Welsh Death Omens and Famous Ghost Stories
Welsh Death Omens
There is an abundance of Omens of death in Wales. Here are some of them.
The Canwyll Corph or corpse candles.
The ghostly lights, which are interpreted as a sign of impending death, were common throughout Wales. They are called candles for ‘their resemblance, not to the body of the candles but the fire’.
The candles are said to travel on a fixed route, possibly the same path a sick or a dying person will follow on the way to their upcoming funeral, and will change in appearance if they come within close proximity of a human being:
The colours, quantities, and the direction of the corpse candles can also affect their meaning: If the lights are small and of a pale blue colour, they predict the death of a child. if large and ruddy the death of a person in the prime of life. If large and pale blue or white the death of an old person who has been long ailing.
The Hag of the Dribble
The Hideous Gwrach-Y-Rhibyn or Hag of the Mist or The Hag of The Dribble. Haunts only old Welsh families. As the Banshee haunts the old Irish. She takes the form of dreadful old hag with piercing black eyes and huge scaly black wings. They fly to the windows of those about to die moaning and wailing, tapping the glass with their long fingernails.
This was a bird, like the Gwrach y Rhibyn, that comes flapping its wings against the window of the room in which lay a sick person, and this visit was considered a certain omen of that person’s death. The bird not only fluttered about the lighted window, but also made a screeching noise whilst there, and also as it flew away. This bird, singled out for the dismal honour of being a death prognosticator, was the tawny, or screech owl. Many are the instances, which have been told me by persons who heard the bird’s noise, of its having been the precursor of death.
The Cyoeraeth is a spirit also similar to the Gwrach y Rhibyn. It has a cold and chilling voice, dishevelled hair, cadaverous body, long black teeth, and long withered arms; most often it is said to be female. Seldom seen but often heard the Cyoeraeth’s roar was enough to cause a man to freeze up, his body locked with fear. It is sometimes heard making gentle splashing sounds near water while weeping, “my husband, my, husband” or “my child, my child” in a woman’s voice or “my wife, my wife” if in a man’s. In some regions hearing the Cyoeraeth is considered to be a death omen.
The death rappings are said to be heard in carpenters’ workshops and that they resembled the noise made by a carpenter when engaged in coffin-making. A respectable miner’s wife had a female friend who had told her that she had often heard this noise in a carpenter’s shop close by her abode. One Sunday evening this friend came and told her that the Tolaeth was at work then and if she would come with her, she should hear it. She complied and there she heard this peculiar sound and was thoroughly frightened. There was no one in the shop at the time, the carpenter and his wife being in chapel. Sometimes this noise also was heard by the person who was to die, but generally by his neighbours.
In the Mines
Ghostly sounds are also heard down the mines in Wales as a warning known as Coblynau Mine Goblins or Nocars Knockers.
Cŵn Annwn “Hounds of Annwn” were the spectral hounds of Annwn, the otherworld of Welsh myth. In Wales, they are associated with migrating geese, supposedly because their honking in the night is reminiscent of barking dogs.
It is believed “the howling of these huge dogs foretold death to anyone who heard them. According to Welsh folklore, their growling is loudest when they are at a distance, and as they draw nearer, it grows softer and softer.
Famous Welsh ghost stories
Dylan Thomas’s Boat House
Home to Dylan Thomas for the last four years of his life this “sea-shaken house on a breakneck of rocks” is imbued with his literary, if not literal, spirit.
In the tiny blue painted work shed that perch precariously at the very edge of the cliff, he wrote what is perhaps his best-known poem Do Not Go Gentle into that Goodnight.
He died in November 1953 while on a lecture tour of America, his body being brought back to Laugharne and buried beneath a simple white cross in the nearby cemetery.
With his widow Caitlin unwilling to live in the boathouse his mother, Florence, became the tenant, staying until she died here in 1958.
It is her ghost that is believed to haunt the house which is now a shrine to the memory of her famous son.
