Penarth Winter Carnival 2023

feature photo credits: Ruth Morgan

The 14th January is Penarth’s Traditional New Year, the annual Hen Galan celebrations featuring the Penrolio and the Penarth Mari Lwyd. Starting at Penarth Clifftops at 1pm, the giant Bendigidfran’s head will be rolled down the hill to the beach, arriving at Penarth Pier Pavilion around 2:30pm.

The story of Bendigidfran, also known as Brân the Blessed, comes from the earliest Welsh prose stories, the Mabinogion complied in the 12th-13th century. When Brân arrives to let the Irish King, Matholwch marry his sister Branwen to create a union between Britain and Ireland, Brân’s half-brother Efnysien is less than pleased. In a fit of rage, Efnysien mutilates the Irish King’s horse, which unsurprisingly offends the King.

In the hope of resolving the situation, Brân gifts the King a cauldron of resurrection but it does little to appease the King and begins to mistreat Branwen.

His sister is able to send word to her brother and he, and his army, head to Ireland to rescue her. A battle ensues, where the cauldron is destroyed by Efnysien, killing himself and only seven men survive and take Brân’s head back to Britain. This was where he resided for 80 years, until someone opens the forbidden door to Cornwall and lose the benefit of his wisdom.

Brân’s head is then taken to White Hill where it was buried. It was said that Britain will never be invaded as long as the head remains at White Hill. At least that’s how one version of the story goes…

Photo Credits: David Sinden

Another celebration taking place for the Penarth Winter Carnival is the Mari Lwyd. The skull of a horse on a covered draped in a sheet. Mari Lwyd is a relic from a Roman horse cult, a pagan ritual. The horse skull is typically taken around the town and is suppose to bring good luck to the houses it visits.