The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) awards £716,013 to study the Welsh poetry attributed to Merlin.


This new and exciting project, beginning on 1 March 2022, will create a new critical edition of the Welsh poetry attributed to the legendary poet Merlin - or ‘Myrddin’, as he is known in Welsh.

This new and exciting project, beginning on 1 March 2022, will create a new critical edition of the Welsh poetry attributed to the legendary poet Merlin - or ‘Myrddin’, as he is known in Welsh.

Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru – The National Library of Wales

Merlin is often associated with King Arthur in Welsh legendary texts, and a significant amount of poetry is attributed to him in manuscripts dating between c. 1250 and 1800. The three earliest poems survive in the Black Book of Carmarthen, the earliest manuscript written in Welsh. This manuscript belongs to the National Library of Wales’s Peniarth Collection and can be viewed on the Library's website.

Professor Ann Parry Owen said, ‘This page from the Black Book contains part of a poem on which we will be working. It  contains a series of verses beginning with the phrase 'Oian a pharchellan', in the voice of Merlin himself. Having lived a comfortable life in the court of his lord Gwenddolau, Merlin’s world changed dramatically. Gwenddolau was killed at the Battle of Arfderydd, and now Merlin has become mad and lives alone in his grief in the forest of Celyddon. In these verses he addresses a small pig (parchellan) and shares his memories of the past, predicting also the fate of the Welsh who are trying to defend their lands and rights in the face of Norman incursions.

There is a strong element of the political propaganda in these verses, and it’s clear that Merlin was associated with prophecy early on in our literature. Over the subsequent centuries, as they responded to a series of threats from the east, the Welsh poets would often compose their prophetic poetry in Merlin’s voice. During the course of the project we will look at those later poems, and see how generation after generation of poets used Merlin’s voice for their own purpose. The project will also look at the importance of Merlin’s name and legend in place-names as well as placing the poems in a wider European context. The project is going to be very exciting and multi-faceted.

The earliest poetry is very complex – and it is time to re-visit it  in light of major projects on Welsh language and poetry that have been carried out at CAWCS, such as the Poets of the Princes Project, the Poets of the Nobility Project, and the Guto'r Glyn Project. Underpinning all this work, of course, is the research carried out on the history of the Welsh language at the University of Wales Dictionary of the Welsh Language, also housed at CAWCS.

As well as presenting edited texts from all the poems, with translations and notes, we will also include images from the manuscripts, transcriptions, and other resources. All the material will be freely-accessible online.

Professor Elin Haf Gruffydd Jones, Director of CAWCS, said,

‘This is an important research project that builds upon our expertise at CAWCS and we very much look forward to collaborating with scholars at Cardiff and Swansea universities. We’re delighted that it has been awarded a significant grant from the AHRC and congratulate the whole team on this achievement.’

This three-year project (1 March 2022 – 28 February 2025) will be led by Principal Investigator, Dr Dylan Foster Evans from the School of Welsh, Cardiff University, and three Co-Investigators will lead on different aspects of the work: Dr David Callander from the School of Welsh, Cardiff University; Professor Ann Parry Owen from the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies and The Dictionary of the Welsh Language; and Dr Alexander Roberts from Swansea University. Dr Ben Guy and Jenny Day have been appointed as researchers to work on the project.

Note to Editor

Contact: Dr Angharad Elias (Admin Officer)

1. The Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies (CAWCS) was established by the University of Wales in 1985 as a dedicated research centre conducting team-based projects on the languages, literatures, culture and history of Wales and the other Celtic countries. It is located in Aberystwyth, adjacent to the National Library of Wales, which is an internationally-renowned copyright library with excellent research facilities.

2. CAWCS offers unique opportunities for postgraduate students to work alongside specialists in a dynamic and supportive environment. We welcome enquiries about MPhil/PhD topics in any of our research areas. For more information about research opportunities, or for an informal chat about possible topics, contact our Head of Graduate Studies, Dr Elizabeth Edwards:

3. CAWCS is the home of the Dictionary of the Welsh Language, which is celebrated its centenary in 2021: