The mythology of Wales is rich, deep and mysterious. From the hidden creatures of the dark woods, to the strange druids of Anglesey, to the greater part of the Arthurian mythos, the stories that come out of the distant past of that fair country showcase its deep traditions.
In those misty valleys there are secret kingdoms and fairy realms. To the south is the legendary island of Lyonesse, supposedly between Cornwall and the Scilly Isles. Lyonesse is supposed to have been lost to the sea, like the city of Ys in Brittany in northern France. And this is also the fate of Tyno Helig, the Welsh Atlantis.
Where was Tyno Helig? On the northwest of mainland Wales, there is a mysterious rock formation. The English called the massive headland the “Great Omre.” Omre is believed to be a Scandinavian word that means “worm”.
People say that a Viking raiding party searching for the Welsh shoreline first saw the rock looming from the mist. They thought it to be a serpent and fled with fear. Since then, the legends about the Great Omre have only grown, and it has gained many names. One of them is “Helig’s Palace” or “Llys Helig” set within “Tyno Helig”, the lost land.
Helig ap Glannawg
Tyno Helig is named for its prince, Helig ap Glannawg. He lived during the sixth century, just before the time of King Arthur and by all accounts his palace Llys Helig was magnificent, a proto-Camelot. His lands extended across Flintshire in the far north of Wales to the town of Conwy, a long stretch of wild and beautiful coastline.
Helig’s Palace is no longer there: it supposedly sunk into the waters of Conwy Bay. To understand the place and the people, and what happened to Tyno Helig, we must turn to the legend of Gwendud, the daughter of Helig ap Glannawg.
She is described as beautiful and fair to look upon, but with a cruel and wicked heart. Tathal, who was the son of one of the local Lords of Snowdon, fell in love with Gwendud and was willing to marry her.
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The young man was of a lower birth in comparison to Gwendud. Still, Tathal would not be deterred. Eventually, Gwendud consentted to marry Tathal. But she told Tathal that their marriage was not possible as he didn’t wear the golden torque that was usually worn by the noblemen. The golden torque was a heavy, decorated ring made out of gold and worn around the neck.
The Golden Torque
Tathal truly loved Gwendud. So, he committed to win himself a golden torque either by fair means or foul. In order to get the golden torque, he offered to guide a young Scottish chieftain. The young chieftain himself wore a golden torque.
The Scottish chieftain had been a guest of King Helig, held at Llys Helig for ransom, which was duly paid. The chieftain was therefore released, and Tathal was provided as his escort to ensure he passed through Tyno Helig safely.
However, Tathal had designs on the young man. Eager to win the golden torque, and therefore the hand of Gewndud, Tathal betrayed the Scotsman, stabbed him, and stole his golden torque as a prize.
True to her word, the daughter of Helig agreed to marry him. In order to celebrate the wedding of his daughter with Tathal, Prince Helig hosted a grand feast in the palace. When the celebration of the reunion was in full swing, the ghost of the Scottish chieftain appeared like another Banquo and cursed the newly married couple. The curse was that he would take revenge on four generations of their family.
But, as the years passed and Tathal and Gwendud grew old together, it seemed as if the curse could be safely forgotten. However, with the birth of the great-great-grandchild of Tathal and Gwendud, the curse returned as Tathal had warned.
It should have been a moment of celebration, with a great feast held in Llys Helig in order to celebrate the birth. During the celebration night at the royal palace, the guests got through the beer and wine very fast. So, a maid was sent to the cellar in order to get more wine and beer.
When the maid reached the cellar, she was surprised to see that the cellar was full of seawater, with fish swimming in it. She called out to her lover, the minstrel of the court, to see what had happened.
Soon, they realized that something very serious and horrible had happened. In order to ensure their own safety, they left the palace and headed for higher ground. They had hardly left the banquet hall when they were able to hear shrieks of terror behind them.
When they looked back to see what was happening, they could see the sea rising up and great waves engulfing the royal palace. The high sea waves were coming towards them. They were very terrified by the view and ran further. Finally, as darkness fell, they were able to reach the safety of the high grounds.
The night was cold, and they were shivering out of fear. They were exhausted and breathless. They waited till the morning. When the sun was up, they could see that the sea had covered the entire land on which once Helig’s Palace stood. No sign of Llys Helig could be seen anymore.
It is believed that when the tides of the sea are low, the ruins of Helig’s Palace can be seen even today under the waves of Conwy Bay. And this is supported by modern archaeological studies conducted in the area, which confirm the land used to stretch far further out to sea than it currently does. There truly is a lost kingdom, out to sea off the coast of northern Wales.
Many people wonder whether the legends surrounding the Welsh Atlantis and Tyno Helig are true or not. Whatever happened to that land, and the people who lived there, cannot be uncovered now. All we have is the modern archaeology.
Tyno Helig may well have been the Welsh Atlantis, lost beneath the sea by a murder and a curse. Tantalizing clues survive, tree stumps in the sands off the town of Rhyl, or old maps with depictions of Welsh islands no longer there. But the land is gone now, and we can never know who they were.
Top Image: There is tantalizing evidence that the land of Tyno Helig once truly existed. Source: Terablete / Adobe Stock.
By Bipin Dimri