If you’ve lived in Caernarfon for any amount of time, you’re sure to be aware of the ‘ancient’ tale of Gelert, the dog ‘buried’ at Beddgelert who was killed in error by his master, Llywelyn ab Iorwerth.
But what you may not know is that the story was made up – or at least, rewritten – by the 18th century landlord of the village pub, to help increase tourism to the village.
According to the tale Gelert was left guarding Llywelyn’s baby son while the prince was out hunting. On his return, Llywelyn found the baby’s cradle overturned and the dog’s face covered in blood. He put two and two together and decided the dog must have killed the baby. Distraught, he slew the hound, only to then discover the baby unharmed beneath the crib, and the bloodied body of a wolf dead in the corner. Gelert was given a hero’s burial and the headstone on the grave tells of his bravery.
In fact, versions of this story appear all over the world, in a number of different languages, and they’re older than the Beddgelert story. The oldest known version of the tale comes from India, where it’s a mongoose killing a snake rather than a dog killing a wolf. In the Persian version it’s a cat, while in Malaysia the hero is a tame bear and the villain a wild tiger. In France and other Western European countries, more often than not the hero of the piece is a dog, and that’s the version that was adopted in Beddgelert.
The genius behind the Welsh version of the legend was one David Pritchard, who in 1793 was proprietor of the Royal Goat Inn. He took a local tale of a dog called Cilhart, who was buried at Beddgelert, and merged it with the traditional ‘hero dog’ story, making up the name ‘Gelert’ as he went along. He and the other villagers created the engraved slate slabs that commemorate the dog’s bravery, and passed them off as ancient.
As a strategy for boosting tourism, we can only assume that it worked, as Beddgelert is today an extremely popular location for tourists and a highly desirable place to live, to boot – one only has to look at the property prices in the village to see what we mean!
In a similar vein is the full name of the Anglesey village of Llanfairpwll; again, fabricated by local businesses to boost tourism, a strategy which has helped to bring goodness knows how many tourists to the village over the years.
King Arthur, too, has his part to play; as we explored in our recent blog post, the Celtic warlord’s legendary connections with the Snowdonia region have helped to keep tourism numbers up in the area, aided to some degree by the imminent release of the new Hollywood blockbuster movie about Arthur’s adventures.
So, if you have an old family story about Caernarfon, or the surrounding area, we’d love to hear it – and make sure you tell visitors to the town if you get a chance, because storytelling is an art that we Welsh do particularly well and there’s nothing quite like a ripping yarn when it comes to fostering ‘sense of place’ and keeping the visitors coming!