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Halamus Publishing - Archived Articles - #20, November, 2003



The Articles from the Monthly Newsletters

Written by

M. Lesley Halamek

November, 2003:–

SONG: "March the Men of Harlech" – Wales

Q: Who were the Men of Harlech?

Q: What is Harlech? Where is Harlech?

A: See Below

The Traditional Welsh Melody "March the Men of Harlech"
is on Page 25 of

"Folksongs for the Violin", Part 3:
Third Position, Modes, and Pentatones
(A Graded Selection of Melodies for Beginners of All Ages).

Details on the MUSIC PAGE

A: Harlech is an English-built town in Gwynedd, on the West coast of North Wales. (Towns, with laid-out streets in the Roman style, were built in Wales by the English, from the 14th century, for the English garrisons. In mediŠval times, Welsh landholders lived on their own land. The villeins, bonded farm labourers, lived with their families in villages, on land held in common by all adult males who also farmed their individual strips of land allotted by ballot, and reassigned as each boy attained manhood at the age of 14, and became eligible for his own plot of land).

Harlech... town (1981 pop. 1,372), Gwynedd, (northwest) Wales. It is a resort area with beautiful beaches. The ancient capital of Merionethshire, with its 13th-century castle, rests on a cliff 200 ft (61 m) above the modern seaside town. The heroic defense of the castle against the Yorkists (1468; see Roses, Wars of the) is the theme of the Welsh battle song, "The March of the Men of Harlech." The Welsh fortress was the last to surrender (1647) to the parliamentarians in the English civil war.
- The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

Men of Harlech

The song was first published in "Gems of Welsh Melody" (ed. John Owen, "Owain Alaw", 1860), the Welsh lyrics by "Talhaiarn", the English by W.H. Baker.

1: March ye men of Harlech bold,
Unfurl your banners in the field,
Be brave as were your sires of old,
And like them never yield!
What tho' evry hill and dale,
Echoes now with war's alarms,
Celtic hearts can never quail,
When Cambria calls to arms.

2: By each lofty mountain,
By each crystal fountain,
By your homes where those you love
Await your glad returning,
Let each thought and action prove,
True glory can the Cymru move,
And as each blade gleams in the light,
Pray "God defend the right!"

3: March ye men of Harlech go,
Lov'd fatherland your duty claims,
Onward comes the Saxon foe,
His footsteps mark'd in flames;
But his march breeds no dismay,
Boasting taunts we meet with scorn,
Craven like their hosts shall flee
Like mists before the morn.

  4: Clans from Mona wending,
Now with Arvon blending,
Haste with rapid strides along
The path that leads to glory,
From Snowdon's hills with harp and song,
And Nantlle's vale proceeds a throng,
Whose ranks with yours shall proudly vie,
"And nobly win or die!"

5: On the foemen dashing,
Swords and bucklers clashing;
Smite with will their savage band
Nor think of e'er retreating:
But with a firm unflinching hand,
In blood quench ev'ry burning brand,
And for each roof tree cast away
A Saxon life shall pay.

6: Thus each bosom nerving,
From no danger swerving,
Soon shall the invader feel
The doom of fate rewarding;
They firmly grasp the flashing steel,
And as ye strike for Cymru's weal,
Be this your cry, till life's last breath –
"Our Liberty or Death!"

Harlech Timeline








"Edward I, b. June 17, 1239, d. July 7, 1307, king of England (1272-1307)
completed the conquest of Wales and temporarily subdued Scotland.
He was the eldest son of HENRY III... Edward conquered the Welsh
principality of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in devastating campaigns in 1277
and 1282-83 and built massive castles to keep it secure.
In England he held regular parliaments. A program of legislation
strengthened royal control over the court system and reformed the
tangled feudal land law..."

"Harlech was begun during King Edward I's second campaign in north
Wales. It was part of an "iron ring" of castles surrounding the coastal
fringes of Snowdonia, eventually stretching from Flint around to Aberystwyth...
Following the fall of the Welsh stronghold of Castell y Bere, King Edward's
forces arrived at Harlech in April, 1283, and building work began almost
immediately. Over the next six years an army of masons, quarriers, laborers
and other craftsmen were busily engaged in construction.
In 1286, with the work at its height, nearly 950 men were employed under the
superintendence of Master James. The final result was a perfectly concentric
castle, where one line of defenses is enclosed by another..." , Info and Photographs...follow links...

Iron Ring of Castles:

Master James of St. George d'Esperanche, the Builder, and first Constable
of Harlech Castle , and

"Harlech Castle was built with another remarkable feature: the defended
"Way from the sea," a gated and fortified stairway plunging almost 200 ft
down to the foot of the castle rock. Once, this gave access to supplies from
the sea, but the tide level has since receded, leaving Harlech somewhat
isolated upon its rock. During Madog ap Llywelyn's uprising of 1294-95,
this maritime lifeline proved the saviour of the garrison, which was
supplied and victualled by ships from Ireland.

"Harlech Castle played a key role in the national uprising led by Owain
Glyndwr (Owen Glendower). After a long siege, it fell to his forces in 1404.
The castle became Glyndwr's residence and headquarters, and one of the
two places to which he is believed to have summoned parliaments of his
It was only after a further long siege in 1408 that Harlech was retaken by
English forces under Harry of Monmouth, later Henry V.

"Sixty years later, during the War of the Roses, the castle was held for the
Lancastrians until taken by Lord Herbert of Raglan for the Yorkist side.
It was this prolonged siege which traditionally gave rise to the song
'Men of Harlech'."

Following nearly 2 centuries of peace, Harlech Castle, after a long siege in
the first part of the Civil War, surrendered to Oliver Cromwell's forces in 1647.

Listen to Men of Harlech at:

"The melody March of the Men of Harlech is said to be an "old Welsh air."
There are several sets of lyrics to the melody, some printed on broadsides
in the 19th century. One of these can be found at the Bodleian Library."

Men of Harlech

Men of Harlech! In the Hollow,
Do ye hear like rushing billow
Wave on wave that surging follow
Battle's distant sound?
Tis the tramp of Saxon foemen,
Saxon spearmen, Saxon bowmen,
Be they knights or hinds or yeomen,
They shall bite the ground!

Loose the folds asunder,
Flag we conquer under!
The placid sky now bright on high,
Shall launch its bolts in thunder!
Onward! 'tis the country needs us,
He is bravest, he who leads us
Honor's self now proudly heads us,
Cambria, God and Right!

  Rocky Steeps and passes narrow,
Flash with spear and flight of arrow
Who would think of death or sorrow?
Death is glory now!
Hurl the reeling horsemen over,
Let the earth dead foemen cover
Fate of friend, of wife, of lover,
Trembles on a blow!

Strands of life are riven!
Blow for blow is given
In deadly lock, or battle shock,
And mercy shrieks to heaven!
Men of Harlech! young or hoary,
Would you win a name in story?
Strike for home, for life, for glory!
Cambria, God and Right!

This is the version I learned many years ago. These days, "Cambria" (an ancient name for Wales) is usually replaced by "freedom".

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