Staff have often been surprised when opening the premises at the beginning of the day to hear the sound of a chair scraping over the floor upstairs, as though someone has quickly risen from a table to avoid them.
On entering the boathouse, they will find that lights that were definitely switched off the previous evening have mysteriously been turned on overnight, while books have been knocked off the shelves and, on occasions, pictures have been lifted off the walls and placed on the opposite side of the upstairs room.
The Captain’s Wife Pub
Located on a rocky stretch of coastline which contains important paleontological specimens, oozes rural charm and rustic character. Pirates and smugglers often visited Sully Island, which can be reached (with care) from the pub during low tide. The pub is reputedly haunted by several spirits, including the ghost of the captain’s wife who often appears as a dark, disoriented shadow. The story dates from at least the 16th century, when the wife of Colonel Rhys fell in love with a young sailor. The lovers arranged to run away together but Colonel Rhys discovered them and challenged the sailor to a duel. The sailor won and the lovers escaped to sea, where Mrs. Rhys drowned.
Dating back to the 13th century, it’s no surprise that one of Wales’ largest castles has plenty of legends surrounding it. Perhaps the most famous is its ghosts, which have been spotted by various residents over the centuries. In 1780, an elderly woman staying there claimed a man in a gold-laced suit entered her room and led her through the castle to find a hidden chest and key. Reports of pianos playing by themselves, knocks on doors with no one around, and invisible hands grabbing at you as you walk downstairs are just some of the stories that have given Powis Castle a spooky reputation. The site is run by the National Trust.
The Skirrid Mountain Inn
Supposedly the most haunted pub in Wales, The Skirrid Mountain Inn just north of Abergavenny used to be a courthouse and jail. Behind the bar, you can still see the beam from which 180 of the prisoners were hanged. Although there is no documentary evidence that he ever sat in person at the courtroom, Hanging Judge Jeffreys is rumoured to stalk the upper floors of the Inn, no doubt looking for felons to condemn to death. One such felon, a sheep rustler named John Crowther, has reportedly put in many appearances throughout the inn. The malevolent presence of Judge Jeffreys’ hangman has also been reported, along with those of several other hanged felons.
Not all the Skirrid’s reported spirits are criminal or malevolent in nature. They include a local clergyman, Father Henry Vaughn, whose presence has been reported as friendly and harmless. Fanny Price, who worked at the inn during the 18th century, is said to be very active throughout the pub. It is believed Fanny died of consumption in 1873, aged just 35. She is reportedly most active in Room 3. Other ghostly occurrences include sightings of a spirit dubbed the White Lady, the sound of soldiers in the courtyard, the rustling of an unseen lady’s dress, a powerful scent of perfume, and glasses flying off the bar unaided by human hands. An estimated ten to fifteen glasses are broken in this way every week. In fact, glasses began to fly around the bar as a former landlady, Heather Grant, negotiated a potential sale of the Inn
Visitors, often totally unaware of the inn’s haunted history, have reported a variety of disturbing phenomena. On more than one occasion, guests have complained of feeling as if they were being strangled, shortly before the appearance of welts on their necks, resembling rope burns. Other guests have become overwhelmed with dizziness, nausea or fear on the stairs, or complained of a palpable but invisible presence passing them at the same spot.
Built between 1577-1580, Plas Mawr is ornately decorated with fireplaces and colourful plasterwork, and reputedly haunted by its first owner Robert Wynn (1520-1598) who died of a broken heart. Wynn supposedly searches the rooms for vengeance against a young doctor who was so scared to treat Wynn’s injured wife and baby son that he tried to escape up the chimney. Left on their own, both mistress and child died, and the doctor got stuck and also perished.
