Jenkin Howell Miscellanea (contd.1)

Jenkin Howell Miscellanea (contd.)

The story of Hirwaun Common would not be complete in the eyes of the old local residents if it did not relate the story of Twm Emwnt and his race. Didn’t Tomos run and win a three mile race on Hirwaun Common in a very good time? And isn’t that race talked about to this day because Tom’s victory resulted in the men of Dyffryn Taf winning dozens of pigs, mountain cobs and countless pound notes from the men of Dyffryn Cynon?

If a man is a poet he must have a nom-de-plume to reflect his own status; at other times the Gorsedd do it for him; and if he is not careful, he will have a name the length of a rake-handle such as ‘Negesydd o’r Ynys Werdd’ or ‘Bardd Coch Bach Cwmynysmintan’! If he’s a musician, he must be a ‘Hwrdd’ or an ‘Eos’ (‘Ram’ or ‘Nightingale’); but if he’s a fighter, runner or such wild-beast he must have a nickname such as ‘Sharky’, ‘Bendigo’ or ‘Coffee Cooler;! That was the fate of poor Tomos Edmunds. He had to be called ‘Twm Emwnt’ and he was only known by his nickname. He was born into a respected family of small-holders in the upper reaches of Dyffryn Taf, near Merthyr Tydfil in 1751, and he died in Cefn Coed y Cymmer in 1785. The writer’s grandfather remembers him well. He had a magnificent body, but through his outstanding feats as a runner his health suffered and he died, as seen, at the age of 34. When he won, his praises were sung throughout the land; but when he lost, he was treated badly. It was “Cilbwt” when he lost. I’m not sure if the word is used in North Wales or not. Its meaning is that a runner secretly sells his right to win the race in favour of his opponent, and through this he betrays his own cause.*
Little or none of the old fashioned activities are found in these parts now; and I don’t think that is a loss to anyone. Tomos had been a member of the old Armenian church at Ynysgau, Merthyr, for some years before his death; and it may be deduced that the old church was not over particular about the activities and opinions of its members, as it allowed Tom to run in races while still a member, but some wanted to expel him as they believed that he continued to run the occasional “cilbwt” race.
* It seems likely that the word stems from the French, and its meaning is similar in both languages.

It is amazing how stories of champions such as Twm Emwnt and Gutto Nyth Brân, Llanwynno’s great runner, live on among the people. While only a few here and there know of Dafydd Cadwgan, Llanwynno’s outstanding poet, and Sion Llewelyn, Cefn Coed, the great majority of them are very knowledgeable about stories of the two runners!
From now on, the heroes will be football stars. It is remarkable how those coarse and vulgar discussions have influenced the minds of our young people. Where there are often only a fistful of people listening to a concert or a superior lecture, there are thousands watching these fools pushing, scraping, kicking and breaking one another’s legs. It is not wholly allowed in some European countries, and the English are treated with contempt for taking it there. It is about time that we also tried to regulate it; if not, we will be looked upon, not as a nation of enlightened Christians and moralists, but as an ignorant nation of dangerous kickers! teaching our children from the cradle to be savage and injurious Spartans, ones who pay no more respect to men’s legs than to cockle shells!

Translated from Y Geninen by DMJ. (Courtesy of Aberdare Library.)