Wednesday, August 10, 2016


The location of the shore (W. traeth) of the river Tribruit has remained unresolved. The clue to its actual whereabouts may lie in the two possible meanings assigned to this place-name.

According to Kenneth Jackson (_Once Again A thur's Battles_, MODERN PHILOLOGY, August, 1945), Tribruit, W. tryfrwyd, was used as an a jective, meaning "pierced through", and sometimes as a noun meaning "battle". His rendering of traeth tryfrwyd was "the Strand of the Pierced or Broken (Place)". Basing his statement on the Welsh Traeth Tryfrwyd, Jackson said that "we should not look for a river called Tryfwyd but for a beach." However, Jackson later admitted (in The Arthur of History, ARTHURIAN LITERATURE IN THE MIDDLE AGES: A COLLABORATIVE HISTORY, ed. by Roger Sherman Loomis) that "the name (Traith) Tribruit may mean rather 'The Many-Coloured Strand' (cf. I. Williams in BBCS, xi [1943], 95).
Most recently Patrick Sims-Williams (in The Arthur of the Welsh, THE EARLY WELSH ARTHURIAN POEMS, 1991) has defined traeth tryfrwyd as the "very speckled shore" (try- here being the intensive prefix *tri-, cognate with L.  trans). Professor Sims-Williams mentions that 'trywruid' could also mean "bespattered [with blood]." I would only add that Latin litus does usually mean "seashore, beach, coast", but that it can also mean "river bank". Latin ripa, more often used of a river bank, can also have the meaning of "shore".

The complete listing of tryfrwyd from The Dictionary of Wales (information courtesy Andrew Hawke) is as follows:

2 [?_try-^2^+brwyd^2^_; dichon fod yma fwy
nag un gair [= "poss. more than one word here"]]
3 _a_. a hefyd fel _e?b_.
6 skilful, fine, adorned; ?bloodstained; battle,
7 12g. GCBM i. 328, G\\6aew yg coryf, yn toryf,
yn _tryfrwyd_ - wryaf.
7 id. ii. 121, _Tryfrwyd_ wa\\6d y'm pria\\6d
prydir, / Trefred ua\\6r, treul ga\\6r y gelwir.
7 id. 122, Keinuyged am drefred _dryfrwyd_.
7 13g. A 19. 8, ymplymnwyt yn _tryvrwyt_
7 Digwydd hefyd fel e. afon [="also occurs as
river name"] (cf.
8 Hist Brit c. 56, in litore fluminis, quod vocatur
_Tribruit_; 14 x CBT
8 C 95. 9-10, Ar traethev _trywruid_).
Tryfrwyd itself, minus the intensive prefix,
comes from:
[H. Grn. _bruit_, gl. _varius_, gl. Gwydd. _bre@'t_
3 _a_.
6 variegated, pied, chequered, decorated, fine;
bloodstained; broken, shattered, frail, fragile.
7 c. 1240 RWM i. 360, lladaud duyw arnam ny
am dwyn lleydwyt - _urwyt_ / llauurwyt escwyt
ar eescwyd.
7 c. 1400 R 1387. 15-16, Gnawt vot ystwyt
_vrwyt_ vriwdoll arnaw.
7 id. 1394. 5-6, rwyt _vrwyt_ vrwydyrglwyf rwyf
rwyd get.
7 15g. H 54a. 12.
The editors of GCBM (Gwaith Cynddelw
Brydydd) take _tryfrwyd_ to be a fem. noun =
'brwydr'. They refer to Ifor Williams, Canu Aneirin
294, and A.O.H. Jarman, Aneinin: Y
Gododdin (in English) p. 194 who translates
'clash', also Jarman, Ymddiddan Myrddin a Thaliesin,
pp. 36-7. Ifor Williams, Bulletin of the
Board of Celtic Studies xi (1941-4) pp. 94-6 suggests
_try+brwyd_ `variegated, decorated'.
On brwydr, the National Dictionary of Wales has
1 brwydr^1^
2 [dichon ei fod o'r un tarddiad a@^
_brwyd^1^_, ond cf. H. Wydd. _bri@'athar_ `gair']
3 _eb_. ll. -_au_.
6 pitched battle, conflict, attack, campaign,
struggle; bother, dispute, controversy; host, army.
7 13g. HGC 116, y lle a elwir . . . y tir gwaetlyt,
o achaus y _vrwyder_ a vu ena.
7 14g. T 39. 24.
7 14g. WML 126, yn dyd kat a _brwydyr_.
7 14g. WM 166. 32, _brwydreu_ ac ymladeu.
7 14g. YCM 33, llunyaethu _brwydyr_ a oruc
Chyarlymaen, yn eu herbyn.
7 15g. IGE 272, Yr ail gofal, dial dwys, /
_Brwydr_ Addaf o Baradwys.
7 id. 295.
7 1567 LlGG (Sall) 14a, a' chyd codei _brwydyr_
im erbyn, yn hyn yr ymddiriedaf.
7 1621 E. Prys: Ps 32a, Yno drylliodd y bwa a'r
saeth, / a'r _frwydr_ a wnaeth yn ddarnau.
7 1716 T. Evans: DPO 35, Cans _brwydr_ y
Rhufeiniaid a aethai i Si@^r Fo@^n.
7 1740 id. 336, _Brwydrau_ lawer o Filwyr arfog.

