Tuesday 28 June 2016

Pwll Tra

On the other side of the valley from Number One were the terraced cottages of Cwmcarn.  Behind them the valley of Nant Carn reached into the hills. The mountain rampart stretched from Twmbarlwm in the south to Mynydd Maen – the hill of stone in the north.
Near the head of the Nant Carn valley there is a pool that no stream enters or leaves. It is called Pwll Tra or the Pool of Avarice[1]. Shepherds tell that on stormy nights strange sounds are heard from its reedy waters.
There was once a great house in which a rich family lived in luxury and dined magnificently. But on the far side of the hill they had poor relations. For them every day was a struggle and they lived close to starvation. One stormy night the great house was visited by a poor relative.
In desperation he had crossed the ridge to beg for help. He crawled down towards the house. He knocked on the door. He waited. The clouds grew black above the hill.  He knocked again. Slowly the door opened.
From the door came light, warmth and the aroma of fine foods. The lady of the house looked outside, tall and haughty. Her eyes told that she guessed why her relative had called.
The poor man begged: “Please, just bread. A crust or two from last week’s loaf, my wife and children are starving.”
The lady laughed and called inside “Look what's dragged itself from the sin where it belongs. I know his people. They come, curse me with my just deserts, spit on my head, go back to their world.”
Then she spoke into the night: “Nothing, nothing for the likes of you. Be gone before I loose the dogs!” 
The poor man retreated into the gathering storm. But there was no solace there. Instead there was a flash of lightning, a crash of thunder. Then the ground beneath his feet began to shake. Below him it seemed that the bowels of the earth were split asunder. The hill opened up, crashed down, and buried the house. It completely swallowed the great building and those inside. It left only a bare, hollow place beside a pool which no stream enters or leaves.
Local shepherds tell that on stormy nights strange sounds are heard from the reedy waters. They are the cries of those buried below, forever doomed by their greed. The pool is called Pwll Tra, the Pool of Avarice.

[1] Tra’ is thought to be short for ‘Trachwant’ which means ‘Avarice’ or ‘greed’.

Friday 24 June 2016


My father’s parent’s families, the Buckleys and O’Connors, came to South Wales from County Cork. In Ireland the men had been quarrymen at Benduff Slate Quarry, North West of Rosscarbery.
The Buckleys emigrated to Wales first, perhaps between 1881 and 1884. John Buckley probably worked as a quarryman on the West side of Mynyddislwyn, living in a quarry cottage half a mile below St Tudur’s church and looking down over the wooded Sirhowy valley. But the quarry closed so he became a coal miner, eventually moving over the hill to Abercarn.
The O’Connor family’s fortunes were drastically changed by the Benduff quarry disaster of 20 July 1892. My great grandfather Daniel O’Connor was buried under a rock fall and his body was never recovered. His brother Jorum (Jeremiah) was buried alive. He was dug out after some hours, had his wounds bound with cobwebs, and had a shard of slate in his leg for the rest of his life. The family was left destitute. The widowed Catherine O’Connor had five children to support including a newborn baby, so the kindly wife of a local landowner gave her a sewing machine with which to earn a living. Catherine later ran a little shop in Connonagh.
Some thirty years later in County Cork Pot and his sister Nora were still running the shop in Connonagh. At the time of the War of Independence and the Civil War, when threatened by one or other faction they abandoned the shop and fled the area. Some said it was because they were still friendly with the lady who had given their mother the sewing machine; others said it was because Pot was friendly with a local constable. Whatever the reason the local priest would not speak to them, bullets were fired at the shop and Pot came to Wales. I think he must have loved the clean air and the West wind. His job above ground, and the position of the cottage above the dark satanic mills, both spoke of a man of the country and perhaps a little apart from others following his exile.

How many miners does it take to move a mountain? One, if his children are hungry. But Pot would rather be on the mountain than beneath it.