A0315-CD: Celtic Myths & Legends

Celtic Myths & Legends
Claire Hamilton

CD CoverWith a unique voice and superb narrative, Claire captures the very essence of these ancient tales from the Celtic tradition: fantastical stories to fire the imagination and warm the heart. Accompanied by the beautiful sound of the Celtic Harp.

The Three Noble Strains - An ancient Irish tale of the magic harp of the Dagda, king of the faerie people.
The Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach - A Welsh legend about a mysterious Lady of the Lake.
Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnell - A mediaeval Arthurian tale of bravery and romance.

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Audio Samples & Track Listing

Track Listing

The Three Noble Strains - An ancient Irish tale of the magic harp of the Dagda, king of the faerie people. (11:48)
The Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach - A Welsh legend about a mysterious Lady of the Lake. (20:15)
Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnell - A mediaeval Arthurian tale of bravery and romance. (26:09)

Notes and Credits

The Three Noble Strains
This Irish myth is found in the Leabhar Gabhala or 'Book of Invasions', which tells of the early invasions of Ireland. The Dagda, or 'Good God', was King of the Tuatha de Danaan, the so-called faerie people who came 'in a mist' to the west coast of Ireland. They were so highly skilled artistically that they were regarded as magically gifted. The story tells how their music was divided into three powerful Strains or moods(modes), each of which had an irresistible effect on the listener. These were the goltrai, the bitter mode, the gantrai, the joy mode and the suantrai, the sleep mode. One story relates how the great god the Dagda overcame his enemy by playing these modes on his harp and throwing them into uncontrollable states of emotion. It is also claimed in Irish myth that on one occasion the goltrai, or bitter mode, stirred the listeners so deeply that twelve of them afterwards died of grief.

Although these modes belong to the Irish tradition, there are hints that similar modes were used in Wales. The Welsh word gan, meaning 'song', seems to link with the gantrai, or joy-mode, while the Welsh suogan, or 'lullaby', may derive from the suantrai, or sleep mode. As regards the grief mode, there is a medieval manuscript (Penllyn) of ancient Welsh harp music written in triangular notation which is believed to contain early bardic melodies. One of these was composed for the funeral of Ivan the Smith using the bragod-gywair or 'bitter-sweet' mode.In spite of the guesswork involved in its reconstruction, the insistent and unfamiliar harmonies of this music make it one of the strangest and most poignant pieces ever heard.

Music featured with The Three Noble Strains
The Chanter, trad. Irish. arr. Hamilton.Uillean Pipes : Francis Macilduff
Song of Llwelyn, Son of Ifan, the son of the Smith, ancient Welsh from Penllyn Manuscript
Tiocfaidh an Samradh (The Summer will Come), trad. Irish, arr. Hamilton
Death Song of Ivan the Smith, ancient Welsh from Penllyn Manuscript
Thugamar fein an Samhradh linn - old Irish air arr. Hamilton
Deirin De - old Irish lullaby arr. Hamilton

The Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach
This Welsh legend is set in the area around the Black Mountain in Mid Wales. Llyn y Fan Fach, means 'Lake of the Little Peak'. This is a curious seal-shaped basin of water set high up in the Black Mountain beneath an overhanging peak of rock. Although now a reservoir, the lake has not lost its strange atmosphere.

When it first appeared in popular print at the beginning of the 19th century, the tale took hold of the imagination and, for some years, crowds would gather at the lakeside at the beginning of August in the hope of 'seeing the waters boil' and the lady appear.

Some versions of the legend explain that the lady, being one of the Tylwyth Teg, the Welsh faerie people, has an aversion to iron, and it is this which renders her so tired when she tries to saddle the horse. However , when placed beside the Irish tale, traces of the three musical moods of the faerie people can be clearly seen here.

The Three Physicians of Myddfai are historical figures. Their father, Rhiwallon was Court Physician to Rhys Gryg who died in 1233. The three sons were called Cadwgan, Gruffydd and Einion, and their descendants practised medicine in the Myddfai area, using herbal remedies for all kinds of ailments. A manuscript of the physicians' remedies is held in the British Museum. Renewed interest in the Physicians has prompted the National Botanic Garden of Wales at Llanarth to construct a Physic Garden incorporating herbs once used by them.

