caswallon Longhand who was also Cunedda’s grandson, led a Welsh army to defeat the Irish.

It is said that Caswallon ordered his own men to tie their feet to their horses in case their courage should desert them.

It must have worked as the Welsh army drove the Irish back in mass retreat to Holy Island. Many of the Irish managed to escape in boats.

However, the Irish leader Serigi Wyddel (the Irishman) was cut down at Llan y Gwyddyl (Irishman’s Leap).

Serigi’s bravery was highly respected by the Welshmen and so to honour his bravery, they erected a church on land of his grave at Llanbabo, Ynys Môn.

 

Lasting Connections

 

Nowadays, thankfully, the Welsh and the Irish have strong, more positive and friendlier links to one another. Our shared Celtic history will bind us together for generations to come as it has done before.

During the rugby internationals on Six Nations weekends, when it’s Wales vs Ireland or vice versa, the fans of each nation come together in one Celtic voice.

It really is a testament to us as a Celtic family that we can fight or compete amongst ourselves sometimes be we can come together when we need to.

 

 

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