Notes, types and motifs

Notes for the story 'The Horseman of Ceunant y Cyffdy'

Owen T. Jones heard the story of the Horseman of Ceunant y Cyffdy ['Cyffdy ravine'] from his father, John Owen Jones, at home in Tŷ Du, Parc. His father was the only person who ever told him this story. He was at the time 'a strapping great lad of about twenty.' These are some of Owen T. Jones's interesting observations on the occasions and the means by which his father heard stories of this kind.

'Well, the background of many a story, you know, is the nights around Christmas - the Christmas suppers. This area was very well known in days gone by for holding suppers during the Christmas season. We used to look forward for a fortnight around Christmastime - a fortnight before Christmas and a fortnight afterwards. People would invite each other [to their homes] and would gather together - especially young people - to take supper together you see. Yes, and it was at those suppers I heard very many...

'Well, my father [John Owen Jones] was the best. My father was an incomparable storyteller, you see. He delighted in telling stories. He'd be in his element, especially if he was frightening one or two people a little. And it's likely there was a particular aim, you see. The company invited to supper would be mixed, boys and girls, and the great point of a strong story with a bit of a kick in it was raising a bit of a fright on the girls, so they couldn't go home by themselves! They'd have to have someone to go with them. So a ghost story, as a rule, would be quite a successful story to that end, you see...

'It was at one of these supper nights, to be sure, he'd tell the story [of the Horseman of Ceunant y Cyffdy]. We'd be in a circle around the fire. He'd tell that story and the other story...as important items in the Christmas supper as it were, while making toffee - while the toffee was boiling, particularly. You couldn't stop stirring the toffee for a moment. You'd have to stir it, and stir it and stir it, and it would take quite a long time. It might have to boil for twenty minutes, you see. And you'd have to watch it; if it had stuck to the bottom of the skillet, or saucepan, that was the end of the toffee. It would have a scorched taste. So these stories - this story and that one - always came in that short interval...We'd make toffee very often, oftener than just one night. Oh yes. If anyone happened to come over, well! What about making toffee tonight? Yes, there was a romance to it. And pulling it was the best thing of all, you see. There was a particular art to pulling toffee, you couldn't just pull it any old how. You had to pull it and put a half turn in it, every time, to get it like - what do you call it - like a plait, you see, to give it a plaited appearance, you see.'

He was asked who was present at their suppers:

'Oh, the neighbours' children, our neighbours here: the Pant Neuodd [Pant Neuadd] children, the boys and girls from Pant Neuodd, and everyone would be here; the children of Tyddyn Du - the neighbours would all come. And then, in turn, we'd go to their houses, you see...only the children. The older people wouldn't come. It was only the young people who'd come to the suppers. But it was the old people who made it, of course...We'd start early before Christmas, two, four evenings perhaps before Christmas. Then, there'd be no one on Christmas night, as a rule. But the night after Christmas, there would surely be a supper somewhere, you see. We'd walk from here to Tai Hirion. We'd go up to Blaen Lliw - to Cwm Blaen Lliw - to supper, you see. Oh, well, we we'd supper very often in the farms of this area, you see. Well, we'd all swap nights. There'd be no use arranging anything, because 'it's supper at the Fron', or 'it's supper at Pant Neuodd'...there'd be a great many suppers in Llanuwchllyn, exactly the same, more even than around Parc, I think.'

As well as toffee making, feasting and telling stories, games were also popular at the Christmas suppers.

'Well, all kinds of games...The most important game was Mwgwd yr Ieir, 'The Chickens' Mask' [Blind Man's Buff]. It's a strange thing, isn't it, talking about playing Blind Man's Buff in a house. I remember us playing Blind Man's Buff at the Fondro....[a story about breaking a plantpot on the window]. Many funny things happened. Then games - old-fashioned games -'Musical chairs', we'd call them. If there was an instrument in the house, you'd set out a chair. And if there were ten players, then nine chairs, of course. And then you'd have to walk around while the playing went on. And then, the minute the playing stopped, you had to aim for a chair. Then, whoever was left without a chair was out of the game. Then you took that chair away. You went on like that until the last chair had come...There'd be a vast variety of mouth organs - the little 'American organ' - you blew them, of course. They were very interesting little things.'

This was Owen Jones's answer when asked whether people particularly asked his father for the story of the Horseman of Ceunant y Cyffdy:

'Well yes, many would ask: 'Duwcs! Haven't you got a story? Have you got a new story, Owen Jones?' Or, 'have you got a story we haven't heard?' And then that would draw him out most, probably, to tell these stories, of course.'

And this is Owen T. Jones's response when asked from whom his father had heard the story of the Horseman of Ceunant y Cyffdy and others:

'Oh, from various old characters in this valley. "Yes," he'd say, "I heard William Jones, Ty'n Twll, saying this and that," you see. Oh yes, they were probably orally transmitted up to the present day. That was the means in those days, it seems - telling the story. There were old characters living in Ty'n Shiglen here [Gwen Robert Jones], before the old house went to rack and ruin, completely illiterate, but they knew these stories; they couldn't read anything, either; they knew it all by heart....He'd talk a great deal [too] about old Rolant Jones - 'Rolant y Bugel' [Roland the Shepherd] they used to call him. He lived in Llwyn Hir. Rolant would always have a story, especially when he came by. He was shepherding up in Cwm Tylo here, and then he'd sit down and come by Tŷ Du always in the evenings to chat, and very many of Rolant's stories [were told].'

