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Y Fuwch Gyfeiliorn The Stray Cow


Source: Welsh Folk-lore

The history of the Fairy Stray Cow appears in Y Brython, vol. iii., pp.
183-4. The writer of the story states that he obtained his materials
from a Paper by the late Dr. Pugh, Penhelyg, Aberdovey. The article
alluded to by Gwilym Droed-ddu, the writer of the account in the
Brython, appeared in the Archaeologia Cambrensis for 1853, pp. 201-5.
The tale, as given by Dr. Pugh, is reproduced by Professor Rhys in his
Welsh Fairy Tales, and it is much less embellished in English than in
Welsh. I will quote as much of the Doctor's account as refers to the
Stray Cow.

A shrewd old hill farmer (Thomas Abergroes by name), well skilled in the
folk-lore of the district, informed me that, in years gone by, though
when, exactly, he was too young to remember, those dames (Gwragedd
Annwn) were wont to make their appearance, arrayed in green, in the
neighbourhood of Llyn Barfog, chiefly at eventide, accompanied by their
kine and hounds, and that, on quiet summer nights in particular, these
ban-hounds were often to be heard in full cry, pursuing their prey--the
souls of doomed men dying without baptism and penance--along the upland
township of Cefnrhosucha. Many a farmer had a sight of their comely,
milk-white kine; many a swain had his soul turned to romance and poesy by
a sudden vision of themselves in the guise of damsels arrayed in green,
and radiant in beauty and grace; and many a sportsman had his path
crossed by their white hounds of supernatural fleetness and comeliness,
the Cwn Annwn; but never had any one been favoured with more than a
passing view of either, till an old farmer residing at Dyssyrnant, in the
adjoining valley of Dyffryn Gwyn, became at last the lucky captor of one
of their milk-white kine. The acquaintance which the Gwartheg y Llyn,
the kine of the lake, had formed with the farmer's cattle, like the loves
of the angels for the daughters of men, became the means of capture; and
the farmer was thereby enabled to add the mystic cow to his own herd, an
event in all cases believed to be most conducive to the worldly
prosperity of him who should make so fortunate an acquisition. Never was
there such a cow, never were there such calves, never such milk and
butter, or cheese; and the fame of the Fuwch Gyfeiliorn, the stray cow,
was soon spread abroad through that central part of Wales known as the
district of Rhwng y ddwy Afon, from the banks of the Mawddach to those of
the Dofwy (Dovey)--from Aberdiswnwy to Abercorris. The farmer, from a
small beginning, rapidly became, like Job, a man of substance, possessed
of thriving herds of cattle--a very patriarch among the mountains. But,
alas! wanting Job's restraining grace, his wealth made him proud, his
pride made him forget his obligation to the elfin cow, and fearing she
might soon become too old to be profitable, he fattened her for the
butcher, and then even she did not fail to distinguish herself, for a
more monstrously fat beast was never seen. At last the day of slaughter
came--an eventful day in the annals of a mountain farm--the killing of a
fat cow, and such a monster of obesity. No wonder all the neighbours
were gathered together to see the sight. The old farmer looked upon the
preparations in self-pleased importance; the butcher felt he was about no
common feat of his craft, and, baring his arm, he struck the blow--not
now fatal, for before even a hair had been injured, his arm was
paralysed, the knife dropped from his hand, and the whole company was
electrified by a piercing cry that awakened an echo in a dozen hills, and
made the welkin ring again; and lo and behold! the whole assemblage saw a
female figure, clad in green, with uplifted arms, standing on one of the
rocks overhanging Llyn Barfog, and heard her calling with a voice loud as

'Dere di velen Einion,
Cyrn cyveiliorn--braith y Llyn,
A'r voel Dodin,
Codwch, dewch adre.'

'Come thou Einion's yellow one,
Stray horns--speckled one of the Lake,
And the hornless Dodin,
Arise, come home.'

And no sooner were these words of power uttered, than the original lake
cow, and all her progeny to the third and fourth generations, were in
full flight towards the heights of Llyn Barfog, as if pursued by the evil
one. Self-interest quickly roused the farmer, who followed in pursuit,
till, breathless and panting, he gained an eminence overlooking the lake,
but with no better success than to behold the green-attired dame
leisurely descending mid-lake, accompanied by the fugitive cows, and her
calves formed in a circle around her; they tossed their tails, she waved
her hands in scorn, as much as to say, 'You may catch us, my friend, if
you can,' as they disappeared beneath the dark waters of the lake,
leaving only the yellow water-lily to mark the spot where they vanished,
and to perpetuate the memory of this strange event. Meanwhile, the
farmer looked with rueful countenance upon the spot where the elfin herd
disappeared, and had ample leisure to deplore the effects of his
greediness, as with them also departed the prosperity which had hitherto
attended him, and he became impoverished to a degree below his original
circumstances, and in his altered circumstances few felt pity for one
who, in the noontide flow of prosperity, had shown himself so far
forgetful of favours received, as to purpose slaying his benefactor.
Thus ends Dr. Pugh's account of the Stray Cow.

A tale very much like the preceding is recorded of a Scotch farmer. It
is to be found in vol. ii., pp. 45-6, of Croker's Fairy Legends of
Ireland, and is as follows:--

A farmer who lived near a river had a cow which regularly every year, on
a certain day in May, left the meadow and went slowly along the banks of
the river till she came opposite to a small island overgrown with bushes;
she went into the water and waded or swam towards the island, where she
passed some time, and then returned to her pasture. This continued for
several years; and every year, at the usual season, she produced a calf
which perfectly resembled the elf bull. One afternoon, about Martinmas,
the farmer, when all the corn was got in and measured, was sitting at his
fireside, and the subject of the conversation was, which of the cattle
should be killed for Christmas. He said: 'We'll have the cow; she is
well fed, and has rendered good services in ploughing, and filled the
stalls with fine oxen, now we will pick her old bones.' Scarcely had he
uttered these words when the cow with her young ones rushed through the
walls as if they had been made of paper, went round the dunghill,
bellowed at each of her calves, and then drove them all before her,
according to their age, towards the river, where they got into the water,
reached the island, and vanished among the bushes. They were never more
heard of.

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