by Janice Anne Jenkins, ‘Up and Over’ Mapping the Valleys Project
The reason I have done this project is because I was given a picture from St Fagans and the gentleman in the picture was my husbands grandfather ‘Jenkin Jenkins’. This picture hung for many years in the ‘Old House’ Llangynwyd. The photograph depicts an old local custom, of the Mari Lloyd horses head that visited local hostelries and farms.
As recorded from the early nineteenth through to the early twentieth centuries, the Mari Lwyd was a tradition performed at Christmas time by groups of men. They would form into teams to accompany the horse on its travels around the local area, and although the makeup of such groups varied, they typically included an individual to carry the horse, a leader, and individuals dressed as stock characters such as Punch and Judy. The team would then carry the Mari Lwyd to local houses, where they would request entry through the medium of song. The householders would be expected to deny them entry, again through song, and the two sides would continue their responses to one another in this means. If the householders eventually relented, then the team would be permitted entry to the house and given food and drink.
Although the custom was given various names, it was best known as the Mari Lwyd; the etymology of this term remains the subject of academic debate. The folklorist Iorwerth C. Peate believed that the term meant “Holy Mary” and thus was a reference to the Virgin Mary, while fellow folklorist E. C. Cawte thought it more likely that the term had originally meant “Grey Mare”, thus referring to the heads’ equine appearance.
For more information on the Cynefin Tithes maps project visit http://cynefin.archiveswales.org.uk