The Mabinogi

Places mentioned in the Second Branch of the Mabinogi


Introduction to the Second Branch

The following pages do not contain the whole of the tale. You must have a copy of the Mabinogi (unabridged if possible, but it does not matter which version) and any modern Ordnance Survey maps of the areas under consideration. But remember that the book was originally written in Middle Welsh, so the spellings are likely to vary between each version according to the editor's choice.

Branches 1, 2 & 3 of the Mabinogi do not contain as many place-names as the 4th branch which was largely set in Gwynedd. But this does not mean that the writers were less familiar with places outside Gwynedd. Words, idioms and pronunciation by writers who were obviously from South Wales characterize the whole work. After all, it was not the chief purpose of the story-tellers and later, scribes to give a detailed geographical description of Wales Of Old: the story itself was all.

The Four Branches of the Mabinogion form a complete work, not four separate parts. Only one character, Pryderi, appears in all four parts. The stories appear disconnected at times because, according to many scholars, some connecting tales have been lost over the centuries, but one theme connects the whole work – the life of Pryderi.

Yet it is possible to find additional information about places by looking closely at personal names. Sometimes some of the names appear to be unreal, perhaps the correct ones having been forgotten over the centuries. Therefore it is likely that the names were created to contain some of the attributes and origins of the character: e.g. Pwyll and Pryderi (“Sense” and “Concern”)

As with the fourth branch, we must bear in mind the nature of mediaeval society and its attitude to ages past. Often, its recent, as well as ancient, history is mingled with traditions which are likely to have had their origins in prehistoric times.

Viewing the Locations

Any modern Ordnance Survey maps of the areas under consideration are suitable. But the best way to see them all free on your screen is to open a separate page and go to - Internal link: Opens in a new window

Copy the O.S. map reference (e.g. SH581312) into the search box on the left.

The Second Branch

‘Bendigeidfran, son of Llyr was the crowned king of This Island (The Island of the Mighty – Britain) and possessor of the crown of London.’

Bendigeidfran and Branwen

(Bran “the Blessed” and Bran “the Pure/Holy”)

Bran, in the case of these names, means “raven” – a bird sacred to the Ancient Celts., But in general use it means “crow”, a name for several types of very common birds - which could therefore appear in any number of place-names without relating to the hero Bran and his sister.
Yet it is possible that the personal name Bran occurs in many place-names possibly reflecting how widespread the ancient religious cult was, but without having any particular link to this story.

Harlech (O.S. SH581312)

Harddlech – ‘The beautiful stone’. Location of Bendigeidfran’s castle.
This is the rock upon which the present castle was built in 1283. It was beside the sea during the Middle-Ages. But since then the sea has retreated and now it is almost a mile away.


Here is the first direct mention in the Mabinogion of somewhere outside Wales, and it is there to reflect how important London had become as the seat of power by the time the Mabinogion was written down.


  »»  A map showing the Main Divisions of Wales in the Middle Ages Internal link: Opens in a new window PDF Document (249kb)


A collection of small kingdoms ruled over by clan leaders who paid allegiance (sometimes!) to the High King of Ireland.


Perhaps he was one of the numerous clan leaders - there is nobody of this name in the long lists of the High Kings of Ireland. See - Internal link: Opens in a new window

Aberffraw (O.S. SH355689)

One of the courts of the Princes of Gwynedd in the Middle Ages.

Map of Branches 1 and 2

Tal Ebolion


  »»  A map showing the Main Divisions of Wales in the Middle Ages Internal link: Opens in a new window PDF Document (249kb)

This is an onomastic story - “The End of the Ridges” is a possible meaning rather than anything to do with horses.

In those days, marriage to foreigners was generally disapproved of in both of the countries, and perhaps by Efnisien in particular. He objected to the marriage because he had not been consulted about it.

As in “The Life of St Cadog”, the thieves' horses were mutilated (to draw attention to the criminals wherever they went) - therefore Matholwch was compared to a thief. Because of Efnisien’s actions, the Irish were given the Cauldron of Rebirth (Y Pair Dadeni) in compensation. In the first place, Llasar Llaes Gyfnewid (see below) gave this magic cauldron to Bendigeidfran.

