Welsh Gypsy Folk Tales

When Romani people (‘Gypsy’ is what other people called them, and is regarded by some as a slur) first arrived in Britain they spoke their own Romani language, a European language of Indian origin. Over the years the English Romani eventually abandoned the language in favour of a mixture of English grammar with a heavy admixture of Romani words, but up until the first half of the twentieth century some of the Gypsies of Wales still spoke their own dialect of the old language. That meant that it lasted long enough for an Irish scholar working at the University of Liverpool, John Sampson, to learn the language from them and to study it.

So in the early part of the 20th century there appeared in the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society – some issues of which are now online because out of copyright – a series of Welsh Gypsy Folk-Tales collected by Sampson. A lot of these are quite fun and interesting, and I find it fascinating in itself that you’ve got stories taken down, say, in Tal-y-llyn or Machynlleth, odd sentences of which could still be understood in Persia or Afghanistan.

I’ve learnt a bit – only a bit – of European Kalderash Romani from books and online, and between that and the English translation Sampson gives I can make sense of these stories, and it struck me as maybe an interesting idea (in terms of trying to make myself do more in Welsh) to try to turn some of them into Welsh instead of English. Obviously, it’s kind of a weird, idle fancy, because it then forces you into making decisions about how much you try to reflect the language of the original story instead of just trying to write normal Welsh (and possibly failing), but I thought I’d give it a go, in case anyone else was interested.

So here’s my first attempt: I’d be very glad of any corrections or improvements to the Welsh. This is a story that’s actually known from other sources as well, and a version of it appeared in my daughter’s comic a while ago, but this one was told to John Sampson by Matthew Wood at Tal-y-llyn sometime before 1910. Sampson’s English follows my Welsh, and Matthew Wood’s original is here. I’ll almost certainly try to do some more, for my own interest, and if anybody likes them I can post them here when I do.

Y Ffŵl efo’r Defaid

Oedd ‘na ffermdy bach, a ‘chydig o fuchod, a thri brawd. Twpsyn oedd un brawd, ac oedd y lleill eisiau ei ladd o. Doedden nhw ddim yn gwybod be’ i wneud. Ddudodd y brawd hŷn, “Jac, tyrd yma. Dan ni’n mynd i fy Nuw annwyl [i’r nef].” “Sut medra’i fynd yno?” “Tyrd efo ni.” “Do i!”
Aethon nhw i nôl sach. “Dos i mewn yma.” Aeth o i mewn y sach. Dyna’r dau frawd yn rhwymo’r sach. Felly mae’r dau’n mynd i ffordd ac oedden nhw’n cario’r sach. Cyrhaeddon nhw dafarn. Wnaethon nhw roi’r sach i lawr ac aethon nhw i mewn y dafarn i gael tipyn o gwrw.
Ac yno daeth dieithr, a defaid. [sef: daeth dieithr heibio efo’i ddefaid]. Oedd hwn [Jac] tu mewn y sach. Wnaeth o weiddi arno fo. "Be’ sy?" ddudodd y dieithr. “Dyma ddyn sy’n mynd i fy Nuw annwyl [i’r nef].” “Sut medra’i fynd yno fy hun?” “Agora’r sach 'ma.”
Agorodd y dyn y sach. A dyna’r llall yn dod allan o’r sach. Wnaeth o roi’r dyn arall i mewn y sach ac ei rwymo. A dyna’r llall yn mynd adre efo’r defaid.
Daeth y dau eraill allan a chymryd y sach ac aethon nhw i ffordd i’r môr. Wnaethon nhw daflu fo i mewn y môr. A dyna’r dau brawd a oedd yn mynd yn ôl. Daethon nhw i’r tŷ lle oedden nhw’n byw, a ddudodd y brawd hŷn i’r llall, “Byddwn ni’n iawn, rŵan.”
Mi welson nhw’r brawd arall a wnaethon [better: oedden] nhw’n synnu at ei weld o efo’r defaid. “Lle gest ti’r defaid’na, Jac?” “Yn y môr, y ffŵl iti!” “Tyrd efo ni, Jac, i ddangos i ni’r lle y gest ti nhw.”
Wnaeth Jac cau’r defaid mewn cae porfa. A dyna’r tri’n mynd i ffordd. “Lle mae o, Jac?” Cyrhaeddodd y tri’r môr. “Arhosa fan hyn,” meddai Jac wrth y brawd hŷn. Wnaeth o sefyll lle ddudodd o wrtha fo, a wnaeth Jac ei daflu fo i mewn y môr. Oedd o’n marw yn y dŵr, ac oedd y dŵr yn berwi. “Beth mae o’n gwneud rŵan?” meddai’r brawd iau. Oedd o’n casglu’r defaid tewaf [meddai Jac]. “Tafla fi i lawr cyn iddo fo’n cael y rhai tew i gyd!”
Ar ôl iddo fo daflu ei ddau brawd i farw yn y dŵr, wedyn aeth Jac gartre.
A dyna ni!

