WSWNE Christmas Luncheon 2015

by Leslie Spencer

Hugh_JamesA 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.

WSWNE Christmas LuncheonWe 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.

Upstate New York & Vermont Trip in the “Spring” – a Slate Museum Visit

Article by Beth Roberts Brown and Susan Davies Sit

Disused Slate Quarry in Granville, NYNothing 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.

Jones Grave at Elmwood Cemetery in Granville, NYWelsh 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.

Williams Grave at Elmwood Cemetery, Granville, NYWhat 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.

 

WSWNE celebrates St. David’s Day!

St. David’s Day Celebrated in Connecticut

by Leslie Spencer

St. David’s Day was celebrated with gusto in East Windsor, Connecticut this past

Ed & Beth Brown with Sherry Williams

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 delivers a presentation

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.

Christmas Festivities in 2014

On December 6, 2014 the Welsh Society of Western New England had a special guest attend the annual Christmas Luncheon. DylanChristmas Tables at WSWNE's Christmas Gathering Thomas arrived, in the person of Glyn Dowden, a Society member known for the ability to impersonate the famous writer. He told the story of Thomas’s life, accompanied by a slide show of photos of Thomas, his family, the house in Laugharne, and of Swansea where he was born

Thomas, alias Glyn Dowden, was a welcome guest at the event, which took place at the Yankee Pedlar Inn in Holyoke MA. The Inn is a Victorian-style building, with lots of dark wood, but the Garden Room has a wall of windows, so it was flooded with natural light, even on a rainy day.

At noon there was a brief cocktail hour, during which Beth Roberts Brown served as hostess of a very successful Teacup Auction of Welsh products and memorabilia. Christmas crackers were pulled with gusto and heads adorned with multi-colored crowns. Jokes were heard across tables, inciting both laughter and groans. The atmosphere was festive, filled with the warmth of camaraderie and affection.

Singing at our Christmas GatheringAnnouncements were made by the President, Susan Davies Sit, followed by the fascinating history of one of Wales’ most influential authors. Many of us were familiar with Thomas’ writing, but Glyn chronicled the story of a life cut short at the age of 39, adding the details that gave the background of his life and how that affected his writing and early death. The singing of Welsh Christmas carols, led by Leslie Spencer and the Welsh national anthem, followed Glyn’s performance.

Gifts were exchanged in the form of smiles, hugs and the greetings of friends who are connected by love of Wales, the Welsh people, language, and history, but also by the community we have created together.

St. David’s Day with WSWNE

By Glyn Dowden

The annual St. David’s Day Gathering of the Welsh Society of Western New England (WSWNE) was held on Saturday, March 1, 2014 at the Nutmeg restaurant in East Windsor, CT.

From Connecticut, Western Massachusetts and even as far away as New Hampshire there was a gathering of 45 Welsh, or partly Welsh, or vaguely Welsh souls in attendance.  With an energetic clink of a glass WSWNE president Susan Sit kicked things off with p’nawn da. We then watched a brief video of Carwyn Jones the First Minister of Wales. In his St David’s Day message Carwyn, who has made something of a reputation for himself with the English by always claiming, quite rightly some would say, that London is to blame for all that is untoward in Wales, wished everyone a happy St David’s Day. “Dydd Gwyl Dewi hapus i bawb.”

Jason Ellsworth then delivered a prayer and paraphrased part of a poem by Brian Harris; to be Welsh is to be born privileged with music in your heart and poetry in your soul.

This set the right mood for the afternoon so that we could all settle down to eat and drink. Needless to say, even though Saint David with a white dove on his shoulder, thought that monks should pull the ploughs without draught animals, drink only water and eat only bread with salt and herbs, and he taught that his followers should refrain from eating meat and drinking beer, we ignored all that and a good time. Some eating fish, some meat or chicken and others the pasta. By the time we had finished the last main course, ice cream and coffee we had also enjoyed sharing our history, stories and pleasantries with each other across the table. Most conversations revolved around Welsh heritage, but because of the melting pot of America we had a scattering of Welshness from all different peoples with connections to countries such as Italy, Ireland, England, Germany etc. On our table we had Dewi Joslin Snr., his Italian wife Diane and Dewi Joslin Jnr. who had travelled all the way from New Hampshire to celebrate with us. Dewi’s mother had been born and lived in Conwy, Wales. Also Valerie, a chapter president of the DAR and whose family were Mormons in Wales. She told us about her experience as a member of “The Society of Descendants of Lady Godiva” (who could have believed there was one of these in the US). Such were the many convivial conversations that took place.

