Members and guests of the Welsh Society of Western New England (WSWNE), celebrated the coming of Christmas and another new year on December 3, 2016 in the cozy Library Room of the Nutmeg Restaurant in East Windsor, CT.
The holiday colors of the Christmas tree in the corner and the poinsettias on the mantle were soon complemented by the red and green of our Welsh flag and festoons of red bunting spelling out Nadolig Llawen above the welcoming fire.
Beginning at noon, old friends and new greeted one another as they sampled cheese, crackers, and cruditee: some toasted one another’s health with drinks from the open bar. Many explored the sales table with items from Wales; a warm looking scarf proclaiming “Cymru am Byth” was among the first items to find a new home. Others browsed the information table and display board or considered which basket of Welsh-related items they would most like to win in the tea-cup auction.
WSWNE President, Susan Davies Sit, officially welcomed the assembly and asked Mark Spencer to provide the invocation; it included good wishes to all, but particularly to all the people of Wales. There followed the annual popping of traditional British Christmas crackers, donated by members Magdalen and Glyn Dowden, with the usual merriment evoked by the donning of colored paper crowns and the calling out of enclosed riddles.
The luncheon followed; this year set out buffet style. It was delicious and was followed by home-made Welsh Cakes by Beth Roberts Brown and Shirley Gilmartin.
Before introducing the featured speaker, President Sit asked for help in finding a new Massachusetts venue for next year’s Christmas event. All three major WSWNE luncheons were held in Connecticut this year because no proposed Massachusetts restaurant met our needs.
She also introduced new member Warren Morgan and referred everyone to the newsletter and website (WelshWNE.org) for details on other announcements.
Our speaker, Thomas Leigh, a Scottish Gaelic language instructor from the Callanish School of Celtic Arts, gave a fascinating talk on the history of Celtic Languages. He presented an impressive breadth and depth of information about the origins, spread, and comparative features of the various languages associated with the people of Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, plus Breton and the Isle of Man’s language of Manx. His many-faceted prepared remarks stimulated an extensive question and answer period. Links to YouTube videos of both Thomas Leigh’s presentation and the lively Q & A are posted on our website: WelshWNE.org.
After winning tickets were drawn for the three baskets of Welsh-related items, the afternoon concluded with the singing of the Welsh song “Deck the Halls” and the Welsh national anthem, “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau”.
By Edward Brown, WSWNE Board member.
It was co-produced with RCT Theatres, in association with Wales’ Millennium Centre and Arts Council Wales. It told the story of a Welsh valley family who were asked to leave their home along with all the other members of the village, in case the mountain “moved”. It was 7 years after the Aberfan disaster when the slag heap of coal shifted and slid down on top of a school and buried and killed 144 people, including many children. After the play ended we got to meet the 5 member Welsh cast.
Following the play we drive over to Astoria in Queens for dinner at the Snowdonia Pub. Their website says:
Snowdonia (in Welsh, Eryri) is a mountainous region in Northern Wales. Named after this beautiful area, we are an authentic gastropub in the Welsh tradition of the “local” that fuses inventive cuisine and quality regional craft beers. Snowdonia prides itself on using only the freshest ingredients, local purveyors of the highest quality foods, and an outstanding selection of bourbon, wine, craft cocktails, and over thirty craft beers. Mwynhau eich hun! (enjoy yourself!) (snowdoniapub.com)
We feasted on Fish & Chips (which Don Sit said was the best he’s ever had here), Bangers and Mash, a slate platter of charcuterie meats and cheeses, Welsh Rarebit, Shepherd’s pie, Welsh cider, Welsh Penderyn whisky for some. it was aw wonderful day of camaraderie and Welsh Hiraeth.
If you try your hand at Welsh genealogy, you will know how difficult it can be sometimes, especially if you are researching one of the common names, such as William Williams, or Robert Jones etc. There are many stumbling blocks in Welsh genealogy. In June, 2016, Susan Davies Sit, President of WSWNE, presented a seminar titled “Welsh Genealogy Research” at the Welsh-American Genealogical Society (WAGS)’s Welsh Weekend in Poultney, VT. The seminar covered census, Family History Societies, headstone Welsh, history of Welsh patronymics and much more. About 20 people attended the seminar and Susan was able to have a 10 minute one-on-one with many of the attendees. The weekend also had a Gymanfa Ganu, a Welsh hymn sing and a tour of the historic Welsh baptist Chapel, amongst other events.
WSWNE holds monthly research days where we learn how to research our Welsh ancestors and build our own family trees. Please join us, email Beth at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Tuesday, July 26, several WSWNE members met at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, CT. We had also planned on visiting the Irish Hunger Museum in Hamden, CT but found out a few weeks earlier that it was closed this summer for renovations. Eight members met in the lobby of the Art Center, and we toured at our own leisure, immersed in the art, looking for Welsh artists and Welsh landscapes. One such painting was this one on the right, by Welsh artist Richard Wilson (1714-1782) depicting Dinas Bran, “View near Wynnstay, the seat of Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, BT”.
Another painting, seen below, by John Martin (1789-1854) titled ”The Bard”. The description noted that English King Edward 1 “was said to have ordered the massacre of all the Welsh Bards. Following Thomas Gray’s treatment of the legend in his celebrated poem “The Bard: A Pinnacle Ode” (1757), John Martin shows the sole survivor clutching his hair while cursing the king and his army before hurling himself to his death from a rocky crag”. An Austrian poet in 1857 named Arany, wrote a preface to his own poem: “The historians doubt it, but it strongly stands in the legend that Edward I of England sent 500 Welsh bards to the stake after his victory over the Welsh (1277) to prevent them from arousing the country and destroying English rule by telling of the glorious past of their nation.”
Elihu Yale, a benefactor of the Collegiate School in the Colony of Connecticut (founded 1701) which was renamed Yale College in his honor, was born in Boston, but returned to London with his parents at age three, where he was educated. His ancestry can be traced back to the family home of Llandegla, Denbighshire, Wales. Yale is the English spelling of the name Iâl. Elihu amassed a fortune working for the East India Company, returning to England in 1699. He spent much of his time at his father’s house “Plas Grono” near Wrexham. In 1781, Yale was asked for help in funding the College in Connecticut. Yale sent 417 books, a portrait of King George 1 and nine “bales of goods”. In gratitude, the school was renamed in his honor and it became Yale College. Elihu Yale is buried at St. Giles Church in Wrexham, Wales. There is also a Coleg Iâl (Yale College) in Wrexham, Denbighshire.
The Welsh Society of Western New England celebrated St. David’s Day: Everyone enjoyed Welsh music, culture, the Welsh language and very importantly each other’s company.
Member Leslie Spencer gave a wonderful presentation of “Wales – Land of Song: A look at the choral tradition from yesteryear to today.” Beginning with a tribute to St. David, she reviewed events that have shaped the magnificent musical traditions of Wales, and included photos of her own travels in Wales, including a visit to a mine and how singing relieved the stresses of the harsh conditions. You can watch a video of her presentation on our website.
We listened to Carwyn Jones, the First Minister of Wales deliver his video message to us all, enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Nutmeg Restaurant in East Windsor, CT, shopped at the Welsh merchandize table, won baskets of Welsh goodies, sang the National Anthem and then found it hard to leave.
Susan Davies Sit
Christmas Revels in Boston, December 2015
By Susan Sit, President, WSWNE
Many WSWNE members drove to Boston in December to see the Christmas Revels, many of us for the first time. What a treat it was! The Revels at Christmastime are held at the Sanders Theatre at Harvard University, Boston. As Paddy Swanson the Artistic Director said “Its a wonder that it has taken so long to get to Wales. After all, our Musical Director is an Emlyn and I grew up a few miles away from the border of this magical country……. Our good friend Susan Cooper, (note: who had a grandmother from West Wales) author of the much-loved Revels poem “The Shortest Day”…used to to play as a child around the sea towns of North Wales… Susan helped us write a script that conjures a Wales of humor, warmth, and harmony, all set against a background of ghostly horses, shape-changers and dragons.” George Ellyn said “I went back to Wales. I plunged into the deep, deep pool of Welsh Music”
Can you just imagine what this particular Revels was like for us? Some from Wales with tears of Hiraeth in our eyes; for the fans of Welsh myth and legend watching the red dragon defeat the English white dragon; and for singers, singing along with Ar Hyd Y Nos, Cwm Rhondda, Men of Harlech, Sospan Fach and more? It truly was magical and we are so happy to have made the effort to go to Boston.