The Fool With the Sheep

There was a little farm-house, and a few cows and three brothers. One of the brothers was a fool, and the other two wanted to get rid of him. They could not think what to do. Said the eldest brother, “Jack, come here. See! we are going to heaven.” How can I go there?" “Come with us.” “Ay, that will I!”
They went to fetch a sack. “Get in here.” He got into the sack. The two brothers fastened it. The two set off bearing the sack. They came to an inn. They put down the sack and went inside for a drop of ale.
Now a stranger comes by with sheep. Our fellow in the sack shouted to him. “What’s the matter?” quoth the stranger. “Here’s a man going to heaven.” “How can I go there myself?” “Open this sack.” The man opened the sack. Out comes Jack. He put the other man into the sack and fastened it up. Here he is, going home with the sheep.
The other two came out, and they took the sack and went off to the sea. They flung it into the water. The two brothers were coming back. They reached the house where they lived. And said the eldest brother to the other, “We shall manage now.”
They beheld the youngest brother, and they were amazed to see him ther with the sheep. “Where didst thou get those sheep, Jack?” “In the sea, you fool.” “Come with us, Jack, and show us the place where thou didst get them.”
Jack put the sheep into a field. Now the three set off. “Where is the place, Jack?” They came to the sea. “Stand here,” said Jack to the eldest brother. He stood where he was told, and Jack flung him into the sea. He was drowning and the water was boiling around him. “What is he doing now?” said the younger brother. “He is picking out the fattest sheep.” “Throw me down before he gets all the fat ones.”
After he had thrown his two brothers into the water to drown, Jack betook himself home.
That is all!


I was just looking at some of the other stories to see what I might try next, and came across rather a long one, that I might try another time, that begins “There was a little village down in England…”
To this there is added a footnote: “To Welsh Gypsies Wales is the apex of the earth, any place in England being ‘down’ in some direction or other.”


That’s funny as West Cornish people say ‘They’ve gone up-country’!
Looking forward to more Romani tales. Was just reading a section of George Borrow’s Lavengro where he gets rescued by a Travelling Welsh preacher and his wife (having been poisoned by Roma woman). He writes the remarks made between the couple in Welsh - interesting that he should do so in an age that had little respect for the language - although of course he himself did.


Funnily enough, I am currently reading Stopping Places by Damian le Bas, an account of his journey through his Romany routes. He has a chapter on the Welsh Romany community around Bala, which before that I knew nothing about


This was a good read, I enjoyed it, I’ve even called my caravan Achin tan! Lol!


Well, it’s taken me a long time to get round to doing another of these: partly because it was a longer story, and partly because it just took me a long time to get round to it. As before, I’ve gone back to the original Romani, and I’ve tried to keep some of the flavour of it, without (I hope) actually writing bad Welsh – again, if anyone spots anything that’s just plain wrong, please do tell me – I won’t be upset, and I’ll be able to fix it, and I might learn something!

The original story is very much an oral tale, full of “And now here’s the servant… And now here’s… And now…”, and swaps back and forth between the present and the past in the same sort of way as we might when telling a joke in English, but not usually otherwise (“This guy goes into a bar… So he said to the barman…”) – I hope it doesn’t sound too weird in Welsh. I’m not sure why the chief characters in the story are all priests – they aren’t in other versions of the tale, but they are in this one, and that’s how it is.

