Calon Lân is a Welsh language song, originally written as a hymn in the early 1890s. It remains one of the most famous songs in Wales. Daniel James wrote the Calon Lân lyrics and John Hughes the tune. Although Calon Lân has been translated into English (and many other languages) it is almost always sung in Welsh, as is another famous Welsh song, Myfanwy.
Daniel James was one of five children and was born on 23rd January 1848 and lived in Llangyfelach Road, Treboeth, Swansea. John Hughes was born in 1872 in Pen y Bryn, Pembrokeshire and he composed and harmonised the tune at the invitation of Daniel James.
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Daniel James (1848 – 1920) Composer of the words Calon Lân
Daniel James spent his life living in poverty. Born in 1948, with four siblings James lost his father, a stone mason, at a young age. With no income coming into the household, the responsibility of bringing money into the family fell on his shoulders. With little education, he started one of many manual labour jobs at Morriston Dyffryn Steel works at the young age of thirteen.
Daniel was one of five children born to Daniel, a stone mason and Mary who were married at Mynyddbach Chapel in 1844. The family lived in Llangyfelach Road, Treboeth, Swansea.
With such a large family living in a small cottage, living conditions at this time were difficult. Daniel’s father died in 1861 and he was forced to start work at aged 13 in the Landore Steelworks as a labourer to bring some income to the family. Whilst labouring at the steelworks Daniel mastered the intricacies of Welsh poetry. He was taught by D.W. Thomas of Mynyddbach Chapel. In time he began to write poetry under the pseudonym of “Dafydd Mynyddbach. It was during this period that he mastered the intricacies of Welsh poetry and in 1885 took the bardic name of Gwyrosydd.
In 1871, Daniel married Ann Hopkins and lived at Plas-y-Coed Terrace, Treboeth. Between them, they had four children, but this marriage finished following the early death of An, aged 38. In 1888 he married Gwenllian (Morgan) Parry who had returned from Russia following the death of her husband. Gwenllian had five children from her previous marriage and with Daniel had a further three children together.
When Landore tinplate works closed in 1889 James was unemployed the family moved to Blaengarw in the Cynon Valley. Here in 1891, Daniel wrote the words that have become world; famous, the words of Calon Lan. Allegedly, he wrote them on the back of a cigarette packet but wherever they were written, they have stood the test of time.
Daniel died in 1920 and the Mynyddbach Chapel is his final resting place.
John Hughes (1872 - 1914) - Composer of tune of Calon Lân
John Hughes was born in Pen-y-Bryn, Pembrokeshire on the slopes of the Preseli Mountains on 13th February 1872. Pen-y-Bryn (English meaning: top of the hill), is a small village in the parish of Bridell near to Cardigan town and on the main road from Cardigan to Crymych. It was and still is dominated by the Pen-y-Bryn Arms public house on one side and the Grade II listed Pen-y-bryn Baptist Chapel, established in 1818 and rebuilt in 1869 on the other. John Hughes’ parents were poor agricultural labourers. The house in which he was born still survives and is marked with a plaque honouring it as the birthplace of the man who wrote the music to ‘Calon Lân’. As a point of historical interest, there was another famous John Hughes at the time, (1873 - 1932) of almost the same age at John Hughes (Calon Lân). This other John Hughes became famous for composing the hymn, Cwm Rhondda.
In 1874 he and his parents moved to Landore or Glyndwr in Welsh, in Swansea. Landore is located about 2.5 miles north of Swansea city centre.
John was a pupil at Brynhyfryd School until 1884 when he left school to go into full time employment at the age of twelve. He was employed as an Office Boy at the Dyffryn Steel and Tinplate Works which were based in Morriston.
John married Mary Ann Rees in 1895 and they had three daughters Elizabeth, May and Margaret. After starting work as an Office Boy, he became the Commercial Manager of Dyffryn Steel Works and later he served as the precentor at Philadelphia Chapel, Hafod.
