Gwae fi – lost names of the lapwing

Bricolage depicting local names of the lapwing, by Elinor Gwynn, North Wales, UK

Read the full post about the word Morfa

Bricolage with a painting of a lapwing and a variety of its Welsh names overlaid on a map of the area around Morfa Dinlle
Spring at Morfa Dinlle: local Welsh names of the Lapwing

Elinor says: The number of different Welsh dialect names for lapwings is a reflection of how common the bird used to be. Collectively this set of names describe perfectly not only the distinctive features of the bird – the soft, feathered ‘horn’ curling at the back of its head and the lapwing’s unique repertoire of clicking, gurgling and whistling calls – but also the range of typical lapwing habitats.  However, as lapwing numbers have dwindled, and as people’s everyday encounters with these birds have become less frequent, the local dialect names have also fallen out of use.

As I watched the lapwings wheeling and tumbling above Morfa Dinlle last spring I tried to recall as many as I could of these local names. They ended up spinning in my head, almost as if they were caught up in the vortex of feathered flight paths that filled the skyscape. I was struck by the entangled storylines of species decline and loss of language diversity; with one mirroring the other, and both resulting in blander landscapes and more impoverished lives. One of the lost local lapwing names – ‘Gwae fi’ [Woe is me] seemed to sum up perfectly my thoughts on that April morning. 

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