As before, I’ve copy-typed Sampson’s English translation, and if anyone’s curious to see the original, it’s here. As this story is longer than the previous one, I’ve alternated the Welsh and English a bit.

Finally, I like the way the story ends with the spurious note of authority that will be familiar to anyone who remembers the Max Boyce line – “I was there, and I played the fiddle for them, and they gave me a large tankard of ale” – “I know, 'cause I was there!”

Y Tri Offeiriad

Oedd 'na offeiriad oedd yn mynd yn bell i fyw. Felly daeth offeiriad newydd yn ei le. A daeth offeiriaid yr ardal i gyd yno i weld yr offeiriad newydd. Ac oedd gan yr offeiriad 'ma was a gwraig ac un ceffyl a dau fuwch. A phan daeth yr offeiriaid eraill 'na i dŷ’r offeiriad newydd oedd 'na ddigon o hwyl. A felly roedd rhyngddyn nhw am flynyddoedd, tan dechreuodd yr offeiriad amau bod ei wraig yn hoedenna â’r tri offeiriad arall.

A be’ wnaeth yr offeiriad 'ma? Ddudodd wrth y gwas: “Deutha fi pan daw’r tri offeiriad 'na i fyny eto, a mi wnai i fy nghuddio yn y coed.”

Ac un dydd welodd y gwas y tri’n dod i fyny. Ac aeth y gwas i’r offeiriad a ddudodd “Maen nhw’n dod yma!” “Rŵan, rŵan,” ebe’r offeiriad wrth y gwas, “dos i’r tŷ a gofynna am fy ngwraig, a deuthi hi bo’ t’eisiau pres. Os bydd hi’n gofyn lle ydw i, deuthi hi bo’ fi 'di mynd i lawr i’r dref.” Milltir i lawr y ffwrdd oedd y dref.

The Three Priests

There was a priest who removed to a distant place. There came a new priest in his stead. And all the clergy of the neighbourhood came there to visit the new priest. And this priest had a manservant, a wife, and one horse and two cows. And whenever the other priests paid a visit to the new priest there wold be great merry-making. And such was their wont for years until the priest began to suspect that his wife was getting over-thick with the three other priests.

And what did this priest do? He had a talk with his manservant. ‘Let me know when these three priests are on their way up here again, and I will hide in the wood.’

And one day the manservant saw the three coming up. And he went to the priest and said: ‘Here they come!’ ’ Now then!’ quoth the priest to his man, ‘go into the house and ask for my wife, and say to her that thou wantest money. If she inquire where I am, tell her that I have gone down into the town.’ The town was a mile away.

A rŵan dyma’r tri offeiriad tu mewn. Dyma fwrlwm mawr gan wraig yr offeiriad. Rŵan mae hi’n dod â’r gwin a digon o fwyd, ac oedd 'na ddigon o hwyl tra bod ei gwr yn y dref.

Dyma’r gwas [yn mynd] i’r offeiriad yn y coed, a ddudodd o bopeth wrtha fo, ac a oedd y tri tu mewn. “Rŵan, rŵan,” ebe’r offeiriad wrth y gwas, “a’ i i lawr a wna’ i gogio bo’ fi’n dod i fyny’r ffwrdd, ac mi welith hi fi wedyn.”

A rŵan wnaeth o gogio fod o’n dod i fyny’r ffwrdd o’r dref. A wnaeth ei wraig ei weld o’n dod i fyny, ac y tri offeiriad arall tu mewn! Doedd hi ddim yn gwybod sut i guddio’r tri offeiriad 'ma. “Ewch chi dri i mewn y popty mawr,” ebe gwraig yr offeiriad.

A rŵan oedd o hanner dydd. A rŵan dyma’r offeiriad tu mewn. A mi wnaeth o ei hun yn fyddar [sef, wnaeth o gogio fod o ddim yn gwybod beth oedd yn digwydd] a ddudodd o’m byd wrth neb. A dyma ei ginio’n cael ei gario iddo. Ac oedd ei wraig yn cochi at y clustiau o ran y tri a oedd yn y popty mawr. A wnaeth o fwyta ei fwyd. A dyna’r tri 'ma ac oedd arnyn nhw ofn anadlu.