He composed many hymn tunes and anthems that were regularly sung at music festivals, Cymanfaoedd Ganu, in England and Wales. Some of his songs are still sung today. He also composed his own accompanying music to the words of Calon Lan which became the predominant tune associated with the song.
John was living at his modest house 3 Stockwell Villas, Mount Pleasant in 1914 just before the Great War. On Monday 15th June 1914 he rapidly became ill and died aged forty-two at 6:45am on the morning of Tuesday 16th 1914. The cause of death was recorded as a brain haemorrhage, sadly he left behind a widow and three small children.
He was buried next to his parents in the Cemetery of Caesalem Newydd Welsh Baptist Chapel in Treboeth Swansea.
So, what does Calon Lân mean? The Calon Lân lyrics and words in Welsh are as follows (English and Spanish versions below);
Nid wy'n gofyn bywyd moethus, Aur y byd na'i berlau mân: Gofyn wyf am galon hapus, Calon onest, calon lân.
Cytgan: Calon lân yn llawn daioni, Tecach yw na'r lili dlos: Dim ond calon lân all ganu Canu'r dydd a chanu'r nos.
Pe dymunwn olud bydol, Hedyn buan ganddo sydd; Golud calon lân, rinweddol, Yn dwyn bythol elw fydd.
Hwyr a bore fy nymuniad Gwyd i'r nef ar edyn cân Ar i Dduw, er mwyn fy Ngheidwad, Roddi i mi galon lân.
Calon Lân English Translation
The meaning of the lyrics to Calon Lân is as follows;
I don't ask for a luxurious life the world's gold or its fine pearls, I ask for a happy heart, an honest heart, a pure heart.
A pure heart full of goodness Is fairer than the pretty lily, None but a pure heart can sing, Sing in the day and sing in the night.
If I wished for worldly wealth, It would swiftly go to seed; The riches of a virtuous, pure heart Will bear eternal profit.
Evening and morning, my wish Rising to heaven on the wing of song For God, for the sake of my Saviour, To give me a pure heart.
Calon Lân - Yr Wladfa (patagonia)
A Spanish-language version of Calon Lân is sung mostly by the Welsh settlements in Y Wladfa (Patagonia in Argentina).
Yo no pido vida ociosa, Perlas ni un galardón: Pido un corazón alegre, Un honesto corazón. Calon lân yn llawn daioni, Tecach yw na'r lili dlos: Dim ond calon lân all ganu Canu'r dydd a chanu'r nos.
Si quisiera la riqueza, Pronto pierde su valor; Más un corazón bien limpio, Cada día es mejor. (Chorus)
Mi plegaria día y noche, La elevo al Señor, Solo pido al Dios clemente, Un honesto corazón. (Chorus)
Calon Lân as sung by...
Calon Lan has been sung by many, many famous singers and by lots who are less famous! It is almost always sung at sporting events and in particular at Welsh rugby internationals. It has been sung by Katherine Jenkins, Cerys Mathews, Bryn Terfel, Only Boys Aloud and probably by every Welsh male voice choir. It has interestingly been sung in the Houses of Parliament in Westminster and also by the British and Irish Lions rugby team!
Calon Lan Centre
The Calon Lân Project (https://calonlancentre.info/) originated as an idea from a renewed interest in Mynyddbach Chapel and its rich heritage. In 2011 the chapel was on the point of dereliction but through the combined efforts of Reverend Grenville Fisher, Roy Church and the support of Treboeth Historical Association the building was saved. A project was set up to encourage and maintain an understanding of local heritage and to establish collaboration with other local organisations.
Mynyddbach has a rich cultural heritage and is the burial place of Daniel James.
The Trustees, members and friends of the chapel are in the process of establishing the Calon Lân Heritage Centre. Through the work of the project the buildings and grounds at Mynyddbach will be preserved for future generations. The project aims is to give communities a sense of belonging and identity by using the history of the local area and the story of Calon Lân. The people of Swansea and beyond will have a better understanding of their cultural heritage and the many historical links to the past.
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