Canon Geraint James Vaughan-Jones (1929-2002) was responsible for rescuing from oblivion the Welsh carol singing tradition of plygain.

Vaughan-Jones  was born in Llanerfyl, Montgomeryshire. His father, Robert William Jones, was headmaster of the endowed school school there; his mother was Gwendolen. Robert Jones, known by the bardic name of Erfyl Fychan, was an active member of the Gorsedd, eventually becoming the Herald Bard and Recorder. It was a musical household; Robert was fascinated by the art of pennillion singing, in which verse is set to melody and accompanied by a harp playing a second counter-melody. Geraint too was an accomplished musician, playing piano and harp. He was taught triple-harp by the well-known performer, Nansi Richards.  

Geraint was educated at Llanerfyl primary school, Welshpool High School for Boys and then St David’s College. However, he dropped out during his final year at Lampeter and left without taking a degree. After spending two years doing his National Service, he lived for twelve years on the continent of Europe, working as an interpreter and lecturer in Germany, Italy and Spain. (He was a talented linguist; his friends believed he spoke nine languages and he was fluent in German, Italian, French and Spanish.) 

Vaughan-Jones returned home in 1968, due to his mother’s death. He remembered his earlier ambition to become a clergyman and trained for the priesthood at St Deiniol’s Library, Hawarden. He entered the Church in Wales in 1970 and spent the next 25 years working in the Diocese of Bangor and in the villages of mid-Wales. His first post, from 1970 to 1973, was as curate of Llanaber with Caerdeon, near Barmouth. He then became a vicar in the team ministry of Dolgellau with Llanfachraeth and Brithdir. 

Vaughan-Jones’ next post was as rector of Mallwyd with Cemaes and Llanymawddwy, (in the Dyfi valley about halfway between Dolgellau and Machynlleth). One of his predecessors at Mallwyd, John Davies (c. 1567-1644), had been largely responsible for the 1620 edition of William Morgan’s Welsh Bible; this was the first version accessible to most Welsh people. In the shadow of this tradition, Vaughan-Jones set to work to collect and preserve the oral tradition of plygain. As a collector of old books and manuscripts, he was well-placed to locate forgotten treasures. 

St Tydecho’s church, Mallwyd

Plygain is said to have replaced the midnight Christmas Mass of the Middle Ages. The service started early on the morning of Christmas Day, at any time between 3 am and 6 am. It followed an abbreviated form of the morning service, with soloists and groups singing carols unaccompanied, often in complex three and four-part harmonies.  The words of the carols were handed down through the generations; often they were named after the family or the farm where that particular song originated, (for instance Carol Wil Cae Coch or Wil Red Field’s carol). Very few of them are known outside plygain circles. 

Vaughan-Jones published his first collection of carols, Cyff Mawddwy, in 1982; this consisted of a dozen carols that were foundational to Mallwyd’s plygain tradition. In 1987, he followed this up with Hen Garolau Plygain, with 24 carols and music. A third volume, of 26 more carols, came out in 1990. Vaughan-Jones’ aim was to help Welsh Christians rediscover their heritage. For him, plygain should be used as a church service, not simply an entertainment or concert. In 2000, the Church in Wales brought out Cadw’r Ffydd, a guide to holding plygain services in their proper liturgical form. Plygain is now, most usually, an evening service held during or just before the Twelve Days of Christmas. 

Vaughan-Jones was also rural dean of Cyfelliog with Mawddwy from 1985 to 1996. He was made a canon of Bangor Cathedral in 1986 and precentor in 1989.  He was official translator for the Church’s governing body, as well as literature editor for the church periodical Yr Haul. He was a traditionalist from the High Church end of the spectrum, opposed to the ordination of women and to needless modernisation of the liturgy. Although he was a gregarious man, he never married. 

Vaughan-Jones retired in 1996. He died on December 23 2002; his funeral was held at St Padarn’s Church, Llanbadarn Fawr, Aberystwyth.  


The Daily Telegraph (2003, February 5). Canon Geraint Vaughan-Jones: Clergyman who re-established the Welsh rural tradition of plygain, the singing of carols in the vernacular. Daily Telegraph p. 01.. Retrieved from 

Vaughan-Jones, G., (2001). Jones, Robert William (‘Erfyl Fychan’; 1899 - 1968) historian, litterateur and eisteddfodwr. Dictionary of Welsh Biography. Retrieved 24 Jun 2020, from 

National Museum Wales. (2014). Christmas customs: ‘Plygain’ singing. Retrieved June 24 2020 from 

Y Olfa. (2020). Geraint Vaughan-Jones. Retrieved June 24 2020 from x`x