And now here are the three priests in the house. Here are great carryings-on with the priest’s wife. Now wine is served, and food galore. And there were high jinks while her husband was down in the town.

Lo! the servant came to the priest in the wood, and told him all about the three within. ‘Now then!’ quoth the pirest to the servant, ‘I wil go down the hill and pretend to be coming up the road, and then she will see me.’

And now he pretended to be coming up the road from the town. And his wife saw him approaching; and there were the three strange priests in the house! She did not know how she should manage to hide those three priests. ‘Go ye three into the great oven,’ quoth the priest’s wife.

By this time it was mid-day. And now the priest comes in. He feigned ignorance and said naught to any one. And his dinner was brought to him. And his wife was blushing to her ears at the thought of the three who were inside the great oven. And he ate his dinner. There (in the oven) were these three afraid to breathe.

A rŵan ddudodd o wrth ei wraig, ar ôl iddo fo fwyta ei fwyd: “Mi wna’ i boethi’r popty i roi bara ynddo heddiw.” Coch oedd ei wraig: dyma hi’n fwy coch rŵan. “Pam wyt ti’n mynd i boethi’r popty rŵan?” ebe ei wraig. “Mae’r coed tân i gyd yn wlyb heddiw. Mi wna’ i i’r gwas gasglu digon o bricau yfory; bydden nhw’n sych.” “Na, na, mi wna’ i fo heddiw. Dos, hogyn, a thyrd â ddwy ceseiliaid o wellt i fi.” Ac aeth y gwas.

A welodd y wraig rŵan bod hi ddim yn medru gwneud dim byd. Ac aeth y wraig rŵan i mewn i’r stafell [arall] i eistedd. “Gad iddo fo ddigwydd!” Dig oedd hi.

A rŵan dyma’r gwas i mewn a ganddo fo ddwy ceseiliaid o wellt. Cymerodd yr offeiriad y gwellt ac agor drws y popty. A rŵan dyma’r gwellt tu mewn, a dyma’r fatsien wedi’i thanio. A dyna’r tân mawr, a wnaeth o gau’r drws.

A dyma waedd mawr. A mi wnaeth o eu llosgi nhw – y tri offeiriad.

And now after finishing his dinner he said to his wife: ‘I am going to heat the oven and bake bread to-day.’ His wife was red before: she grew scarlet now. ‘Why art thou going to heat the oven now?’ quoth his wife. ‘The sticks are all damp to-day. I will get the man to gather plenty of sticks to-morrow; they will be dry then.’ ‘No, no! I will do it to-day. Go, lad! and fetch me two armfuls of straw.’ Off went the servant.

And the wife perceived that she could do naught: the game was up. So she went into the parlour to sit down. ‘Be it so!’ She was furious.

And here comes the servant with both arms full of straw. The priest took the straw and opened the oven-door. And now the straw is thrust inside, and now the match is lit. And now there is a huge blaze, and he shut the door.

And now there is loud wailing. And he burned them – the three priests.

Rŵan doedd o ddim yn gwybod sut i wneud i’w cuddio nhw rhywle yn bell. A rŵan aeth yr offeiriad i sefyll wrth y drws. Pwy oedd yn dod i fyny’r ffordd yn agos at y tŷ? Y simneiwr. “Dyna’r dyn,” ebe’r offeiriad, “o’n i eisiau gweld.”

A rŵan dyna’r dyn tu mewn a gofynnodd i’r offeiriad os oedd ganddo fo waith i’w wneud. “Yndy,” ebe’r offeiriad. “Mae gen i hen offeiriad sy wedi marw. Mi wna’ i roi fo mewn sach, a rhoi sofren i ti i’w gario fo i lawr a thaflu fo yn y dŵr.” “Mi wna’ i, rhoi fo i mi, bydda’ i’n taflu pump ohonyn nhw am sofren.” A rŵan cymrodd o’r sach ar ei gefn ac aeth o i lawr a’i thaflu hi yn y dŵr.