Susan quickly dispensed with Annual Board matters with a minor modification to our by laws and the voting in of the same Board members.

Bob Bolgard WSWNE treasurer provided a summary of the finances and assured us that were we were solvent.

Sherry Williams our vice president thanked those of us who attended the lunch and expressed her delight at being able to celebrate Saint Davids day.

Then it was down to presentations:

Sherry described the Welsh Dragon while holding up a steel copy of the Y Ddraig Goch. Apparently the red dragon represents a fierce warrior. The story being; the red dragon overcame the white dragon which was the Saxon invader.

Our speakers on St. David's Day.

The four speakers at our event: Trey McCain, Sherry Williams, Shirley Keifer and Magdalen Dowden.

Magdalen Dowden told us all about the Welsh National Anthem “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” which was composed by Evan James in 1856 in Pontypridd. Apparently ever since its introduction the English have protested that “God Save The Queen” is the national anthem of the UK and all four of its constituent countries. The Welsh of course pay no attention to this and “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” can be heard at all major pubic events in Wales or where ever the welsh are representing their country.

Trey McCain revealed how the leek and daffodil became national emblems. The leak being the first emblem. According to folklore it could protect you from lightning and was worn in battle since it could protect you from harm (and who’s to say it didn’t). Anyway the battle of Crecy where Welsh bowmen came to the fore was fought in a leak field and according to Shakespeare Henry V wore, or had a leak. The daffodil “Cennin Pedr” or Peter’s Leak on the other hand has a shorter history. This national emblem was, for who knows what reason, vigorously promoted by Lloyd George. As an aside it turns out that daffodils produce Galan amine compound which is used to slow the effects of Alzheimer’s. We always knew the Welsh were smarter than the average.

Shirley Kiefer entertained us with two lovely stories about mythic Salmon. The first with an Irish setting and the other in Wales. According to legend and Shirley there is a good chance that salmon can change an Irishman into somebody like James Bond and a Welshman into a Bard.

Sherry then mentioned the upcoming auction that we were planning and Magdalen instantly offered up her husband but fortunately there were no takers.

We closed with the Welsh National Anthem all singing in the Welsh language and looked forward to next time when we would celebrate the culture and memories of Wales.

 

Six Nations Cup – The Game of Rugby in Wales

Six European nations of Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland, Italy and France have played in the annual competition called the “6 Nations Cup” since it was formed (previously as 4 teams in the Home Nations Cup from 1881) in 2000.  Wales has won the 6 Nations Cup 26 times since then and I remember Wales being such a strong and winning team in the 70’s.  The period 1969-1979 was called the “golden era.”  Wales has won 47 of the 70 “6 Nations Cup” games played since 2000.  A Grand Slam is when a nation beats the other 5 nations on their way to the title.  Wales has won the Grand Slam title 11 times since 1908.  Quite a feat!

Welsh Rugby Team

The victorious 2013 Welsh team at last year’s Six Nations.

Rugby arrived in Wales in the 1880s. Rugby is the national sport in Wales and is a huge part of Wales’ culture with patriotism and singing in full view.

The 6 nations Cup will be played this year from Saturday, February 1st to Saturday March 15th, 2014.

Here’s the latest from www.rbs6nations.com: “Wales captain Sam Warburton has allayed any fears over his fitness for the forthcoming RBS Six Nations after admitting he expects to be back playing later this month.” So, a full strength team will be ready to repeat last year’s Grand Slam win. The games are as follows:

Sat, Feb 1: 7:30pm (EST)

Sat Feb 8: 7:30pm (EST)

Sat Feb 22: 1:00am (EST)

Sun March 9: 8:00pm (EST)

Sat March 15: 7:45pm (EST)

Look for them with your cable provider and online.

 

January President’s Note from Susan Davies Sit

Bore da, pawb!

I have spent the last 8 days in wonderful Wales. My Welsh family wondered why I was traveling there in January, in the middle of winter, but the airfares are less than half the cost of summer flights, flights are less than half full and it’s warmer and less snowy than New England! Conwy Castle

Did it rain? Yes it rained. I think it rained every day at some point….but it didn’t stop my mum and I doing anything on our list.

We drove through Snowdonia, via Betws-y-Coed for lunch and shopping for Welsh “things” that I just can’t do without, stopped for photographs of the snowy mountain tops and steel grey lakes, through Capel Curig and Caernarfon and back home to Rhos-on-Sea on the North Wales coast.

