Owen, David (1720-1749) (DNB00)
OWEN, DAVID or DAFYDD Y GARREG WEN (1720–1749), Welsh harper, was the son of Owen Humphreys, by his wife Gwen Roberts of Isallt, a member of a family that was traditionally believed to be descended from the physicians of Myddvai. He was born in 1720, at a farmhouse called Y Garreg Wen, near Portmadoc, Carnarvonshire. There he died in 1749, and was buried in the churchyard of Ynyscynhaiarn, where in 1840 a monument, with a Welsh inscription and the figure of a harp, was erected by subscription over his grave.
Owen was a competent player on the harp. Tradition attributes to him the authorship of the well-known air which, in all Welsh collections of national songs, bears his own name of ‘Dafydd y Garreg Wen’ as its title, though it is known in Scotland by the name of ‘July Jott.’ Some account for this by saying that it was sent by Dafydd to a cousin of his (or, according to others, a brother named Rhys), who was then a gardener at Roslin Castle in Scotland, where the air soon became popular under a new name; but others, who accept its Scottish origin, assert that it was simply a favourite one of Dafydd's. The air, however, possesses a distinctly Welsh character. According to the Welsh tradition, Dafydd when on his death-bed had fallen in a trance, and was believed to be dead, but, suddenly reviving, told his mother that he had just heard one of the sweetest songs of heaven, which, on his harp being handed him, he then played; but as the last note was dying away Dafydd, too, died. The air was preserved from memory by his mother, who was herself a good harpist and a fair poetess. Sir Walter Scott wrote words for the air, entitled ‘The Dying Bard.’ Scott adds that the bard ‘requested that the air might be performed at his funeral,’ and that, according to the ‘Welsh Harper’ (ed. John Parry, p. 110), was done. At least two other airs are ascribed to Dafydd, namely, ‘Codiad yr Ehedydd’ (‘Rising of the Lark’) and ‘Difyrrwch Gwyr Criccieth,’ which is also known as ‘Roslin Castle’ in Scotland, where tradition says it was popularised by the same cousin to whom Dafydd also sent it. Evan Evans (Ieuan Glan Geirionydd) wrote words (in Welsh) for this air. The English and Welsh words for the other two airs, in Brinley Richards's ‘Songs of Wales’ (pp. 58, 79), are by John Oxenford and J. Ceiriog Hughes respectively.
[Welsh Minstrelsie, iv. p. vii; Scots Minstrelsie, iv. 78; Jones's Welsh Musicians, p. 81; Enwogion Cymru by Foulkes, pp. 174–5; Cymru Fu, i. 343. For an account of Dafydd's family see Y Gestiana by Alltud Eifion, Tremadoc, 1892, pp. 59–68, where also all the local traditions are collected.]