Magdalen Dowden said: What fun the interactive Christmas Revels were, in Cambridge this last December. The stage was set in scenes mimicking the village in Dylan’s play “Under Milk Wood”. The performances by singers, actors and dancers, both adults and children, conjured a strong feeling of hiraeth for our little group; lots of tears from those of us far away from home. The cast was coached in Welsh language and Welsh accent, even the children, and they were practically faultless. The Mari Lwyd, a white skeletal horse of South Walian tradition, was spectacular. A wonderful evening with good friends from the Welsh Society.
Blwyddyn Newydd Dda
What an amazing holiday event…the range & variety of performances, theater play, story telling, song & dance and more! Oh yes…we sang along a few times too! A wonderfully good time for all. The pub afterward added another dimension to a fun night! Don W. Sit
Susan Sit, President, WSWNE
by Leslie Spencer
A delightful afternoon was had by all as the Welsh Society of Western New England gathered at the Yankee Pedlar Restaurant in Holyoke, MA on December 5th for their annual Christmas luncheon. Welsh-born Rev. Hugh James, now rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Norwich, Connecticut, gave a fascinating talk and slide presentation entitled “Perlau Llanfihangel-ar-Arth”, or “Pearls of Llanfihangel-ar-Arth”, located in West Wales, where he had been a Vicar at St. Michael’s Church for 12 years starting in 1992. He shared stories both personal and historic in tracing the history of his former Welsh parish which started in 1660 with Vicar Owen Jones. Intertwining political and religious history beginning with the departure of the Mayflower in 1620, Civil War from 1642 to 1651, restoration of the Church of England in 1660, the creation of the Book of Common Prayer in 1662, the Methodist revival with John Wesley in the 1700’s and other significant events, he showed what created the Church of Wales today.
Slides of particular historic interest were of two ancient stones that had been dug up in the churchyard: the Latin inscribed Ulcanus stone possibly dating back to the 4th century, and a Celtic altar stone with six crosses possibly dating back to the 6th century, both stones now in St. Michael’s vestry. He also spoke of those doing genealogical research relating how difficult it can be to find an ancestor without more details than just a name. He related a story of a family seeking their roots only to find ten graves with the same name in the churchyard. An individual of particular note in recent times highlighted by Rev. James was a former school teacher, Miss L. V. Jones, a member of his church who had taught generations of students, shaping their lives, and was in a sense, a living source of who’s who in this region of Wales.
We were transported in time to Wales, the beloved home and ancestral home to many at this festive Christmas luncheon. Much sought after Welsh raffle baskets enlivened the afternoon as well as many items from Wales which were for sale, including books old and new, such as the recently published Ginger Biscuits, A Memoir: Out of Wales and into the World, by Glyn Dowden, a member of the WSWNE.
The Welsh Society of Western New England is always seeking new members to enrich our meetings with tales of old and present day news. Contact the Society’s president, Susan Davies Sit at WelshWNE@gmail.com.
Article by Beth Roberts Brown and Susan Davies Sit
Nothing is guaranteed when you drive up to upstate NY and VT in April, especially the weather. Even though spring was slow coming to CT, we must have thought that VT was warm enough for light jackets, as it had been in CT that week. As we drove though snow showers and the temperature dropped to 34F, we knew we were woefully dressed for the day.
However, the day was indeed wonderful! After a bagged lunch on the road, watching the snow, we arrived at the Slate Museum in Granville, NY in time for a tour of the museum with Bob Isherwood who had prepared a program for us which included the showing of a video depicting a working quarry. One of the voices telling of a narrow escape from death was my uncle, Charlie Roberts, very much alive today at 96. It was spine chilling to hear his voice.
