Gwales is an island mentioned in the Second Branch. It is thought to be the island now named Grassholm, off the Pembrokeshire coast.
The Seven Survivors of devastating war in Ireland go there, after staying seven years in Harlech, NW Wales. Branwen, the queen of Ireland and their king’s sister, has by now died near Harlech of a broken heart that so many good men had been killed because of her.
The Seven Survivors were Pryderi, Manawydan, Glifieu Eil Taran, Taliesin and Ynawg, Gruddieu son of Muriel and Heilyn son of Gwyn the Old.
On Gwales they found a beautiful hall open to them. They stayed there eighty years with no sense of time passing.
With them they had the head of Bendigeidfran, who had been their king, the king of Britain.
Manawydan, brother to Bendigeidfran, one of the Seven Survivors, had recognised a certain door which they must not open, and he warned his companions about it.
But Heilyn son of Gwyn eventually went to it and opened it out of curiosity. As soon as he opened it and looked out towards Cornwall, memory returned to the Seven. Once they remembered their lives they felt urgently they should carry out Bendigeidfran’s last instruction, which was to take his severed head to London, so that is what they did.
Grassholm today, if that is the Gwales of legend, is a bleak rocky little isle inhabited now by thousands of puffins and little else. It is hard to see how it could support a great hall and feasting. Still the Gwales sojourn was all about magic.
Pron. GWAR -less.
(First published 20/07/2014: Shan Morgain)