Thursday, 5 September 2019

ys

In addition to its own version of the Arthurian saga, the western part of Bretagne on the peninsula of Crozon, once known as Cournouallie with the same etymology as Cornwall across the Channel, has its own legendary cast of characters including Gradlon the Great (Gradlon Meur). A soldier of fortune courted by a sorcerous consort of a dying king called Malgven—who talked Gradlon into giving the old king a coup de grâce and ruling with her.
This cautionary tale continues with Malgven dying during childbirth with the couple’s daughter Dahut, a most unnatural and ungrateful child. Having established himself as an otherwise sage and just ruler—despite his earlier act of regicide, Gradlon commissioned the building of a fantastic city built on land reclaimed from the sea (Kêr Ys, low city), lavishly ornamented and with no expense spared, the waters held back by a system of dykes for which only Gradlon had the key to open the floodgates.
Over the years, Dahut had grown frivolous and vain and was wiled by a suitor to grant him access to Ys. Rather punch-drunk with her success of secreting away the key from her father and thinking she was throwing open the city gate, a torrent of water rushed in. The king was roused by a very historical bishop called Gwenole, who keeping vespers in the night and saw the flood waters rise and was beatified as founding bishop of the abbey of Landévennec (see also and when I first saw the ruin it reminded me of this amphitheatre on the Cornish coast that we visited and upon leaving the town, saw it was in fact twinned—jumelage—with The Lizard (An Lysardh), that peninsula in southern Cornwall.

The king took to his steed and rescued Dahut while the rest of the Ys’ people drowned. Dahut (I’d quite like to hear her version of the story) fell from the horse during the escape and was transformed into a mermaid, still haunting the Bay of Douarnenez to this day and luring sailors to violent ends against the cliffs with her siren song.