Ifan was the bard of Ednyfed, Lord of Dinas Bran, a genius with the harp. He was considered by many at court to be of the Tylwyth Teg (Fair Folk), since descriptions of him talk of his jet black eyes, his face being feminely fair with almost transparent skin. He was slight and light of step and it seemed not long for this world. As a consequence he became known as the ‘Ministrel Fey’.
Ifan was in love with Myfanwy Fechan, the beautiful daughter of Ednyfed, but she was betrothed to the great knight, Hywel. Though an arranged marriage, it was a love match too. Despite this, Hywel was jealous of Ifan’s obvious love for his wife to be. And blinded by his anger, he mistook Myfanwy’s gentle pity for the bard for love. Tragedy was to be the result.
On the day of Hywel and Myfanwy’s wedding, Ifan sang beneath his beloved’s window at Dinas Bran. However, distraught at the idea of causing him further pain, Myfanwy did not appear as he wished. Hywel heard his song, however, and enraged, approached the bard, threatening to cut him down where he stood if he did not agree to leave the castle for good. Unperturbed, Ifan simply smiled and Hywel, all mindless anger lunged at Ifan. But instead of grasping a handful of bard, Ifan vanished, leaving Hywel holding nothing but a switch of aspen, a tree indelibly linked with the Tylwyth Teg, the leaves of which were believed to empower the wearers to visit and return from the underworld.
Quite reasonably alarmed, Hywel and his squires rode out into the Vale of Llangollen to look for Ifan. Despite glimpsing him often, astride his white palfrey, they could not catch him, and defeated they returned to Dinas Bran. Hywel was, after all, to be married that day.
Ifan did not reappear during the wedding, to the relief of Hywel, the concern of Myfanwy and the annoyance of Ednyfed who had expected his bard to play at the marriage. As the happy couple made to leave the castle, the doors of the hall were suddenly flung open and there stood Ifan, looking close to death. With his harp in hand, an ever fading Ifan began to sing.
My Fanwy Vechan. Brightest maid
In scarlet robes and gold array’d.
My Fanwy Vechan. Fairest fair
That ever breathed the mountain air.
For thee do spirits pine and fade,
As blossoms in the chilling shade,
Debarr’d from Phoebus’ genial light,
Sink victims in the withering blight.
My Fanwy Vechan, hear my prayer.
Thy lover’s – tho’ a child of air.
May peace on earth and bliss above,
Wait on the mortal whom I love.
My outward form of misery
Tells what the spirit feels for thee.
Farewell, farewell. No more the pride
Of sweet Dwrdwy’s mossy side,
In distant vales I’ll breathe my woes
And seek, ah vain, vain hope, repose.
If Ifan’s name might live with thine.
At its end, Ifan disappeared altogether, his harp shattering upon the stone floor. Myfanwy, the fair maiden of Dinas Bran collapsed beside it, quite dead.
Today, the ruins beside the Welsh Tower, part of the original hall, is traditionally believed to be the spot where she died. Ifan's song won the Silver Crown for John Ceiriog Hughes at the 1858 Llangollen Eisteddfod.