In 1839, as Caleb Raney, a farmer, was about to sell the property, he discovered slate on his land. By the late 1800’s slate quarries quickly spread throughout the valley. Bob took us on a car tour of several points of interest including quarry housing, a derelict quarry pit filled with water, the last remaining quarry stick in the area, Elmwood Cemetery with many stones engraved in Welsh, with Welsh flags next to them. Each stone we passed had a story to tell. We also visited the areas of Blissville and Jamesville where some of the earliest slate was quarried and my family first settled before moving to the larger town of Granville, as well as the ruins of a large mill, in which a fire in 1871 made the New York Times, such was the importance of this operation. A small building with a purple slate roof dating back to 1851 still stands and was a schoolroom and a chapel.
Welsh immigration from slate quarries in Snowdonia, Northern Wales such as Ffestiniog, Dinorwic and Bethesda began around 1850 and the 1850 US Census shows that 18 people of Welsh birth lived in Granville, NY alone – 13 males and 5 females. Many of the surrounding towns (Fair Haven, West Castleton, Poultney and Middle Granville) were also home to Welsh born families. In 1852, thirty Welsh settlers arrived in Middle Granville (SlateValleyMuseun.org) and three hundred more in 1891. In the 1900 census for the Granville area, there are 677 Welsh born persons. Occupations are almost all involved in the slate industry, such as Slate Boss, Slate Worker, Trimmer, Miner, Block Cutter, Splitter.
What made this excursion extra special to me was that this was my hometown. I grew up here in the 40’s, my Dad grew up here, his parents, grandparents and great grandparents. This became home to the family after leaving Wales around 1860. We are a blend of Roberts, Jones, Williams and Rowlands. David W. Roberts and Catherine Jones CwmDyli named after an aunt instead of the family name of Roberts came from the Beddgelert area, John Rowlands and Ann Williams Boarding from Llanllyfni or Penygroes, and Ebenezer and Margaret Jones from the Bethesda/Bangor area. As we searched the area and saw piles of slate looming near the road and through the trees memories came flooding back of watching my Taid and Uncles leaving in the early morning dressed for work including shiny lunch buckets and returning late afternoon covered in slate dust and toting lunch buckets that no longer had a shine. Every quarry had several quarry sticks and today there is only one left. My earliest memories are about living in “the long houses”, which I later discovered were “workers’ housing”. Our visit made me realize how much history the town that I hadn’t been able to wait to leave, had to share now and how much I really wanted to learn more about the area, my family, their struggles and to share their stories with my children and grandchildren. Genealogy research can help unlock some of the family mystery. Our group, directed by our President, Susan Davies Sit does just that.
St. David’s Day Celebrated in Connecticut
by Leslie Spencer
St. David’s Day was celebrated with gusto in East Windsor, Connecticut this past
March 7th by the Welsh Society of Western New England. The Nutmeg Restaurant was the lovely setting for the Welsh gathering, lunch, annual business meeting of WSWNE, and excellent talk and slide presentation on the history of Plaid Cymru by board member Shirley Gilmartin. A large bouquet of daffodils graced the entrance, as did welcoming words and embraces. Susan Davies Sit, president of the society, had recently returned from Wales and had brought back gifts, including a child’s rugby ball, that were all part of the Welsh “Tea cup” auction. Other items including Welsh notecards, Welsh flag tee shirts and bags were also available for purchase. A large map of Wales was on display with pins showing the origins of members’ Welsh roots and members delighted in sharing their Welsh roots with others. And Ed and Beth Brown added a delightful presence dressed in traditional Welsh clothing. He wore slate quarry miners work clothes and cap, and she with long country dress, apron, and tall black hat, still traditionally seen in Wales by women on St. David’s Day. Amid lively conversation The Nutmeg prepared a delicious lunch starting with leek soup, a choice of entree, accompanied by bottles of Llanllyr Source spring water from West Wales.
Shirley Gilmartin’s talk was riveting as she shared from the book Gwynfor Evans, Portrait of a Patriot, by Rhys Evans, and also of her personal involvement during the resurgence of Welsh nationalism as a youth growing up in Wales. She also shared the emotionally charged story of the flooding of the Tryweryn Valley and the role Plaid Cymru played as well as its role in the establishment of a Welsh language TV channel S4C and Radio Cymru.
The warmth of old friends and new ones made, gave this annual tradition a special day to remember. We closed with the singing of the Welsh national anthem and as always, look forward to future Welsh gatherings.