I'd seen the pottery and grave goods from this site at Bangor Museum and read all about it. The jet necklace was absolutely beautiful.
And so despite it having disappointed stubob I decided I wanted to visit because it was clearly a site of some importance.
Frances Lynch says that "the arrangement of burials and personal belongings chosen to accompany the dead have some interesting social implications. Unlike contemporary burial monuments in some other parts of Britain, no one individual is afforded a position of primacy with in the cemetary. The burials were placed in apparent equality around the stone ring, even though their personal belongings suggest variation in wealth.
she goes on to say the separate burial of infant earbones, an unexplained ritual practice found several times in North Wales, is especially evident here.
The walk down the track is easy. It is concrete and flat. And some what un-inspiring. We followed our map and Frances Lynch's directions.
The farmer passed us in his tractor giving us a wave. We went into the field and climbed the mound. I began reading from Frances Lynch's book to my kids, blahing on about everthing that had been found and talking about the central stone etc... While my son, Rowan, frowned and looked confused.
Next thing there is a shout from the previously friendly farmer who had stopped his tractor and is waving his arms about shouting something at us.
We thought we should go over to him and he had come to the side of the field still waving and shouting.....
"it's not there, it's over there...in the next field."
We thanked him and trudged off to the next field where Rowan told me that nothing I had been saying whilst in the other field was making any sense, and now we know why.
All that's left of this cairn is a large earthfast boulder, split down the centre, that the farmers and stone robbers couldn't cart off.
Wish I'd 'a known that before I set off looking for Bedd Branwen.
Read all about it in the museum at Llangefni on the way home.
This is the grave of Branwen, the daughter of Llyr. She was the 'fairest damsel in the world'. Well, at least Anglesey I expect. Her story is told in the Mabinogion and you can read it here at the sacred texts archive: http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/mab/mab22.htm
Let me summarise it for you: One day, the Irish King, Matholwch, came sailing over to Wales. He intended to make an alliance with the people there and to marry the beautiful Branwen. He was obviously a very important man with some impressive ships and the marriage was agreed by the family. That night there was a huge feast, loads of beer was flowing and everybody had a super time. However, the next day one of Branwen's other brothers, who had not been present earlier, turned up. He was unimpressed by the arrangements that had been made without him, and carried out some rather unpleasant revenge on Matholwch's horses (you don't want to know). Matholwch was outraged and insulted and was about to leave without the usual pleasantries when Bran, another of Branwen's brothers, called him back to smooth things over. He gave Matholwch his greatest treasure - a cauldron that could bring the dead back to life (albeit they wouldn't be able to speak). So Matholwch went back to Ireland happy again and with his new wife.
For a year Branwen had the utmost respect in the Irish court, but then various stirrers started getting at Matholwch, saying that he shouldn't have let her brother get away with what had happened. Poor Branwen was sent to work in the kitchens where the cook used to box her ears. She was stuck there for three years but eventually managed to tame a starling which flew a letter back to Bran for her. Bran and his army rushed to Ireland to rescue here. In the ensuing battle Bran was killed and his head was taken to the White Mound - now, the tower of London ('white' also means 'holy' in Welsh, as I suppose it implies purity in English). Branwen blamed the entire mess on herself. She died of a broken heart and was buried under the cairn you see today.
So they cut off [her brother, Bendigeid Vran's] head, and these seven went forward therewith. And Branwen was the eighth with them, and they came to land at Aber Alaw, in Talebolyon, and they sat down to rest. And Branwen looked towards Ireland and towards the Island of the Mighty, to see if she could descry them. "Alas," said she, "woe is me that I was ever born; two islands have been destroyed because of me!" Then she uttered a loud groan, and there broke her heart. And they made her a four-sided grave, and buried her upon the banks of the Alaw.
It seems that Richard Colt Hoare visited the site:
The following account of its discovery was communicated, in 1821, to the Cambro-Briton (and printed in that publication, II. p. 71), by Sir R. C. Hoare, on the authority of Richard Fenton, Esq., of Fishguard.
"An Account of the Discovery, in 1813, of an Urn, in which, there is every reason to suppose, the ashes of Bronwen (White Bosom), the daughter of Llyr, and aunt to the great Caractacus, were deposited.
A farmer, living on the banks of the Alaw, a river in the Isle of Anglesea, having occasion for stones, to make some addition to his farm-buildings, and having observed a stone or two peeping through the turf of a circular elevation on a flat not far from the river, was induced to examine it, where, after paring off the turf, he came to a considerable heap of stones, or carnedd, covered with earth, which he removed with some degree of caution, and got to a cist formed of coarse flags canted and covered over. On removing the lid, he found it contained an urn placed with its mouth downwards, full of ashes and half-calcined fragments of bone. The report of this discovery soon went abroad, and came to the ears of the parson of the parish, and another neighbouring clergyman, both fond of, and conversant in, Welsh antiquities, who were immediately reminded of a passage in one of the early Welsh romances, called the Mabinogion (or juvenile tales), the same that is quoted in Dr. Davies's Latin and Welsh Dictionary, as well as in Richards's, under the word Petrual (square).
'Bedd petrual a wnaed i Fronwen ferch Lyr ar lan Alaw, ac yno y claddwyd hi.'
A square grave was made for Bronwen, the daughter of Llyr, on the banks of the Alaw, and there she was buried.
Happening to be in Anglesea soon after this discovery, I could not resist the temptation of paying a visit to so memorable a spot, though separated from it by a distance of eighteen miles. I found it, in all local respects, exactly as described to me by the clergyman above mentioned, and as characterised by the cited passage from the romance. The tumulus, raised over the venerable deposit, was of considerable circuit, elegantly rounded, but low, about a dozen paces from the river Alaw. The Urn was preserved entire, with an exception of a small bit out of its lip, was ill-baked, very rude and simple, having no other ornament than little pricked dots, in height from about a foot to fourteen inches, and nearly of the following shape [you may see the picture on the link]. When I saw the urn, the ashes and half-calcined bones were in it.
This ruined cairn seems to have an interesting location, surrounded on its west, south and eastern sides by water - many streams join together in its vicinity. The Mabinogion notes say: "This spot is still called Ynys Bronwen, or the Islet of Bronwen, which is a remarkable confirmation of the genuineness of this discovery."
Jennifer Westwood in 'Albion' has details of its excavation. Originally a standing stone stood alone at the site, and some time after a cairn ring was built around it. A couple of small cists were also found; these had been used for more than one 'batch' of Bronze age cremations. The mound which covered it was never particularly high. Pollen analysis showed that when this was built the site was in a meadow covered with buttercups.