Llyn y Pair

Somewhere in Ireland, according to the Mabinogion.

Although examples of the name Llyn y Pair are to be seen in Wales, they have other explanations.

Here are two examples.

  1. In “Branwen, Daughter of Llyr” (p.38) Proinsias Mac Cana wrote:
    “According to William Owen Pughe (1759 -1835), there was a lake called Llyn Pair about 3 miles from Towyn, (near Aberdyfi, more than likely) and the nearby river, called Gwenwyn Meirch Gwyddno (the poison of the horses of Gwyddno) in the story of Taliesin, was at the time of writing known as Avon Llyn y Pair.”

    This certainly refers to the Cauldron of Ceridwen.
  2. On the edge of Gwydr Forest near Betws y Coed, the Melin Llyn y Pair Mine is located.
    The word ‘Pair’, in this instance refers to a smelting vessel used by lead & copper miners.

The Irish in Wales

According to Charles Thomas, a family of Irish descent ruled in Dyfed until the 8th century. (See External link: Opens in a new window)

Accounts of Irish attacks are found in the manuscripts of Ammianus Marcellinus which began in the period 360 - 367. But some were given leave to stay by the Romans.

Llasar Llaes Gyfnewid and his wife Cymidei Cymeinfoll

It is possible that the name Llasar originated in the Irish word “lassar” (flame), and the Welsh word “cyfnewid” (exchange) may perhaps indicate he was a merchant of some sort.

They escaped from the Iron House somewhere in Ireland and moved to Wales with Bran’s permission. Their son was one of the Seven Knights. They were Irish, but certainly, Bendigeidfran trusted them.

But the name Llasar is also very similar to the Welsh “llasar” (a very expensive blue stone) which came from the Persian word lājward, through the Arabic lāzaward. It is known best in English through its Latin name lapis lazuli, or as azure from the French word azur.

Mining began in Sar-e-Sang over 6,000 years ago in the limestone of the Kokcha Valley, (Badakhshan Province 38°0´ N 71°0´ E, Northeastern Afghanistan). For centuries lapis lazuli was used in the Middle East, Far East and Egypt (e.g. examples were found in the tomb of Tutankhamun) but Alexander the Great (356 –323cc) was the first to send examples of it back to Europe. The location of the mines was kept secret for thousands of years. The stones would change hands up to fifty times, even before reaching Europe.

Map of Afghanistan

  »»  See 'Places mentioned in the Third Branch of the Mabinogi' Internal link: Opens in a new window

Cymidei Cymeinfoll

Her name seems to be made up in order to describe her as “mother of an army”.

Aber Menai (O.S. SH440610)

Caer Saint (O.S. SH477627)

Although the old storytellers would have referred to the old Roman settlement of Segontium, those who wrote down the tale would have been very aware of the castle and town of Caernarfon (about one kilometre away) built by Edward 1st. to oppress the Welsh. But ironically, Caernarfon is now, by language, the most Welsh town in Wales.


  »»  A map showing the Main Divisions of Wales in the Middle Ages Internal link: Opens in a new window PDF Document (249kb)

Bryn Seith Marchawg (O.S. SJ076502)

Bryn Saith Marchog – a small village in Denbighshire (Cantref Edeirnion) This is another onomastic story. According to Ivor Williams, “seith/saith” could sometimes mean “saint” in Middle Welsh rather than the number “seven”; and perhaps “marchog” (knight) refers to the previous military career of someone like Saint Derfel, Saint Sadwrn etc.

Two Rivers

Where the Irish Sea is now.

According to the University of Wales Dictionary,
Lli = 1. like a blade or -
2. A deluge, flood.
Archan = “Supplication”

The Irish Sea

During the Mesolithic Era (about 7,500BC - after the last Ice Age), the massive glaciers melted and Ireland and Britain were separated. In the following millennium, the sea-level rose very rapidly, separating Britain from the Continent. Perhaps, at some stage, there were two channels as the sea retreated.

In Wales we have the legends of ‘Cantref y Gwaelod’ (The Lowland Hundred) in Cardigan Bay; Llys Helig near the Great Orme etc. [See also the legends of Lyonesse between the Scilly Isles and Cornwall; Ker Ys, off the southern coast of Britanny; and of course Atlantis somewhere in the world of the Ancient Greeks etc.]

