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MERIONETH (Welsh, Meirionydd)

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Originally appearing in Volume V18, Page 168 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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MERIONETH (Welsh, Meirionydd), a county of North Wales, bounded N. by Carnarvon and Denbigh, E. by Denbigh and Montgomery, S.E. by Montgomery, S. by the Dovey (Dyfi) estuary, dividing it from Cardigan, and W. by Cardigan Bay. It is nearly triangular, its greatest length from N.E. to S.W. being about 45 m., its greatest breadth about 30 M. The relief is less bold than that of Carnarvon, but the scenery is richer and more picturesquely varied. The highest summits are the peaks of Cader Idris (q.v.) including Pen y gader (the head of the chair; 2927 ft.); Aran Fawddwy (2970 ft.); Arenig fawr (260o ft.); Y Llethr (2475 ft.), and Rhobell fawr (2313 ft.). Perhaps the finest of the valleys are those of Dyfi (Dovey) Dysyni, Tal y llyn (forehead of the lake), Maw (Mawddach), and Festiniog. The Dyfrdwy (Dee) drains Bala Lake (Llyn Tegid or Pimblemere), which is fed by two brooks rising at the foot of the Berwyn Hills. The Dyfrdwy leaves the lake at the north-east corner, near Castell Goronwy (erected 1202, hardly traceable), flowing slowly to Corwen, after which it is rapid, and receives the tributaries Alwen, Ceiriog, Clywedog and Alun. The Dyfi (Dovey) rising in a small lake near Aran Fawddwy, passes Machynlleth, and expands into an estuary of Cardigan Bay. Rising north of the Aran, the Mawddach (Maw) runs south-west some 12 m., being joined by rivulets. Tratth bach is formed by the Dwyryd streamlet among others. Other streams are the Wnion, Eden, Cain (variously spelled). Besides Bala and Tal y llyn lakes, there are among the hills over fifty more, e.g. Llyn Mwyngil. Among the waterfalls may be mentioned Rhaiadr y glyn (cascade of the glen), near Corwen, Rhaiadr du (black), and Pistyll Cain (Cain's waterspout), some 150 ft. high. A mountain tract of the county, 15 M. from north to south by to from east to west, stretching from the coast inland, is of the Cambrian age, composed of grits, quartzites and slates, and comprising the Merionethshire anticlinal. The central portion of this tract is occupied mainly by Harlech Grits and Menevian beds; it is bordered on the north, east and south by the Lingula, Tremadoc and Arenig beds, which are pierced by numerous dikes and intrusive masses, mostly greenstone. The andesitic rock of Rhobell-fawr is one of the greatest Igneous masses in the whole area of the Lingula beds. The Lingula beds are quarried and mined for slate at Festiniog, and near Dolgelly gold is obtained from a quartz vein, while near Bar-mouth manganese has been worked. Bordering the Cambrian area are the Ordovician rocks. The Arenig beds are interstratified with and overlaid by accumulations of volcanic ashes, felspathic traps or lava-flows, which form the rugged heights of Cader Idris, the Arans, the Arenigs, Manod and Moelwyn; and these are in turn overlaid by the Llandeilo and Bala beds, the latter including the Bala lime-stone. Lead and copper ores have been worked near Towyn. Here and there along the eastern boundary Llandovery and Wenlock strata are included. The structure of the Silurian tract is synclinal; in the Berwyn mountains the Ordovician rocks again appear with associated andesitic and felsitic lavas and tuffs. West of Llangar, near Corwen, is a small patch of Carboniferous limestone. Glacial drift with boulder clay is a prominent feature in the valleys and on the mountain sides. A good deal of blown sand fringes the coast north and south of Harlech. At the Llyn Arenig Bach a deposit of kieselguhr has been found. The climate varies much with the elevation, from bleak to genial, as at Aberdyfi (Aberdovey). Grain crops cover a small area only, green crops being poor, and fruits practically nil. While the soil is generally thin, there are fertile tracts in the valleys, and there is some reclaimed land. The small, hardy ponies (known as of Llanbedr, Conway Valley) are now almost restricted to this county and Montgomeryshire. Manufactures indude woollen stockings, &c., at and near Bala, flannels at Dolgellau (Dolgelley), Towyn, and a few other places. Slate is the chief staple. The Cambrian railway skirts the coast from Portmadoc to Aberdyfi. At Barmouth junction a branch crosses to Dolgelley, where it is joined by a branch of the Great Western railway. Bala and Festiniog are also united by the Great Western, and Festiniog is further joined with Llandudno junction by the London & North Western railway, and with Portmadoc (Minffordd) by the narrow gauge railway, a light line, opened in 1865, running between Portmadoc and Duffws, rising 700 ft. in 13 M. The tourist traffic is a source of livelihood to many of the inhabitants. The coast is almost unnavigable, owing to sand-banks, and the only havens are Barmouth and Aberdyfi. The area of the ancient county is 427,810 acres or 67o sq. m., with a population in 1891 of 49,212 and 1901 of 49,149. In the 19th century, however, the population nearly doubled. The area of the administrative county is 422,018 acres. Welsh is the tongue par excellence of Merionethshire. The county returns one member to parliament, and has neither parliamentary nor municipal borough. The urban districts are: Bala (pop. 1544), Barmouth (Abermaw, 2214), Dolgelley (Dolgellau, 2437), Festiniog (11,435), Mallwyd (885), Towyn (3756). The shire is in the north-west circuit, and assizes are held at Dolgellau. It is partly in the diocese of St Asaph and partly in that of Bangor, and has 37 ecclesiastical parishes and districts, with parts of four others. History and Antiquities.—This is the only Welsh county retaining in English its primitive British name, latinized Into Mervinia, a subdivision of Britannia Secunda, and in the Ordovices' territory. The poet Churchyard in 1587 described the county as remote and difficult of access in his day, and it was never made the field of battle in Saxon, Danish or Norman times, nor indeed until close on the period of Welsh loss of independence. There are not many remains, Celtic, Roman or medieval. Caer Drewyn, a British fort on the Dee, is near Corwen, where Owen Gwynnedd was posted to repel Henry II. and whither Owen Glendower retired before Henry IV. The numerous cromlechs are chiefly near the coast. The Roman via occidentalis ran through the county from south to north and was joined by a branch of Watling Street at Tomen y mur (perhaps Heriri Mons) on Sarn Helen, not far from Castell Prysor. Tomen y mur (detritus of the wall) and Castell Prysor have yielded Roman bricks, tiles, urns and coins. Castell y here, an extensive ruin, and once one of Wales's largest castles, has not been inhabited since the time of Edward I. Cymmer Abbey (Y Fanner) near Dolgellau, a Cistercian establishment founded about. 1200, and dissolved by Henry VIII., is most perfect at the east end, with lancet windows, and against the south wall there are a few Gothic pillars and arches. The architecture varies from Norman to Perpendicular. Towen y Bala, east of Bala, is supposed to be a Roman encampment. It was afterwards occupied by the Welsh, to check the English lords marchers. Moel Offrwm is near Dolgellau. Among the county families may be mentioned that of Hengwrt, since the Hengwrt Welsh MSS. are famous in north Wales and among all Celtic scholars.
End of Article: MERIONETH (Welsh, Meirionydd)
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