A rŵan dyma’r simneiwr i fyny eto. A phan daeth o yn ôl, dyma’r offeiriad yn dweud wrtha fo, “Daeth o yn ôl yma ar ôl i ti’i ddaflu fo yn y dŵr.” Dyma’r simneiwr yn synnu. “Rhoi fo i mi,” ebe fo, “mi wna’ i â’r andros.”

Oedd hynna’r ail waith iddo rŵan. A thaflodd o fo yn y dŵr a thaflu main mawr ar ei gefn yn y dŵr er mwyn ei ddal i lawr. A dyma fo i fyny eto wrth y tŷ. “Mae o newydd ddod yn ôl,” ebe’r offeiriad, “ac oedd o’n wlyb sopen. Dyma fo yn y popty.” Oedd y simneiwr yn rhy ddig i siarad. “Rhoi’r andros i mi rŵan; dw i eisiau fo rŵan.”

Mi wnaeth yr offeiriad ei roi fo yn y sach a dyma’r llall yn mynd â fo. Yr un olaf oedd hynna. A thaflodd o fo dros y bont, a thaflu digon o fain ar ei gefn. “Rŵan, yr hen andros, mi wna’ i dy wylio di.” Ac oedd o’n sefyll ar y bont yn smocio pibell ac yn ei wylio am sbel.

He knew not how to hide their bodies in some distant place. And as he was standing at the door, who should come up the road leading past the house? The chimney-sweep. ‘Here is the very man I wanted to see,’ quoth the gentleman.

In comes the man, and he asked the priest whether he had a job for him. ‘Yes,’ said the gentleman, ‘I have an old priest here who fell dead. I will put him in a sack, and give thee a sovereign to carry him down and throw him into the river.’ ‘All right, give him to me, I would throw in five of them for a sovereign.’ And straightway he took the sack upon his back, and down he went and threw it into the river.

And now here is the sweep again. And when he returned the gentleman said to him: ‘He came back again to the house after thou hadst thrown him into the water.’ The sweep was astounded. ‘Give him to me,’ quoth he, ‘I will settle the devil this time.’

This is the second time for him now. And he flung the dead man into the river, and hurled great stones upon his back, that the water might hold him down.

And now the sweep is back again at the house. ‘He has just returned,’ quotht the priest, ‘wet through. Here he is in the oven.’ The sweep was too enraged to speak. ‘Give me the devil at once; I want him now.’

The priest put him in a sack, and off goes the sweep with him. This was the last one. And he flung him over the bridge and threw heaps of stones on his back. ‘This time, old devil, I will watch thee.’ And he smokes his pipe upon the bridge and watches him for a long while.

A wnaeth o edrych i lawr y ffordd. A welodd o offeiriad arall yn mynd ar hyd y ffordd. Doedd hwnna ddim âr fai, doedd a wnelo ddim â’r tri. “Rŵan, yr andros, dw i 'di dy gael di.” A thaflodd o’r truan offeiriad dros y bont heb run achos.

A rŵan aeth o i fyny i’r tŷ. Ac mae’r bonheddwr yn ei dalu fo, a rhoiodd o ddigon i’w yfed ac i’w fwyta iddo.

A wedyn does dim offeiriad yn mynd yno i hoetio am ei wraig. A rŵan maen nhw’n byw i gyd yn hapus [yn lythrennol: fel sipsiwn] yno.

Es i yno a chanu’r ffidl iddyn nhw, a wnaethon nhw rhoi pot mawr o gwrw i mi.

He looked down the road. Presently he sees another priest coming along. That one had no share in the guilt of the other three. ‘Now, thou devil, I have caught thee.’ And for no fault at all he flung the poor priest over the bridge.

And now he went up to the house. And the gentleman paid him, and gave him plenty to eat and drink.

And after that never a priest comes there paying court to his wife. And there they live happily together to this day.

I was there, and I played the fiddle for them, and they gave me a large tankard of ale.

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Was just reading a section of George Borrow’s Lavengro

I would certainly recommend “Lavengro” by George Borrow who was a Victorian polyglot. You might also be interested in “Wild Wales”, a fascinating travelogue for which he prepared himself by learning Welsh and the language of the Roma. Borrow’s travels brought him very close to my home in Ystrad Meurig.

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