Coelbren y Beirdd

Coelbren y Beirdd is a false bardic alphabet invented by Iolo Morgannwg c.1791. He claimed that it was the alphabet of the Celtic druids and that they had a system of writing by runes on thin wooden sticks. The alphabet’s name derived from the words coel (to remember or to credit) and pren (wood). It has 20 base letters and a further 20 long vowels and consonant mutations carved on four sided pieces of wood. Each piece can be turned to read all sides and it is held in a special frame. The name for this is peithynen. A peithynen was originally used in weaving to hold warp threads in position.

Edward Williams (Iolo Morgannwg) (1747-1826) was a Welsh antiquarian and poet. He collected Welsh medieval literature, but it became known after his death that he had forged several manuscripts. He is known for reviving Gorsedd Beirdd Ynys Prydain in 1792. He claimed that it was based on the activities of Celtic Druidry, but this was fictious. A Welsh essay, written by his son Taliesin Williams and published as a pamphlet in 1840, defended the authenticity of the alphabet and won the Abergavenny Eisteddfod in 1838.

It is likely that this coelbren was made by Lewis Davies Jones (Llew Tegid) (1851-1928) as the label on the coelbren has the wording “Made for and presented to me by Llew Tegid 1911. Preece.” Llew Tegid was the headmaster of Garth School, Bangor, and was also a poet, composer and Eisteddfod conductor. It appears that he presented it to William Preece (1834-1913), an electrical engineer and inventor. Preece was chief engineer for the Post Office, and a pioneer in wireless telegraphy, assisting Marconi with his work.

This coelbren was found in a charity shop along with a framed print of the house William Preece used to live in at Caernarfon. The coelbren was then given to Storiel. There is another colebren from Storiel’s collection displayed in Gallery 4.