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My blog is usually about real everyday nature, in real time, but today at the beginning of this Chinese New Year of the Dragon, I am writing instead about the significance of this mythological creature here in Wales.

The Welsh Dragon, in Welsh Y Ddraig Goch, (Red Dragon) is the indisputable and most highly prominent icon of the country. It is employed and proudly displayed in a myriad of ways and places, from  playful car bumper stickers and drinking mugs to more serious applications such as that as the symbol of  the Welsh Assembly Government, but its most significant role is as the centrepiece of  the nation’s flag.


The Welsh Dragon appears on the national flag of Wales (the flag itself is also called “Y Ddraig Goch”). During the reigns of the Tudor monarchs, the red dragon was used as a supporter in the English crown’s coat of arms (one of two supporters, along with the traditional English lion).

Mythology of the red dragon

The mythology connecting the Red Dragon to Wales begins in the Mabinogion,  a collection of eleven prose stories collated from mediaeval Welsh manuscripts. The tales draw on pre-Christian Celtic mythology, international folktale motifs, and early mediaeval historical traditions.


The fight between the Red and White Dragons

In the Mabinogion story of Lludd and Llefelys, the Red Dragon fights with an invading White Dragon. His awful pained shrieks bring about mayhem and disaster; women  miscarry, animals  perish and plants become barren. Lludd, the then king of Britain,seeks help from his wise brother Llefelys in France. Llefelys tells him to dig a pit in the centre of Britain, fill it with mead, and cover it with cloth. Lludd does this, and the dragons drink the mead and fall asleep. Lludd imprisons them, still wrapped in their cloth, in Dinas Emrys in Snowdonia (Welsh:Eryri).

Historia Brittonum
The tale is taken up by Nennius in the Historia Brittonum. The dragons remain at Dinas Emrys for centuries until King Vortigern tries to build a castle there. Every night the castle walls and foundations are demolished by unseen forces. Vortigern consults his advisers, who tell him to find a boy with no natural father, and sacrifice him. Vortigern finds such a boy (who is later, in some tellings, to become Merlin) who is supposed to be the wisest wizard to ever live. On hearing that he is to be put to death to solve the demolishing of the walls, the boy dismisses the knowledge of the advisors. The boy tells the king of the two dragons. Vortigern excavates the hill, freeing the dragons. They continue their fight and the red dragon finally defeats the white dragon. The boy tells Vortigern that the white dragon symbolises the Saxons and that the red dragon symbolises the people of Vortigern. If Vortigern is accepted to have lived in the fifth century, then these people are the British whom the Saxons failed to subdue and who became the Welsh.

The same story is repeated in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, where the red dragon is also a prophecy of the coming of King Arthur. It is notable that Arthur’s father was Uther Pendragon (“chief dragon”, erroneously translated by Geoffrey as “dragon’s head”).

The dragon has always been a symbol of a people, not an individual. 

In 1400 Owain Glyndwr raised the dragon during his revolt against Henry IV, echoing its role in Welsh mythology as a symbol of struggle and resistance. However, this didn’t confer exclusivity to Wales: the dragon reappeared alongside Henry V at the battle of Agincourt (1415).

The dragon began to roar even louder after the Wars of the Roses in the 15th century. The House of Tudor was the Welsh dynasty who defeated the House of York at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

The Tudors’ livery was white and green. As he marched his troops through Wales to Bosworth, Henry Tudor – shortly to be Henry VII – flew the red dragon of Cadwallader, from whom he claimed ancestry, on the white and green Tudor colours. After the battle the flag was carried in state to St. Paul’s Cathedral to be blessed.

It was the beginning of the flag as we know it today.

Welsh flags on a tower of Conwy castle


A dragon is displayed on the logo of the Welsh government

The dragon is featured on the welsh royal mail 1st class postage stamp

In the town of Newcastle Emlyn, a Heart of the Dragon Festival  is held every two years (the next one is in 2013).  Local legends say that the last dragon was slain there during a village festival.  The Heart of the Dragon Festival aims to resurrect the “spirit of the dragon,” in the form of a baby dragon egg, which ultimately “hatches,” to reveal a miniature dragon.  www.heartofthedragonwales.org

Dragon fire sculpture

The Mametz Wood Memorial


38th Division

The 38th (Welsh) Division was recruited from battalions of the Welsh Regiment, South Wales Borderers and Royal Welsh Fusiliers in 1914. Lloyd George had a heavy hand in the raising of the formation; one of his sons being an officer in the division. It crossed to France in late 1915, and came down to fight on the Somme in July 1916. The first attack on Mametz Wood was on 7th July, when the division lost heavily in ‘Death Valley’ during the advance on the ‘Hammer Head’. The next attack went in on the 10th, and by 14th July the wood was cleared – but at the cost of over 5,000 casualties in the 38th (Welsh) Division. A memorial was placed in Mametz Church in the 1920s, but this Red Dragon monument was placed here in the late 1980s on the wishes of a number of Mametz Wood veterans, former Sergeant Tom Price among them.

Not all welsh dragons take themselves seriously. My friends and I discovered this cleverly crafted one in a tree next to a path along the Nevern Estuary, Newport, Pembrokeshire