THE ancient Welsh traditon of the Mari Lwyd returned to pubs in Abergavenny once again last weekend to the delight of onlookers. Once almost forgotten. the tradition was revived locally several years ago and now the sight of the sheet covered horse’s skull is a familiar one in the weeks after Christmas.
Originally paraded from house to house,accompanied by a group of musicians and singers, the Mari Lwyd would attempt to gain entry to homes.
The people inside would reply in verse, pretending to refuse entry. There followed an impromptu verse battle between the two sides until the callers, who were always better prepared, were allowed entry into the house.
Back and forth went the rhymes until one side claimed a victory. Usually, but not always, the Mari won and letting her into your house was considered good luck for the horse was thought to bestow good fortune on the residents as it left.
Once inside the Mari chased the young women of the family, gambolling and cavorting, it would blow, sniff, bite and neigh in an effort to frighten them and when the horse-play was over, the revellers would be given food and drink.
This custom, a form of wassailing, is part of a pagan tradition and the first written record of it dates back to 1800 and a painting of the Mari Lwyd in action commissioned by Lady Llanover in about 1860, can still be seen above the entrance to the old Llanover Post Office.
In Abergavenny this year, it was be celebrated at Hen Galen, (January 13) with the parade starting from the Chapel Café in Market street and visiting the Angel Hotel, the Kings Head, Hen and Chickens, the King’s Arms and the Grofield.