Dr. G. R. Isaac of The University of Wales, Abe ystywyth, in discussing brwyd, adds that:

"The correct Latin comparison is frio 'break up', both < Indo-European *bhreiH- 'cut, graze'. These words have many cognates, e.g. Latin fr uolus 'friable, worthless', Sanskrit bhrinanti 'they damage', Old Church Slavonic britva 'razor', and others. The Old British form of brwyd would have been *breitos. It is sometimes claimed that there is a possible Gaulish root cognate in brisare 'press out', but there are difficulties with that identification.

It may be worth stressing that the 'tryfrwyd' which means 'very speckled' and the 'tryfrwyd' which means 'piercing, pierced' are the same word, and that the latter is the historically pri mary meaning. The meaning 'very speckled' comes through 'bloodstained' from 'pierced' ('bloodstained' because 'pierced' in battle). But I do not think this has any bearing on the arguments.

Actually, Tryfrwyd MAY mean 'very speckled', but that is conjecture, not certain knowledge. Plausible conjecture, yes, but no more certain for that."

That "pierced" or "broken" is to be preferred as the meaning of Tribruit is plainly demonstrated by lines 21-22 of the _Pa Gur_ poem:

Neus tuc manauid - "Manawyd(an) brought
Eis tull o trywruid - pierced ribs (or, metaphorically, "timbers", and hence arms of any kind,
probably spears or shields; ) from Tryfrwyd"

Tull, "pierced", here obviously refers to Tribruit as "through-pierced".

Professor Hywel Wyn Owen, Director of the Place-Name Research Centre, University of Wales Bangor, has the following to say on traeth + river names (personal correspondence):

"There are only two examples of traeth + river name that I know of, both in Anglesey (Traeth Dulas, Traeth Llugwy) but there may well be others. The issue is still the same however. Where a river flows into the sea would normally be aber. The traeth would only be combined with the river name if the river name was also used of a wider geographical context, and became, say, the name of the bay. Hence traeth + bay name rather than traeth + river name directly."

In the poem, the shore of Tryfrwyd battle is listed one just prior to Din Eidyn and once just after the same fort (I will have more on the Pa Gur battle sites below). The Gwrgi Garwllwyd or ‘Man-dog Rough-grey’ who is also placed at Tryfrwyd has been associated with the Cynbyn or ‘Dog-heads’ Arthur fought at Din Eidyn.

Manawyd's role at Tryfrwyd may suggest that this river or its shore is to be found in or on the borders of Manau Gododdin, which was the district round the head of the Firth of Forth, whose name remains in Slamannan and Clackmannan.

The Fords of Frew west of Stirling have been proposed as the site of the battle, but Jackson claims W. frut or ffrwd, ‘stream’, cannot have yielded frwyd. Jackson also countered Skene's theory that this was the Forth, on the grounds that the Welsh name for the Forth, Gweryd, which would be *Guerit in OW.

The poem may be even more specific, in that Traeth Tryfrwyd is said to be 'ar eidin cyminauc' (line 28), ‘at Eidyn on the border’. Now, the ‘bo der’ here could be the Firth of Forth, but it is much more likely to be the line of division between Gododdin proper and Manau Gododdin.

The Cynbyn or ‘Dog-heads’ may partly owe their existence to the Coincenn daughter of Aedan, father of the Dalriadan Arthur, and to the Coinchend in the Irish story The Adventure of Art son of Conn. In this Irish tale, Art battles a monstrous woman named Coincenn or ‘Doghead’ who is a member of a tribe bearing the same name.”

The name of Art son of Conn's mother may be significant in this context. She was called Eithne, which was also the name of the mother of the god Lugh. The place-name Eidyn is of u known etymology. Because Din Eidyn was the capital of Lothian, and Lothian is derived from Middle Welsh Lleudinyawn, Brittonic *Lugudunia:non, land of ‘Lugh's (W. Lleu's) Fo tress’, it would be reasonable to suggest that Eidyn as Lugh's fortress represents a British form of Irish Eithne. Din Eidyn would then be the Fort of (the goddess) Eithne.