Music featured with The Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach
Fy Nghalon (My Heart), trad. Welsh arr. Hamilton
Song of the Waves - Claire Hamilton
Mae 'Ngaariad I'n Fenws (My Love She's a Venus) trad.Welsh arr. Hamilton
Owein Glendwr, trad. Welsh arr. Hamilton
Bard's Lament, trad. Welsh arr. Hamilton
Suo Gan, trad. Welsh lullaby arr. Hamilton
Death Song of Ivan the Smith, old Welsh from Penllyn Manuscript
The Queen's March, trad, Welsh arr. Hamilton
Rhiwabon, trad. Welsh arr. Hamilton
Serendipity, Claire Hamilton

Sir Garwain and the Lady Ragnell
This tale comes from an early Irish story concerning Niall of the Nine Hostages, first recorded in the 11th century and found in both the 'yellow Book of Lecan' and the 'Book of Ballymote'. It tells how three princes, lost while out hunting in a forest, encounter an old hag who guards a well. She will only give them water if they consent to kiss her. Niall is the only one prepared to do this and, he kisses her, she transforms into a beautiful maiden and tells him she is Sovereignty. As Goddess of the Land, she bestows the kingdom on him.

The tale reappeared in the Arthurian canon, where it fitted well with the new Courtly Love ideal. Here Gawain, the hero of the tale, is given a strongly chivalric gloss. Yet his character derives from a Celtic warrior named Gwalchmai: 'The Hawk of May'. In the earlier Arthurian Romances, before Lancelot appears on the scene, it is Gawain who represents the flower of chivalry, being depicted as the most courteous knight and the supreme champion of women.

This chivalric tale became very popular in the Middle Ages, the Loathly Lady motif becoming a strong theme in the Holy Grail canon. Most famously, Chaucer used the story in his Canterbury Tales, putting it into the mouth of the Wife of Bath. It later appeared in Professor Child's collection of Scottish folk ballads, as 'The Marriage of Sir Gawain'. Although the first medieval version was probably recorded in the 15th century, the earliest extant version. 'The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle', can be found in a 16th century manuscript held in the Bodleian Library.

Music featured with Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnell
A l'entran d'este, mediaeval Lai by Blondel de Nesle arr. Hamilton
Italian Air by Alfonso XII el Sabio, arr. Hamilton
Cantiga de Sancta Maria by Alfonso el Sabio arr. Hamilton
Rown l'n Rhodio Mynwent Eglwys (Wand'ring Through the Churchyard) Welsh arr. Hamilton
Wild Swan(Solo harp version), trad Scottish, Claire Hamilton
Variation on : Arran Boat Song trad, Scottish, Claire Hamilton
Trop Penser me Font Amours, 13thcentury French, arr. Hamilton
Tafarn Y Rhos (The Tavern on the Moor) Welsh Ballad arr. Hamilton
Carmen Vernale 16th cent. mediaeval Danish arr. Hamilton
The Great Selchie - Scottish Ballad arr. Hamilton
Y Farn a Fydd (The Judgement) Welsh folksong arr. Hamilton
Lament of Tristan, 14th century Italian, arr. Hamilton
Ductia mediaeval 13th century French, arr .Hamilton
J'a Nuns Hon Pris/Rotrouenge, Mediaeval arr. Hamilton
Variation on Scottish ballad: Tam Lin, Claire Hamilton
Wild Swan, trad English, arr, Hamilton, Soprano Sax: John Dalton

All tracks published by Hamilton Harps unless otherwise noted.

About the artist
Claire Hamilton is a storyteller and writer who specializes in retelling myths and legends. She has written several books on Celtic and Greek mythology and the Arthurian Tradition. She also has an MA in 'The Bardic Tradition in Ireland' from Bristol University and was a founder member of the Company of Strangers, a theatre group giving bardic presentations of Celtic myths. She now runs workshops on myth and music and also performs as a solo storyteller, bringing to life the extraordinary power of the ancient tales.True to the bardic tradition, she uses her beautiful handcarved harp to weave spells around the tales as she tells them. She is well able to do this, having studied harp with Professor David Watkins from a young age. Besides her books, Claire has recorded several commercial albums on celtic harp. Details of her books and CD's can be found on her website:

The cover illustration is from a painting of Olwen by Alan Lee and is reproduced here with kind permission.
Lady playing harp, painting of Claire Hamilton by Claire Griffithsused by kind permission.
Harps played: Clarsach with carved woman's head by Mark Barlow.
Wire-strung harp by Gerald Fentler.It is based on 16th century Fitzgerald of Kildare Harp.
Album recorded at Free For Good Studios by Dave Pick who also advised artistically.
Produced by Nicholas John and Claire Hamilton www.greatmusic.co.uk

Copyright in the sound recording is owned by Hamilton Harps and issued under licence to The Cole's Press.

Album Information

Instruments: Lever Harp & Spoken word
Genre: Story telling
Format: Audio CD
Our Ref: A0315
Label: Cole's Press
Year: 2008
Origin: UK