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  • Writer's pictureBranwen Defren

A NAME OF LEGENDS

Updated: Jan 13



My name is really weird. I know. Thanks, creators!


My name is Branwen and for those of you who don't speak or know Welsh, the English way to say it is, "Bronwin." But again, it's weird. I've gotten TONS of nicknames over the years - some I like and some I definitely don't. (Brothers always give the worst ones...)


My name isn't entirely unique though, uncommon worldwide yes, but in Wales it's actually well known. This is because I'm named after a Welsh Princess.


Princess Branwen

Her story is actually pretty sad, but I was really lucky that I was able to go to the place where she's said to have lived and even got to see her tower!


This castle is located in Harlech, Wales and I definitely recommend going for a visit. Not even to just this castle but the country in general - it honestly blew me away with how beautiful it was. I genuinely didn't expect Wales to be as stunning as it was.



While we were in the area we discovered restaurants and bars named "Branwen" and it definitely made up for the fact that I never, ever saw my name on keychains in souvenir shops!


Princess Branwen's story "begins" with her marriage to Matholwch, King of Ireland at the time. Branwen was the sister of Bendigeidfran, a legendary Welsh giant and King of Britain. She was also a half-sister to both Nisien (a good sibling) and Efnisien, (a not so great sibling). Her sibling, Efnisien was incesnced that the King of England did not ask for permission to marry Branwen, and injured his horses because of it. After Branwen settled in Ireland and gave birth to a son named Gwern, but then she was punished in retribution for Efnisien’s actions at the wedding. She was banished to the kitchens and beaten every day by the butcher. As a maid, the kitchen was Branwen’s home, and she only had one friend, a little starling. One day, Branwen told the starling of her despair and sent it to Wales to tell Bendigeidfran.


When Bendigeidfran heard about his sister’s situation, he immediately sent an army to Ireland. As Bendigeidfran was a giant, he could walk through the sea, with his navy’s boats sailing by his shoulder. Irish soldiers were dumbfounded at this sight, thinking a mountain and trees were coming for them.


In an attempt to stop Bendigeidfran and his army, Irish troops destroyed an important bridge crossing a river. But this was no hurdle for Bendigeidfran. The giant lay across the river, saying, ‘He that would lead, let him be a bridge. I will be a bridge’, and let his troops walk over him to cross the river. This quote is a well-known Welsh proverb to this day. (That's a damn good brother if you ask me! Luke, think you got to step it up 😉)


Matholwch soon realised that he would have to make amends for punishing Branwen and agreed to make Gwern (their son together) King of Ireland and built a massive home for her brother Bendigeidfran. But Matholwch plotted to kill Bendigeidfran, but luckily for him, their sibling, Efnisien discovered the Irish plan and killed the soldiers.


A horrible incident later occurred when one night, in a fury, Efnisien threw Gwern into the fire, igniting a fierce battle between the two armies. Only Branwen and seven of Bendigeidfran’s knights survived, and they returned to Wales. Bendigeidfran’s head was buried in London.


Branwen died of heartbreak from everything that happened. There is seldom a happy ending in the tales of the Mabinogi.


Story Source: Government of Wales



At the castle, there are plaques telling a mini version of Branwen's story in English and Welsh. (If you're curious to see what Welsh looks like, swipe to the next image - it's saying the exact same thing).


While the story of Branwen is thought to be based off a Mabinogion (a collection of tales in Welsh culture, folklore and myths), there are reasons to believe that it's based off of real events. In Llanddeusant, Anglesey, North Wales her believed grave can be found (though now it's unfortunately in ruins). It was dug up in 1800 and again in the 1960s and it was found to have multiple urns with human remains. It is thought that if the story is based off real events, it would have taken place during the Bedd Branwen Period of Bronze Age British history.


Growing up, I'd jokingly tell my family and friends that I wanted to see "my grave" before I died and my grandmother actually trekked out to see if it was even worth it. It's on someone's private property now but the gentleman very kindly assisted her and she said it was "terribly underwhelming." (Whomp. 😞)


Overall, I never liked my name. I honestly debated legally changing it for years. Anyone who has a hard name to pronounce knows the struggle of repeatedly telling people how to say it, where it originates, etc. Especially since I moved every few years throughout my childhood it got old real quick. But there is one thing I genuinely like about my name - it does helps me feel connected to a part of my family history that's long been forgotten.


My grandmother grew up in the remote countryside of Wales and even my mum lived there for a bit as child, long enough to learn the language fluently. (Though now she only knows it subconsciously). I sadly can't speak Welsh at all, just a nursery rhyme and 5 other words. So my name is a tiny, tiny piece that helps me remember where it all began. My grandmother, (wisely) knew this already because when I was around ten years old, she made me promise that if I ever have a daughter someday, her name must be Welsh too... Though hopefully I'll find something that's a bit easier to pronounce for everyone!


Well, I hope you found this interesting. I definitely, definitely recommend anyone visit Wales. I can assure you that you won't regret it in the slightest - especially if you go in the summer. Aberystwyth was my favorite spot on that trip, but I'm really eager to go back again to explore more places like Cardiff and Snowdonia National Park. In the meantime take a look at some of my favorite shots and see for yourself how beautiful it is!*


Till next time! Much love.



*(Please excuse the poor quality photos, these were all taken on an iPhone 4 at the time).

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