The Coincenn of the Irish are thought to be a reflection of the Classical Cynacephali.

Ole Munch-Pedersen cites the following note from Cecile Ó Rahilly text of the Irish heroic epic Cath Finntrágha or the “Battle of the White Strand” (Irish traigh is cognate with Welsh traeth):

"The Coinchinn or Coinchennaig are frequently mentioned in Irish literature. From the 8th cen-tury on the name was applied to pirates who ravaged Ireland. Cp. Thurneysen, Zu Ir. Hss., p. 24. In the Adventures of Art mac Cuinn they are represented as living in Tir na nIngnad whose King is called Conchruth (Éiriu III. 168). They are mentioned in a poem in the Book of the Dean of Lismore (Rel. Celt. I. 80) and in a poem is Duanaire Finn (xxxviii) where they are said to have invaded Ireland and been defeated by Finn. In the YBL tale Echtra Clérech Choluim Cille (RC XXVI 160 § 45, 161 § 48) men with dogs' heads are 'of the race of Ham or of Cain'. Similarly in the late romance Síogra Dubh the Caitchean-naigh and Coincheannaigh and Gabharchean-naigh are said to be do chinéal Caim mic Naoi (GJ XIX 99 5-6, cp. LU 122)." (Cath Finntrágha, (1962), lch. 65).

From the English translation of the Battle of Ventry/Cath Finntragha (

“'O soul, O Glas son of Dreman,' said the king of the world, 'not a harbour like this didst thou promise my fleet would find, but shores of white sand where my army might assemble for fairs and gatherings whenever they were not fighting.' 'I know a harbour like that in the west of Erinn,' said Glas, 'namely, Ventry Harbour… They went onward thence to Ventry, and filled the borders of the whole harbour so that the sea was not vis-ible between them, and the great barque of the king of the world was the first to take harbour, so that thenceforward its name was Rinn na Bairci (The Point of the Barque). And they let down their many-coloured linen-white sails, and raised their purple-mouthed speckled tents, and consumed their excellent savoury viands, and their fine intoxicating drinks, and their harps were brought to them for long playing, and their poets to sing their songs and their dark conceits to them...

Now, these hosts and armies came into Ciarraige Luachra and to red-maned Slieve Mis, and thence to Ventry Harbour. 'O Tuatha De Danand,' said Abartach, 'let a high spirit and courage arise within you in the face of the battle of Ventry. For it will last for a day and a year, and the deed of every single man of you will be related to the end of the world, and fulfil now the big words ye have uttered in the drinking- hous-es.' 'Arise,O Glas, son of Dreman,' said Bodb Derg the son of the Dagda ,'to announce combat for me to the king of the world.' Glas went where the king of the world was. 'O soul, O Glas,' said the king of the world, 'are those yonder the fi-anns of Erinn?' 'Not they,' said Glas, 'but anoth-er lot of the men of Erinn, that dare not to be on the surface of the earth, but live in sid-brugs (fairy mansions) under the ground, called the Tuatha De Danand, and to announce battle from them have I come.' 'Who will answer the Tuatha De Danand for me?' said the king of the world. 'We will go against them,' said two of the kings of the world, namely, Comur Cromgenn, the king of the men of the Dogheads, and Caitch-enn, the king of the men of the Catheads, and they had five red-armed battalions in order, and they went on shore forthwith in their great red waves.

'Who is there to match the king of the men of the Dogheads for me?' said Bodb Derg. 'I will go against him,'said Lir of Sid Finnachaid, 'though I have heard that there is not in the great world a man of stronger arm than he.’”

It is the Dogheads who would appear to hold the key to unravelling the Traeth Tryfrwyd mystery.  Thanks to Lothian native and place-name expert John Wilkinson, who consulted a friend on the matter, I have learned the following:

“Ardchinnechena<n> is a place which the St. Andrews Foundation Account B says was where Hungus son of Forso placed the head of the de-feated Saxon king Athelstan on a pole “within the harbour which is now called Queen’s Ferry” (i.e. North Queensferry?); and which the shorter Account calls Ardchinnechun.  Simon Taylor’s Fife Vol 3 offers ‘height/promontory of the head’ for the first and hints at a dindshenchas containing con ‘dog’ (in genitive) for the second.”

Ardchinnechena[n] is generally supposed to be the headland used by the Railway Bridge (see “Place-names of Fife”, vol. 1, 381-2, vol.3, 582-3).

This ‘Height of the Dog’s Head’ in North Queensferry Harbor reinforces my view that the Welsh tryfrwyd, ‘through-piered’, is an attempt to translate Latin trajectus, which has the exact literal meaning.  However, trajectus also was the word used for a river-crossing, like the one at Queensferry.

                                                                   North Queensferry

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