A group for Welsh children’s writers obviously had to have a dragon in there somewhere, though as you can see from the website image, our dragon is a small and friendly beast. But Wales and dragons go back a long way. King Arthur is ‘Pendragon’ and he’s supposed to have had a red dragon on his standard. Their earliest appearance in Welsh mythology comes in the Mabinogion story of Llud and Llefelys where the hero Llud buries two fighting dragons deep in the earth on the slopes of Snowdon. These dragons are later uncovered by the magic boy Merlin; a red one and a white. The red is victorious, and ever since the Welsh have kept him as their symbol. When Henry Tudor returned from long exile in France to defeat Richard the Third, he had the Red Dragon as his banner. Owain Glyndwr also fought under the red dragon
Yet strangely, it wasn’t until 1959 that it was adopted as the national flag of Wales (against the advice of Churchill, apparently, who hated it.) It’s held its ground ever since, in spite of the yellow-and-black cross of St David, which some Christian fundamentalists also prefer, calling the red dragon a symbol of Satan. Meic Stephens has observed that it’s the only national flag which no-one can draw, but it’s also one of the most iconic and memorable – let’s keep our dragon flying.
Norse dragons are cold and gloomy and malevolent; Chinese – wingless- are friendly. If you’re lucky, on the day of the Chinese New Year, in London you can follow the lively red dragon bounding through the streets of Chinatown.
The Welsh dragon is somewhere in between friendly and fearsome. The little village of Mordisford in Herefordshire – close enough to Wales to be almost Welsh, preserves a legend of a baby dragon found by Maud, a local maiden. At first, it’s cute and pretty; she cares for it with devotion , and they become inseparable companions. But the dragon grows up, and starts to do what dragons do. When the dragon is finally killed, Maud is heartbroken, and until the nineteenth century her story was recorded on the walls of the church.
In mid-Wales, there’s a cluster of churches dedicated to St Michael, all called Llanfihangel. The story goes that the last dragon in Wales sleeps somewhere in the Radnor Forest, but encircled by these churches, presents no danger. If the churches are demolished, he’ll wake up and ravage the countryside.
And of course, dragons have played a special part in children’s books, from E.Nesbit and Kenneth Grahame to the present day. Dragon Days, (see the picture above) with fantastic illustrations by Brett Breckon, has contributions from several members of our group.
And just in case you should you be foolish enough to think dragons are no longer a danger, remember the recent decision by a local Trading Standards Officer , who stopped a firm from marketing their (rather delicious ) ‘Welsh Dragon Sausages.’ My mind was set at rest, though, when I asked a local butcher whether he too put real dragon meat in his ‘Welsh Dragon’ sausages. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Can’t catch ‘em. They fly too fast.’