The Irishman of Pentre Gwyn

The other visitor who is living still on the curtains of my memory is Martin the Pedlar. Martin was an Irishman and he had inherited quite a bit of the wit and humour of the children of the Green Isle. He was not as tidy nor was he as clean as Eos Mawddwy (another regular visitor – Trans.) but he was as merry as the cuckoo and he had a cheerful greeting for everyone. He had learned some Welsh, rough and ready, but it did the job fine for his trade. He would carry a basket which was strapped to his back and in that basket he had as much of a mixumgatherum, if not even more, than Noah had in the Ark! There would be pins, cloths, ribbons, combs, toys, laces, etc.
There would be fine old arguments between Martin and the ladies on the doorstep. To begin with, the things would be “too dear” – for no particular reason. Then the lady of the house would declare that she had “no money at all”. “Well”, Martin would say, “haven’t ye got no rags, nor maybe not even the skin of a rabbit? Sure I’ll take something like that in place of money.”
I remember how one time I had two or three rabbit skins. I went to get them from the shed.
“What will I get from you for these, Martin?”
“Hold on there, lad; let me see what I’ve got in the basket.”
He pulled out a cluster of thingumajigs, and eventually he caught hold of a number of old papers.
“Tell me, can you read English? Well, here I have a paper for you that I bought in the Big House along with a lot of other things, – the Bow Bells.”
“What will you do with a thing like that?” said mam. But I had already fallen in fancy for the “papers” and the bargain was made. Martin got the rabbit skins and I got the Bow Bells.
A small event, one of no significance. True enough; but it was the beginning of a new era in the story of the mind of one boy yn ‘Y Pentre Gwyn’ (‘The Happy Village’). Many was the blissful hour I spent after that in the bedroom window, reading the Bow Bells! A new world opened to my imagination. And on many a bright moonlit night, when its silvery beams would mingle with the deep shadows in ‘Coed y Barcud’ (‘Kite Wood’), I would be sitting in the window, and I would think that I could see the “knight’ emerging from the trees to rescue the “maiden” who had been taken away by force to the enemy’s castle!
Perhaps many of the stories that I read in the Bow Bells may seem quite incredible by now; but, say what you will, they were the happy companions of life’s morning; and in experiencing them my eyes were opened to a world of magic and of enchantment, an immortal land of romance and of dreams.
Martin the Pedlar! It is now many years since you departed from the table of play. You gave a lot of amusement on your way, even if you did play the occasional ‘Irish trick’ with your bargains! The world has changed and speeded up since those days when you would have to spend half an hour in selling a set of pins! But if you were still in the land of the living, I would like to see you once again so that I could tell you how much I treasure that day when I got the Bow Bells from you in exchange for rabbit skins. To tell the truth, Martin, I have had no cause to regret that ‘bargain’.
By now the ‘old papers’ have gone the way of all the world, apart from one page, yellow and brittle. That one has survived everything and is kept in a volume of Orthodox divinity! I look at it from time to time, and a kind of longing – hiraeth (say ‘heereyth’) – for the happy days – the “long, long ago” – touches my heart. Again I see Martin with his basket on the doorstep; again I see my own self sitting in the bedroom window as the sun went down, afraid that the day would draw to a close before I had finished reading the story of the “Black Knight” in the Bow Bells!

From the autobiographical book Y Pentre Gwyn ('The White Village'), published in 1909, by Anthropos (Robert David Rowland), minister, journalist and poet, who was born near Corwen, North Wales, in 1853 and died in 1944.

Translation: Wales Famine Forum.

Cymraeg / In Welsh.

Gaeilge / In Irish.

Published (under the title Martin the Pedlar.) in
The Green Dragon No 4, Autumn, 1997.