Months of preparations will come to fruition on Saturday, December 2, when the historic Welsh coastal resort of Harlech stages the first of three events for the Fire and Sea Festival – Gŵyl Tân a Môr.
The festival, organised by Harlech Tourist Association and supported by Visit Wales and local businesses, is based on the legend of Meirion, his struggle to harness the power of the magical Harlech Torc and his battle with the fearsome Seahorses (Morfeirch).
The celebrations begin at 5pm on December 2 at Lower Bron Y Graig car park with a festival procession of Welsh music, a fire dancer and lanterns. When the procession reaches Harlech Castle, there will be storytelling in Welsh and English, a lantern sculpture, Welsh music and much more.
The procession will be led by the piper Jordan Price-Williams who will be followed by around 100 children carrying lanterns, the Knights of Ardudwy carry flaming torches, Meirion the Fire dancer, storyteller Sian Miriam, the Cambrian Choir and three large wearable seahorse lanterns. A song composed especially for the festival will be sung during the procession.
Project manager Maria Hayes explained that the story of Meirion and the Sea Horses is based on two historical facts combined with fiction and involves a small team of professional performers working with the community.
Meirion was the grandson of Welsh chieftain Cunedda and gave his name to Meirionnydd while the Harlech Torc is a rare piece of gold jewellery made in about 1150BC that was dug up in a garden near the castle in 1692 and now resides in the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff.
The story to be enacted sees Meirion return to Harlech to claim his birth right, part of which is the Harlech Torc. The Seahorses want the torc and capture Meirion following a ferocious battle, keeping him prisoner in their kingdom under the sea.
As part of the project, a contemporary silversmith, Andrew Commber, has been commissioned to design a modern version of the torc using twisted silver gilded with 24 carat gold and featuring sculptures of Meirion and a Seahorse at each end.
Local businesses have helped to get the festival off the ground by loaning money to the organisers. Salop Leisure, owners of Min-y-Don, Castle View and Llandanwg Holiday Parks, has provided a loan of £1,000 to the event.
“We think it’s important that local businesses help each other out to promote Harlech and support the local economy,” said Tony Bywater, Salop Leisure’s chairman. “This festival is an exciting event for the town and we hope it attracts many visitors as well as local people.”
Graham Perch, Harlech Tourist Association chairman, said nine businesses had so far contributed around £5,000 in loans to provide working capital for the festival. He said the association was delighted to have secured the promise of £50,000 funding from Visit Wales for the festival’s three events.
“We are very grateful to Salop Leisure and the other businesses for their help in assisting the tourist association with loans to be able to create and manage the Harlech Fire and Sea Festival,” he added.
In 2018, the story will continue with the torc being washed up on Harlech beach and it is hoped to have both the original and new torcs on public display in Harlech. The festival will continue at Easter, with a professionally led sand sculpture event being held on the beach. A large festival sculpture will be created from plastics and waste materials that have washed up on the beach.
The story concludes next October with the Seahorses bringing back Meirion and wishing to exchange him for the torc to heal the sea.
“It has grown organically and we are drawing in as much community involvement as possible,” said Maria.
“The festival is designed to celebrate Harlech, to encourage visitors to come and see what the town has to offer along with the castle. We aim to show that Harlech and the people are part of a vibrant community that is interested in its history and future.
“It will also show that we have a thriving art scene and people will hear traditional Welsh folk music as it has never been heard before. Ceri Owen Jones will be playing the bray harp, which was very popular between the 11th and 18th centuries and Elsa Davies will be playing the crwth, the ancient predecessor to the violin.”
The December 2 performance coincides with late night Christmas shopping in the town, with unique gifts made by local craftspeople and lots more on offer in specialist shops, cafés, restaurants, pubs and hotels.
Shoppers will be entertained by carol singers, a silver band and a choir and Santa will be on hand with presents for the youngest children.
Anyone wishing to take part in the procession can attend free lantern making workshops in Harlech Scout Hut with Zoe Matthews on November 25 and 26 between 11am and 1pm and 2pm and 4pm. All materials are provided in the Scout Hut. Contact Judith Strevens on Tel: 01766 780 700 for more information.
Those wishing to make a lantern for a Fire Shrine in the castle can join Richard Eastwood at the Memorial Hall from 11am to 1pm and 2pm to- 4pm on December 2. Again, all materials will be provided.
The performance will be followed by a free evening of traditional Welsh music and storytelling at Royal St David’s Golf Club starting at 8.30pm. Jordan Price Williams will be joined by Deuair and Siân Miriam for the session and musicians are welcome to join in.