Hwp Ha Wen, Cadi Ha, Morys Stowt, Am yr uchla neidio, Hwp dene fo,
Mi ladal , a’i ladal o, a ladal ges i fenthyg,
Cynffon buwch a chynffon llo a chynffon Rhisiart Parri go, Hwp dene fo.

Just a few lines from the Flintshire traditional song that accompanies the processional male dance at the first Saturday of May every year on the streets of the market town of Holywell.

For six years Gwyl Cadi Ha has brought colour to the centre of Holywell as hundreds of local schoolchildren process up and down the attractive pedestrianised High Street before congregating in the adjacent Tower Gardens for two hours of mass dancing. The event is one of the highlights of the year for local shoppers, traders, children, their parents, schools and the general public but why does this all take place?

There are records stretching back a couple of centuries of men from the coalmining communities of west Flintshire (especially Fflint, Bagillt. Holywell, Mostyn and Llanasa) of the processional dance taking place on the first day of May. Sometimes the activities could continue for up to a fortnight as men would take their dance and song to other communities (helped by the popularity of the railway) as far as Bangor to collect a few pennies.

The dance involved an even number of men with faces blackened with coaldust or applied with burnt cork dressed in white in two lines (one line with red ribbon and the other with blue) carrying white rags processing for a while before stopping to sing.

They were accompanied by two characters the Bili who was dressed in black and the Cadi who wore womens clothing. These two characters would interact and collect money in a laddle and the words of the song related strongly to the activities.

The dance was competitive in nature referring to “neidio am yr ucha” (jumping for the highest, “neidio dros dy ben di” (jumping over your head) or “neidio dros y gamfa” (Flintshire dialect for jumping over the stile). Other lines mentioned the laddle in with which money was collected.

Words varied from area to area and evolved over the years. Although the tradition was seen as a Welsh language tradition and was strongly associated with communities where a little over a century ago a large proportion of the population were monoglot Welsh speakers there are records of some English words being used.

Lines such as “On the first day of May we’ll have a holiday” and “I wish i e, I wish i o, I wish I had a penny o” tell non Welsh speakers a little of the tradition.

In the nineteenth century Lady Herbert Lewis of Caerwys noted the song and dance as told to her by the master of Holywell Workhouse (now Lluesty Hospital) and that version (which does not include the Flintshire dialect) is still in circulation.

After the First World War the tradition gradually lost ground but there are still plenty of people in the area who remember seeing the Cadi Ha performed or as children or young people dressed up and performed something relating to the tradition.

There was something of a revival of interest in the 1970s and early 1980s thanks largely to local singer Ieuan ap Siôn who using information from his father and grandfather gathered a group to tour every May. They danced “rhywsut, rhywsut” (anyhow) rather than adhering to the format manuscript and appeared on television. Fifteen years later a conversation between Holywell Town Centre manager and myself resulted in the launching of the present Cadi Ha festival.

We started with five local primary schools and a couple of step dancers and members of Mold-based Welsh dance group Dawnswyr Delyn. It was a great sucess and every year lessons were learnt and the festival grew. In the past three years we extended to introduce other adult dancers from across Wales and toured the area in the afternoon. We have been supported by dancers from Ynys Môn, Caernarfon, Llangadfan (Powys), Cardiff, Carmarthen, Aberystwyth and Bridgend.

Last year we expanded to make the festival a full weekend event and invited a team of traditional dancers from Flanders in the west of Belgium. Such was the success that the committee (now ten strong) hopes to introduce an overseas team every year.

This year we will be visited by Bock Nee Fannee from the Isle of Man and the festival with commence with a noson lawen on the Friday evening at the local Springfield Hotel near Holywell and continued with children from at least fifteen local primary schools on the Saturday morning in Holywell with the adults making our first festival visit to Bagillt and Fflint in the afternoon with a grand dance in St. Mary’s Church Hall in Mold on the Saturday evening and informal sessions on the Sunday around the county.

As the festival grows the organisation also grows. We have an increased committee and ever expanding budget and have the annual problem of applying for grants and waiting until the last minute for the outcome in order to plan the festival.

We are very grateful to our loyal team of musicians, stewards, supporters, teachers and parents without whom the festival could not be such a success.

It is our intention to produce a video record of the festival and memories of our older citizens of the Cadi Ha and use these to produce a book (written by Welsh Folk Dance Society Chair Dr. Prydwen Elfed Owens who has already done much research) the following year. I would like to invite readers to join us in Holywell town centre on the first of May 2004 for a real festival of colour, dance and music.

For further information contact the Cadi Ha office on 01352 755614 or write to Gwyl Cadi Ha, c/o Menter iaith Sir y Fflint, Ty Terrig, Stryd Caer, Yr Wyddgrug, Sir y Fflint.

Finally, we’d like to extend a warm welcome to everyone – as dancers, as musicians and spectators of all kinds to join us in Holywell High Street, Bagillt or Fflint Castle on May 1st. All are also welcome to the evenings of dance and music on Friday at the Springfield Hotel, Halkin, near Holywell and on Saturday at the Church hall, Mold.

Christopher Bailey is the founder and Chair of Gwyl Cadi Ha and a Holywell Town Councillor.