Branwen, Mabinogion in Welsh folklore and mythology, a tale from Llanddeusant Wales
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Category: Mabinogion
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Title: Branwen

The story of Branwen is one of the most popular legends of the Mabinogion, a collection of old Welsh legends. The tale appears in the Second Branch of the Mabinogi, and is a story of love, tragedy and jealousy.| One afternoon Bendigeidfran, who was almost a giant, was sitting on a hill high above the sea when he caught sight of a group of ships heading towards the Welsh coast. As he went down to the shore, he was greeted by Matholwch, the King of Ireland. Matholwch had come to ask if he could marry Bendigeidfran’s sister Branwen, who was considered the most beautiful girl in Wales at the time. Bendigeidfran consented to the marriage and after meeting Matholwch, Branwen fell immediately in love with him and the two were married at Aberffraw.| When Efnisien, Branwen’s half brother, heard of the marriage, he was furious that they had not asked for his consent to the marriage. Whilst everyone else was at a dinner event, Efnisien sneaked into the stables where Matholwch was keeping his horses and began mutilating the creatures by cutting off their ears and tails. When Matholwch discovered what had happened, he was upset and disappointed. Speaking to Bendigeidfran, he said, “If I had known what was to happen, I would never have come to Wales. I have never been so insulted or received such treatment in my life before.” Bendigeidfran was very apologetic and in hope of forgiveness, gave Matholwch the gift of a cauldron which could resurrect the dead.| Matholwch took the cauldron and he and Branwen returned to Ireland. At first the Irish were delighted that they had a new Queen, especially when she gave birth to her and Branwen’s son Gwern, heir to the throne of Ireland. But soon they began to turn against her for Efnisien’s mutilation of the horses. Listening to his people, Matholwch forced Branwen to work as a slave in the kitchen of their palace, where every day she would be boxed on the ears by the butcher. Devastated, Branwen’s only comfort each day was a starling to whom she told her woes and taught to talk. One morning she tied a letter to its leg and told it to fly across the sea to Bendigeidfran.| When Bendigeidfran heard of the news, he was deeply upset. Determined to save Branwen from Matholwch, he and his men began the journey over to Ireland. When Matholwch heard of the news, he told his own men to guard the coast of Ireland, preventing the Welsh army from entering. But because Bendigeidfran was so tall, he was able to lie across the sea and act as a bridge which his men could use to get across the sea. He succeeded in rescuing Branwen and his son Gwern. Fearing war, Matholwch granted Bendigeidfran a house designed especially for him, for no normal house could contain Bendigeidfran. The Irish lords were against the idea and going to Bendigeidfran’s house, hid themselves in flour sacks, ready to attack the Welsh when they arrived. However, before Bendigeidfran and Branwen arrived at the house, Efnisien went to visit it and guessing that the Irish were hidden in the sacks, he killed them by squeezing their heads.| Afterwards there was a feast to celebrate Gwern’s becoming King of Ireland. During the feast, Efnisien rose to his feet and in order to break the peace settlement, threw Gwern into the flames of the cauldron. Crying out, Branwen attempted to leap into the fire after her son, but Bendigeidfran managed to hold her back with one hand. In the war that ensued after the killing of Gwern, Efnisien repented and cast himself amongst the dead. When two Irishmen found him, believing him to be one of the enemies, they cast him into the fire of the cauldron. Efnisien stretched himself inside it, managing to burst the cauldron and also his own heart.| During the war Bendigeidfran suffered a fatal injury. He asked his men to cut off his head and take it to the White Mount in London, where it would be buried with the face turned towards France. Only then would no more war come to Wales. His men did as he said, although it took them seven years to take the head to London.| After arriving back in Wales after the war, Branwen fell to her knees, crying, “Oh Son of God, woe to me that I was born! Two fair islands have been laid waste because of me!” Because of her grief and heartbreak, she died there and then on the bank of the river Alaw. Her grave can still be seen in that very spot in Llanddeusant, Anglesey.

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