John Owen Jones, Owen T. Jones's father, was born in Tŷ Du, Parc. 'Now the tradition of conversing around the fire in Tŷ Du went back, I'm sure, for generations, did it?' asked the interviewer, and Owen T. Jones replied:

'Yes, I'm sure it did, because my uncle [Thomas Jones, OTJ's father's brother] was one of the very few in the valley who'd had something like a proper education. He'd gone to grammar school in Bala. Very few went there...He was a scholar along with OM Edwards and Puleston...Then he was a reader because old Robert Jones, the poor old man, and old Gwen Jones who lived in Ty'n Shiglen would come down on the long winter nights to our house, you see, and my uncle would read Uncle Tom's Cabin in Welsh to them. Well! old Robert Jones would be listening eagerly, you see. And when they came to one of the heartrending parts of the book, great tears would roll down, you see. Well, well! That was how it was at the time, you see - that was the culture, probably, that was available to them, you see. They weren't likely to leave here and go anywhere else, were they.'

When asked whether his father had ever written down the story of the Horseman of Ceunant y Cyffdy, Owen T. Jones said:

'Not as far as I know. He wrote down a lot of things, too. He had some very interesting memories. He'd written them on the oddest old bits of paper you'd ever seen...He was quite a good writer really, and had competed a great deal in the Bala Eisteddfod, the Christmas Eisteddfod in those days - the Christmas Meeting at Capel Tegid, Bala - he attended for many years, a century ago. He'd write long essays on biblical matters and so on, you see.'

After telling the story of the Horseman of Ceunant y Cyffdy, these are some of Owen T. Jones's remarks about his own response and others' to it:

'Well, that's the story for you. I don't know whether it was true, or not, except that we'd take a very great interest in it, you see, we found it romantic.... Yes... and we'd try to explain it, you see. But there you are, people today don't believe such a thing, but people used to believe that something like that had happened, you know. They were convinced, I suppose, you see, they'd got the idea from various people they knew, and thought then that they must be true - these old stories. That was their culture...

'It was an old story, I think. Of course, what made the thing older than that was that the Cyffdy, by the way, was old. The Cyffdy was a very ancient place. I'd say it was centuries old. The old Cyffdy house is a very unusual house, a big house, almost a little mansion, on the road leading from Parc back to Llanycil.'

The story of the Horseman of Ceunant y Cyffdy and others had a very special effect on Owen T Jones;

'Well, I thought it was very interesting. I don't know, it awoke this great curiosity in me. I think I had a little bit of a desire to write when I listened to stories like that, you see. You know, nobody can create anything without it having come from somewhere and it changes your world and your mind, I think, you see. Yes...Well, strangely enough, I'm sure that these stories, most of them, were written [down] at the time when there was a night school in Parc here. I'm going back, now, almost sixty years. The local schoolteacher, Mr R.G. Roberts held a night school class and gave us a couple of tasks of that kind. Some nights the task would be a short story. He'd read us a number of short stories as an example. Then we had to compose some. And then, another time, a story to do with this valley. And that's probably how some of those stories - the Cyffdy Horseman story, for example, was one, you see. And then, perhaps a few ghost stories.'

These written stories were the basis for Owen T. Jones's column, 'Erstalwm' ('Long Ago'), in the community paper, Pethe Penllyn. (The story of the Horseman of Ceunant y Cyffdy was published in volume 2, number 6, May, 1976.)

As far as is known, no other version of the story of the Horseman of Ceunant y Cyffdy has been recorded in Wales. Although Gretta Jones, Owen T. Jones's half sister, heard many stories at home in Tŷ Du, from her father and her uncle, Thomas Jones, she did not remember hearing this particular story [see tapes MWL 2976-8; recorded 23 September 1970]. But she heard a great deal about 'the Ghost of the Cyffdy Gate'.

'In a bygone age people would see two wheels of fire by the gate which leads to the Cyffdy, so that no one could pass. And if any one tried to pass they would close together. But I think they were imaginary. That was the only story I heard about them, you see. Some would be afraid to pass the gate to the Cyffdy, for fear they'd see these wheels of fire. I don't know how much basis there is for such a thing...I heard my father saying, well, if we were late going somewhere: "You watch it, the bogeyman of Cyffdy Gate will..." Ha! Ha! But I never saw anything, mind.' (Tape MWL 2978).

Also recorded is an extremely interesting folktale about the enmity between the Horseman of Caer-gai and his neighbour, 'The Hunchback of Cyffdy'. It was included in the illuminating reminiscences of John Castell Evans, Llanuwchllyn, 'Yr Hen Amser Gynt: ei Veirdd, ei Varddoniaeth, ei Bobl, ei Chwedlau' ['Time gone by; its Poets, its Poetry, its People, its Tales'], which he wrote between 1869 and 1871. (See NLW MS 10,567, and Trefor M. Owen, 'Hywel y Prys: Hen Chwedl o Lanuwchllyn', Cylchgrawn Cymdeithas Hanes a Chofnodion Sir Feirionnydd, volume 3, number 4, 1960, pp. 343-9.)


Motifs

B 582Animal helps person to success in love.
D 1146 Magic door.
D 1293.3 White as a magic colour.
D 1651.8 Door will only open for hero.
D 1900 Love induced by magic.
D 1273.1.1 Three as a magic number.
F 320 Fairies carry people away to fairyland.
J 1050 Attention to warnings.
Z 10 Formulaistic framework for tales.
Z 71.1 Formulaisitic number 3.
Z 72.1 A year and a day [a month and a day].


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