Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters – Where Words Can Take You

Walking across Green Park a few days ago, a friend and I were bemoaning how dusk comes too early at this time of the year. Then we cheered up by reminding ourselves that, by now, the days are already drawing out.

CockerelA journey of words:

Cam ceiliog is the phrase that was always used by the mother of my Welsh friend, Beryl. No sooner had the shortest day gone by than she’d be reminding us how, from now on, the days would be drawing out. Cam ceiliog is Welsh for the cockerel’s step, the general inference being that, while the days get longer only bit by bit, we can all be certain that the steps do happen.

On our walk through Green Park, the Welsh phrase caused some discussion. Could there be any connection with the Scottish word, capercaillie which so brilliantly summons up the idea of stepping? Next day – for the friend in question was the renowned translator, Margaret Jull Costa – I got an email from her elucidating this question. Any connection between ceiliog and capercaillie? ‘No,’ she said, detailing the relevant etymologies, ‘no connection at all.’

However, word-expert and word-forager as my friend is, I received another email from her a day or two later. This one referred to the fact that, on our walk,  I’d happened to say that ceiliog, the Welsh word for cockerel, reminded me of Kellogg’s, the company that makes Cornflakes and so many other breakfast cereals.

Ah now! Margaret had pursued this link and was now writing to tell me it wasn’t just me that had seen a connection between that Welsh word for cockerel and Kellogg’s. Someone else had done exactly the same quite a few years ago: none other than the world-famous harpist, Nansi Richards, who died back in 1979. Evidently, during a harp-playing tour in the United States, Nansi Richards had at one point visited the home of Will Kellogg who, at the time, had been looking for a marketing emblem for his company.

And what had he finally chosen? Why, a cockerel. And why did he choose it? Well, according to the story, because Nansi Richards had told him how his surname, Kellogg, reminded her of the Welsh word, ceiliog. So that’s how the cockerel became the Kelloggs emblem and although Wikipedia says the story may be apocryphal, I like it – and even more so  because that same Wikipedia entry led me to another intriguing association.

Wikipedia records that although Nansi Richards lived in Swansea in the latter part of her life, she was buried in North Wales at the Church of St Melangell. The only time I’ve been to that church was in the company of storyteller Helen East and her partner, musician Rick Wilson who happen to live near by. The church is in a green, secluded valley full of trees and an air of magic that permeates the legend of St Melangell herself. The story is one I’ve often loved to tell.

The Legend of St Melangell:

Melangell was a well-born woman who was born and brought up in Ireland. But when her father began organising for her to be married to an Irish prince, she wanted none of it. She was a peace-loving young woman and the Irish princes then were forever warring with each other. Wanting no part of her father’s plan, she chose to flee over the sea to Wales.

In Wales, Melangell made her way on foot and alone, seeking refuge somewhere quiet. Eventually, she came to the wooded valley where she would live for the rest of her life and in that place of solitude, she became part of its natural life, befriending and befriended by its creatures. No-one knew of her existence there – not until the day when the Prince of Powys, out hunting in that very part of his domains, followed the cries of his hounds as they stirred up a hare and chased it.

As the Prince of Powys chased after his hounds, he became suddenly aware of a deep and surprising quiet. The barking of his hounds  had ceased altogether and when he came close to where they were, he saw they were standing back, silenced and staring. Before them was a beautiful maiden and in the folds of her gown where it reached the ground, was a small white hare, the white hare that the hounds had been chasing.

On that very day, the Prince of Powys declared that never again would there be any hunting in the valley where Melangell lived. The valley became a protected place and, eventually, the place where Melangell herself was laid to rest. In the church that was built in memory of her are carvings of the creatures it was her pleasure to protect.

From the step of the cockerel to the saving of a hare, my word trail that started in Green Park became a journey that travelled back and fore between friends and words and memories and stories. Threading through it all is the love so many of us share of the natural world and its creatures.


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2 Responses to “Storytelling Starters – Where Words Can Take You”

  1. fiona Says:

    Helo Mary

    Daeth Nansi Richards yn wreiddiol o Benybontfawr. Pan roedd yr Eisteddfod Genedlaethol ym Meifod yn 2015, wnaeth plant yr ardal ei dathlu hi, gan berfformio ddrama ar y Maes am ei bwyyd. Weles i rhan ohono fo ym Maes D pan wnaethon Marion a finnau yno i adrodd straeon. Cafodd fy hoff diwtor, Eirian Conlon Yr Wyddgrug, ei dysgu sut i ganu’r delyn yn ferch ifanc gan ‘Anti Nansi’, sef Nansi Richards ei hun. Ond don i ddim yn gwybod fod bedd Nansi ym Mhennant Melangell, er dwi wedi bod yno sawl gwaith – ond erioed gyda ti, yn anffodus … Felly diolch am y wybodaeth.

  2. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Hi Fiona, diolch yn fawr am dy neges. Pleser cael neges yn Gymraeg. Dyw e’ ddim yn digwydd yn aml. Mae Pennant Melangell yn lle hyfryd, ond dyw e? Byddaf fi’n hoffi mynd nol i weld bedd Nansi hefyd. Gobeithio bod ti’n cadw’n iawn. Pob cariad o Lundain. Mary xxx

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