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Worm's Head



Baring-Gould says "There can hardly be a doubt that by Henisweryn the Worm's Head Island is intended" (he explains in detail why he thinks so)

The story's of Saint Cenydd's a bit long (and this is only the start) - but as BG says, "It is a most extraordinary tale, a mass of fable. It was certainly composed after Geoffrey of Monmouth had made the fortunes of King Arthur, i.e. 1150. That it contains earlier matter is not to be doubted; not of an historical, but of a mythological character."
In the days of King Arthur, the prince of Letavia (Llydaw) or Britannia Minor, was Dihoc, and he became the father of Keneth, who was born of incest. Summoned by King Arthur, as a tributary, to come to his court to celebrate the Feast of Christmas in Gower, he took with him the woman, and she gave birth to a child, who was born a cripple, with the calf of one leg attached to the thigh.

Dihoc ordered the infant to be thrown into the river, but before this was done, a priest baptised it and gave it the name of Keneth. The child was placed in an osier-woven cradle and launched on the stream. This stream speedily carried it down to the river Lothur, and that swept it out to sea. A storm arose and drove the cradle, dancing on the crest of the waves, to the isle of Inisweryn, where it was cast up on the beach. At once a cloud of seagulls fluttered over the child, and the birds with beak and claw removed it to the top of a rock, and there they strippped their breasts of feathers to make a bed for the infant. The birds kept incessant watch over their protege, spreading their wings over him to shelter him from wind and rain and snow.

Before nine days had passed, an angel descended from heaven, bearing a brazen bell, which he applied to the mouth of the infant, who sucked vigorously at the handle, and received therefrom much satisfaction.
Certain practical difficulties, such as would suggest themselves to a mother, are got over by the author with an ingenious explanation.*
Thus Keneth lived till he was able to walk, and the garments in which he had been wrapped when exposed, grew with him, expanding, as does the bark of a tree.

One day, a peasant who lived near the sea, and who had no family, happening to light on the child, took it up and carried it home, and committed it to his wife, who at once put the little Keneth to bed. This caused tremendous excitement among the gulls; they came in vast numbers, and dividing into two bands, one entered the house and pulled the coverlet off the sleeping child, and the other, with screams and by the aid of beak and claw, drove the cattle of the husbandman towards the sea.

The man, alarmed for his live-stock, hastily carried back Keneth to where he had found him, whereupon the gulls drove back his cattle to their pastures, and, in the most tidy manner, replaced the coverlet whence they had plucked it.

And now daily a female stag came out of the forest, and squirted her milk into the bell that Keneth employed as his feeding-bottle, and likewise filled some hollows in the rocks hard by.
It goes on a bit as you can imagine, and you can read the rest here in Baring-Gould's 'Lives of the British Saints' (1907). It's got such curious and celticky detail, with all those helpful animals.

*Here there's some Latin which Google translate tells me means the child did not poo. Clearly too rude to write in English for a vicar. But incest and child murdering is ok.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
26th March 2012ce
Edited 26th March 2012ce

Comments (3)

You are good, no sooner is a picture posted then folklore appears!

"Henisweryn" - reckon that could be anything to do with the origin of the name of the nearby Sweyne's Howes, or just a some of the same letters and no connection at all?
thesweetcheat Posted by thesweetcheat
26th March 2012ce
Dunno about the Sweynes.
But I do know I need to get out more. Sad innit :)

Actually, maybe sweyne could be like swain, a sort of romantic country yokel type (or someone attending on a knight, so says the OED), the spelling makes it looks like English?

Henisweryn is Ynys (island) plus gweryn (gw mutated to just w) which B-G says means a botfly maggot. But a maggot isn't quite as impressive as a proper ormey dragon serpenty worm type thing now is it?
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
26th March 2012ce
Oh, excellent stuff. I like a nice bit of etymology. Or in this case it sounds more like entymology, with the larvae and all. thesweetcheat Posted by thesweetcheat
27th March 2012ce
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