It was not known why Ffrith Farm was troubled by a Ghost; but when the servants were busily engaged in cheese making the Spirit would suddenly throw mortar, or filthy matter, into the milk, and thus spoil the curds. The dairy was visited by the Ghost, and there he played havoc with the milk and dishes. He sent the pans, one after the other, around the room, and dashed them to pieces. The terrible doings of the Ghost were a topic of general conversation in those parts. The farmer offered a reward of five pounds to anyone who would lay the Spirit. One Sunday afternoon, about 2 o’clock, an aged priest visited the farmyard, and in the presence of a crowd of spectators exorcised the Ghost, but without effect. In fact, the Ghost waved a woman’s bonnet right in the face of the priest. The farmer then sent for Griffiths, an independent minister at Llanarmon, who enticed the Ghost to the barn. Here the Ghost appeared in the form of a lion, but he could not touch Griffiths, because he stood in the centre of a circle, which the lion could not pass over. Griffiths persuaded the Ghost to appear in a less formidable shape, or otherwise he would have nothing to do with him. The Ghost next came in the form of a mastiff, but Griffiths objected even to this appearance; at last, the Ghost appeared as a fly, which was captured by Griffiths and secured in his tobacco box and carried away. Griffiths acknowledged that this Ghost was the most formidable one that he had ever conquered.
A couple of workmen engaged at Foelas, the seat of the late Squire Griffiths, thought they would steal a few apples from the orchard for their children, and for this purpose one evening, just before leaving off work, they climbed up a tree. But happening to look down, whom should they see but the Squire, wearing his three-cornered hat and dressed in the clothes he used to wear when alive, and he was leaning against the trunk of the tree on which they were perched. In great fright they dropped to the ground and took to their heels. They ran without stopping to Bryn Coch, but there, to their horror, stood the Squire in the middle of the road, quietly leaning on his staff. They again avoided him and ran home every step, without looking behind them. The orchard robbers never again saw their late master, nor did they ever again attempt to rob the orchard.
Llyn-Nâd-y-Forwyn (The Lake of Nad the Maid).
It is said that a young man was about to marry a young girl, and on the evening before the wedding they were rambling along the water’s side together. But the man was false and loved another better than the woman whom he was about to wed. They were alone in an unfrequented country and the deceiver pushed the girl into the lake to get rid of her to marry his sweetheart. She lost her life but ever afterwards her Spirit troubled the neighbourhood and chiefly the scene of her murder. Sometimes she appeared as a ball of fire, rolling along the river Colwyn; at other times she appeared as a lady dressed in silk, taking a solitary walk along the banks of the river. At other times, groans and shrieks were heard coming out of the river, just such screams as would be uttered by a person who was being murdered. Sometimes a young maiden was seen emerging out of the waters, half naked, with dishevelled hair that covered her shoulders and the country resounded with her heart-rending crying as she appeared in the lake. The frequent crying of the Spirit gave to the lake its name, Llyn-Nâd-y-Forwyn (The Lake of Nad the Maid).
The Old Rectory at Llandegla
The tale of this Spirit was told by Mr. Roberts, late Schoolmaster of Llandegla. | A small river runs close to the secluded village of Llandegla, and in this mountain stream under a huge stone lies a wicked Ghost. | The tale is as follows: —| The old Rectory at Llandegla was haunted. The Spirit was very troublesome, and no peace was to be got because of it; every night it was at its work. A person of the name of Griffiths, who lived at Graianrhyd, was sent for to lay the Ghost. He came to the Rectory, but the Spirit could not be overcome. It is true Griffiths saw it, but in such a form that he could not approach it. Night after night, the Spirit appeared in various forms, but still the conjurer was unable to master it. At last, it came to the wise man in the form of a fly, which Griffiths immediately captured and placed in a small box. This box he buried under a large stone in the river, just below the bridge, near the Llandegla Mills, and there the Spirit is to remain until a certain tree, which grows by the bridge, reaches the height of the parapet. When this takes place, the Spirit shall have power to regain his liberty. To prevent this tree from growing, the school children, even to this day, nip the upper branches and thus limit its upward growth.