But in particular, the North Channel between Ireland and Scotland was exceptionally narrow.
There is an Irish tale of the giants Fionn mac Cumhail (Finn Mac Cool) and Benandonner crossing the sea between Northern Ireland and Scotland with ease. Was it an old, old folk memory among the Strathclyde Welsh also?

Afon Llinon

(in Ireland) River Shannon or River Liffey?
  1. Matholwch’s army retreated to the west, across the River Shannon which formed most of the boundary between Connacht and two other provinces; Meath and Munster. The largest river in Ireland is deep and a good defensive line.

  2. The River Liffey formed a short part of the border between Meath and Leinster in the Dublin area. (O 174 353 Irish Grid) It is interesting to note the City’s Irish name Baile Átha Cliath (town of the hurdle ford), because in the Second Branch of the Mabinogion, hurdles were placed across Bendigeidfran’s back so that the army could cross the river -another onomastic story. Perhaps the rivers were mixed up - remembering that the Mediaeval Welsh were likely to be more familiar with Dublin than with Connacht.

Aber Alaw in Talebolion (O.S. SH301814)

Click here to see the map

This is where the seven survivors of the war landed on their return to Wales.

Glan Alaw (Branwen’s Grave) (O.S. SH361850)

A Bronze Age burial site. The grave goods can be seen in Bangor Museum or go to: External link: Opens in a new window

Gwales (O.S. SM598093)

21 acre island, 10 miles from the coast of Pembrokeshire. Grassholme is the name which was given to it by the Vikings who would use the island as a base from which to launch their raids on the British Coast. No-one yet has found remains of “a great hall”. Some see a direct connection between themes in the Second Branch and those of the Icelandic Sagas.

(in the University of Wales Dictionary, Gwales = hiding place, refuge)

Where is Llychlyn?

Although there is no direct mention of Llychlyn in the Mabinogion, here are some examples to show how confusing even the names of countries can be.

Llychlyn in modern Welsh and Lochlann in modern Irish is Scandinavia, Norway especially. (The name Lachlan and other Scottish and Irish names similar to it were originally given to descendants of the Vikings.)

Although, in the Welsh Triads, Macsen Wledig (Magnus Maximus in Latin) mounted an attack on Llychlyn, according to contemporary Roman documents, the same man went towards Rome with his army in 383. Rachel Bromwich listed examples of mistakes such as this - she suggested that Llydaw (Brittany) was more likely, since it is at least in the right direction.
It would have been easy for people without any reliable geographical knowledge to fail to differentiate between their enemies - they were all as dangerous as the Vikings.

And in the centuries which followed, more raiders came from Ireland to Wales. They were not of Irish stock but Vikings who had by then settled there, mostly in Dublin and other seaports. To the Welsh of the Middle Ages, they were all by then Irish!


A Celtic country, like Wales. (See the First Branch Internal link: Opens in a new window)

Aber Henfelen

The Bristol Channel

The White Hill (O.S. TQ336805)

(In London) – where the Tower of London now stands. In this context once again, “white” implies “holy” in Welsh rather than the colour.


Cassivellaunus in Latin. King of the Catuvellauni (in South-east England now) who successfully resisted the second invasion of Julius Caesar in 54 B.C. (The Romans accused Caswallon of helping rebels in the Province of Gaul – but they were also very keen to have all the wealth of Britain. As the most powerful leader in Britain, Caswallon had many opponents on this island, especially those who lived far away from the south-east. In spite of this, the Romans only received scant support from the other tribes.)

The name is mentioned in the 3rd Branch, in Lludd and Llefelys and in a number of the Welsh Triads. According to some, the name in the Triads refers to a now-lost mediaeval romance, possibly about a different individual of the same name.

The Five Provinces of Ireland

Connacht / Connaught, Midhe / Meath, Laighin / Leinster, Mumha / Munster & Uladh / Ulster. (See map below)

The Five Provinces of Ireland

Nowadays there are four provinces - Laighin / Leinster now incorporates Midhe / Meath.


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