Llanfair Wakes

There was a man, long years ago, lived up in Skyborry
David ap-Evan was his name, a farmworker was he
Those days in Llanfair Waterdine each year they held a fair
And David dearly wished to go and see the wonders there.

“Gaffer, today is Llanfair Wakes; I’d dearly love to see
The doings that I’ve heard of there, if you can just spare me.”
Said farmer, “Not this year; why, mon, myself I have to go.
While I’m away, you must stay and scare away the crows.”

So David went down to the field, though he thought it wunna fair
And while he stood and grumbled, he saw a stranger there.
“David, it’s the Wakes today: why aren’t you at Llanfair?”
“Cos gaffer says to stay home, these ruddy crows to scare.”

Says the stranger, “Come with me, for I mean you no harm,”
And straightaway he called the crows and shut them in the barn.
So David went down to the Wake, and coming to Llanfair
He’d scarce been minutes in the place when he met the farmer there.

When he told the farmer what had passed, the mon began to rail:
Says he, “You think I’m simple, but I’ll not believe that tale!”
So back they went together, and the farmer said no word
Till they opened up the old barn door, and out flew all the birds.

“David, this is Devil’s work,” said farmer with a frown.
“I think you’d best be on your guard next time he comes around.”
Sure enough, before too long back the owd devil did roll,
A-tempting him to this and that till he feared for his soul.

One day as he was sowing wheat, the Devil told him straight,
“David, you must let me have half your crop of wheat,
So tell me which is my share, and you may keep the rest.”
“Why, take the roots!” said David, and so he came off best.

And sure enough the Devil came by as he was planting spuds.
Surely thinking this time he’d do himself some good.
“I’ve a mind to try some tater pie” says he, being cute,
“And I’ll not be caught out twice, me lad, so this time you’ll take the roots.”

Says David, “Twice I’ve bested thee, and third time pays for all:
But there’s a job you’ll do for me, if you mun take my soul.
Fetch me water from Llanfair up here to Skyborry,
And for summat to carry it in, this owd sieve I’ll give to thee.”

Owd Joseph tried, and tried his best, but no water could he bring.
“Third time pays for all,” said David with a grin.
“Uncle Joe, I’ve bested thee: you’d best be on your way,
And if you call this way again you can bring some tater pie!”

In course of time old David died, and when they read his will
It said “When I die, fling my heart onto the owd dunghill.
A raven and dove will fight for it, and then by that you’ll know:
If the dove wins, I’m for heaven; if the raven, for Uncle Joe.”

“And when my corpse you come to take, dunna go by the door,
Nor yet by any window, nor by any path or road.
And when you come to bury me, you’d best be on your guard:
Be certain not to lay me in church, or in churchyard.”

So they took some slates from off the roof to lift him through the gap,
And carried him along the dykes, and not by any path.
They laid him with his head in church, his feet in the churchyard,
And there he lay until at last Llanfair church was restored.

This is based on another story from ‘An Idler On The Shropshire Borders’, by Ida Gandy, told to her by a Mr Powell from Treverward, about halfway between Clun and Llanfair Waterdine. I’m not sure yet whether to put a tune to it or leave it as a recitation – poem seems a bit too grandiose a name for it. 🙂

According to Wikipedia,  “Skyborry” is an anglicisation of the Welsh for barn – ysgubor”. Llanfair or Llanvair means St Mary’s Church, while Waterdine denotes a place by the water.

(c) David Harley

Author: David Harley

Musician/singer/songwriter; independent author/editor

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