On Saturday, the new Archdruid, Geraint Llifon, will be enthroned at the start of the 2017 Anglesey National Eisteddfod Proclamation Ceremony in Holyhead.
These are the comments he will deliver from the Maen Llog during the ceremony.
Fellow-members of the Gorsedd and Friends
When the Quarterly Meeting of the Independent Churches of the area where I was brought up in Penllyn, Merioneth, used to meet, for me, a schoolboy in short trousers, an experience which we looked forward to was that we boys would go and have tea with a spinster called Blanche Kate in Caerau Uchaf (and she would be thrilled to bits to think that Geraint Shop had mentioned her on the Maen Llog of the National Eisteddfod.)
After tea we would play hide-and-seek in the bing, the stalls and the farm-yard. Before I set off for Caerau Uchaf my mother’s last words always were, “Geraint, remember to thank Blanche Kate for having you.” And this is my first duty here on the Maen Llog. To express my heartfelt thanks to you all for your support, and especially to my predecessor in this office – Christine.
She has carried out all her duties with dignity, here and on the Pavilion stage. I can only strive to follow in her footsteps. Her legs are considerably longer than mine, and so one of her steps is the equivalent of three for me, and it will be a formidable task for me to follow her. But I’ll try my best to catch up. Thank you, Christine, on behalf of us all, for providing a feminine voice for us in the Gorsedd of these islands.
Well, in standing here one is aware that we are in a very honourable tradition extending back almost 500 years to that first eisteddfod in Carmarthen, and now 500 years later we are half opening the door. The mother opening the door of the home for the extended family to come in, and for that family to feel the warm welcome of the people of this island. Here today and again in August next year you are drinking the wine of welcome of that home.
Were I to ask you to name the poets and literary figures of Anglesey, I wonder whether you would start with the trio of Goronwy Owen, Bedwyr Lewis Jones and the Morris brothers., and than go on to mention Einir Jones, and Jane and Sonia Edwards. Yes – start off with the famous men of Anglesey before turning to the women? I’m only asking . . . And yet, before we’ve even crossed the suspension bridge we are reminded that Anglesey is ‘Mam Cymru’ – the Mother of Wales. Here we have an island which wants to proclaim that it is a feminine island, and this is an island which is ready to admit this.
The body of Siwan was carried across the Lafan Sands to the priory of Llanfaes here in Anglesey. But how do you see Siwan? As Llywelyn’s wife or as William de Braose’s lover? I’m only asking. . In this very island, on the banks of the river Alaw, another princess was buried. She has become one of the most iconic women in our literature. But we remember her as Branwen the DAUGHTER of Llŷr Branwen speaks very few words in the second branch of the Mabinogi, a few sentences only, and yet her voice is heard through the whole story.
Come to Aberffraw, the site of Llywelyn Fawr’s court. He, of course, was Siwan’s husband, and this, too, was where earlier Branwen ferch Llŷr’s marriage had taken place. It was here that the Cauldron of Rebirth was presented to Matholwch, King of Ireland, who was Branwen’s husband. You will recall that this cauldron was a wondrous one – if men who had been killed today were cast into it, by tomorrow they would be as fit as they ever were, except that they had lost the power of speech. Dead warriors restored to life, but, take note, speechless warriors. What a terrible thought – speechless warriors. And what kind of warriors are they if they have no language? Is it not language that makes people, and makes us what we are? Is it not language that has the mysterious power to build bridges? And if people are deprived of their language, they are deprived of power. And should we not all be, and are we not, people with a language, each one of us? I’m only asking . . .
In this feminine island you will recall that Branwen suffered the greatest of insults as queen of Ireland, as a wife and as a mother. She was sent to work in the kitchen, and the butcher ‘after cutting up the meat would come and box her ears every day’. Yes, she was struck every morning by his blood-stained hands. You will also recall what Branwen did in the depths of her punishment and suffering – she reared a starling and taught it to speak, she gave it language. Here is a woman, giving, cherishing and ‘teaching language’. Here is a woman feeding language, starting a dialogue, and willing speech to happen in a place where speech did not exist and was not permitted.
And here, too, is a woman who had the quiet confidence to let go when the time was ripe to do so.
There was trust and confidence in that letting go: the confidence that the starling would fly off and ruffle its feathers and its message on the giant Bendigeidfran’s shoulder.
Siwan, Branwen and Dwynwen. Yes, Dwynwen, a princess and a saint, who also from her suffering brought her message and her love with her to Llanddwyn, to this feminine island and to Wales.
There are women and there are mothers in Anglesey today. Women who want to hand on the language in the broadest sense of the word. Many of them are quiet women in the background encouraging, supporting and promoting. And there are also women who are more public, who are energetic, inspiring leaders. Branwen, Siwan and Dwynwen.
There is one spot in the sea between Anglesey and Ireland, one spot from where you can see both islands. Was it perhaps there that Branwen uttered those heart-rending words ‘Two good islands have been laid waste because of me.’
And here she is, this woman, this mother, who lost so much, who saw two islands, two families and two countries destroyed because of her. An innocent woman who shouldered the blame and the responsibility.
The story tells us that Branwen was buried in a four-sided grave on the banks of the river Alaw. But there is no multi-media exhibition, no ‘Branwen Experience’ to commemorate one of the icons of our literature, nobody is queuing up to pay homage at a royal grave or palace; there is nothing except reeds and a rather boggy field. A modest and quiet memorial. But she is also remembered in the words of a writer of genius, in the words, the language, and the age-old perception of the Mabinogi.
As we cross the bridge we see the comforting and significant words ‘Môn Mam Cymru’ – ‘Anglesey the Mother of Wales’. Three words which express a mystic knowledge, three words which speak of tenderness, gentleness and love in a world full of noisy, brutal and cruel violence. Three words which inspire, support, nurture and protect.
Three words whose humanity we can believe.
Let us thank Anglesey for reminding us of these mothers and these women.