Another day took us around the place of my Taid’s ancestors, the isle of Anglesey, with lunch at the White Eagle in Rhoscolyn overlooking the Lleyn Peninsular and a drive around its’ coast through Llanfaethlu, Bull Bay, Amlwch, and Benllech then back across the Menai Straits to the shores of Bangor and home.

Pastries in WalesRestaurants and pubs in Wales are increasingly noting the source of their meats, seafood and vegetables. Locally grown produce and local farm-raised meats are served on every menu. I enjoyed local beef, partridge and lamb. We watched a fishing boat trawling back and forth on the Menai Straits for Anglesey mussels while enjoying an afternoon tea of scones, bara brith and lemon curd mousse etc. Heaven? Close to it.

I’ll see you on St. David’s Day for our lunch and “Welsh traditions” presentation which promises to be wonderful.

Hwyl!

Susan Davies Sit, President

Hiraeth & Hymns in Hartford

On Saturday, December 7th, the Welsh Society of Western New England reconvened at the Town and County Club in downtown Hartford for their winter gathering.  The club features wonderful seasonal decorations over the holidays and was a very warm and inviting venue for our troop.  Several of our far-flung members were present, in addition to several new faces who had learned of our organization through articles in area newspapers and magazines.Tables set for our winter luncheon.

As we sat down to lunch we indulged in one of our favorite Christmas traditions – crackers.  Heads previously bare were adorned with a cacophony of paper crowns as jokes were traded across the tables.  A little levity goes a long way, and the good nature of our group fosters more than our fair share.

Pamela Petro, a multi-talented artist who teaches creative non-fiction at Smith College and for Lesley University’s MFA in Creative Writing, was one of the featured guests at our gathering.  She is the author of three works of travel literature and has written for publications such as The New York Times.

Petro addressed the group on the subject of hiraeth, reading passages from her new book provisionally titled, “Hiraeth In and Outside Wales.”  She talked about the various meanings of hiraeth, including Jan Morris’ suggestion that hiraeth is “…a longing for beginnings, maybe, or for conclusions,” and the fact the hiraeth‘s only true cognate is the Portuguese word saudade. She also discussed hiraeth in relation to Dylan Thomas – his work and his influence on subsequent Welsh poets – and how she experiences hiraeth as someone who has found her “homeplace” in Wales, and yet doesn’t have a Welsh bone in her body!  Pamela concluded by showing images from her recent contemporary art installation in Massachusetts called “Hiraeth in Northampton: An Exploration of Longing.”

Kasha Breau & her harp.We also had the pleasure of welcoming Celtic harpist Kasha Breau.  After a short introduction about the harp and a brief tune-up, Breau launched into a set that sampled music from her wide repertoire.  Naturally, she presented several Welsh and Celtic tunes, including the Irish traditional Dun Oiche and the Welsh Machynlleth.  The song Merch Megan came with a story about its composer, John Perry, a blind harpist from the 18th century greatly admired Handel.  To finish the evening, and in keeping with the holiday spirit, she also played several carols to which we joined our voices.

By the end of the gathering, spirits were high and heads were clear as we gathered around the piano to sing the National Anthem.  The lyrics, these powerful invocations of Welsh spirit and history, took a different shade of meaning for me.  The music and words shared with us that day came from individuals who themselves are part of the myriad beirdd a chantorion within the legacy of Wales.

Conviviality & King Arthur at our October Gathering

Magdalen Dowdwn recounting the history of the Yankee Pedlar Inn.

Magdalen Dowden tells the history of the Yankee Pedlar Inn.

Gathering for friendship is always a joy and a meeting within our Welsh society is always a warm affair. The lunch itself was at the Yankee Pedlar Inn in Holyoke, MA. The home was built in 1875 and later was converted to an inn, which we soon learned was actually the venue for the very first meeting of our society 13 years ago. Luckily for us, the founder, John Dixon, was dining with us, too.

We then had the pleasure of listening to Smith College’s Prof. Craig Davis on a classic theme, “King Arthur, Legend and Myth.” Prof. Davis is a wealth of knowledge about medieval

Pres. Sue Sit and Prof. Craig Davis

President Sue Sit and Professor Craig Davis.

Wales and its myths and legends, especially about King Arthur. He described how myths tell of a strong, brave and legendary “General” whose prowess in battle and noble, humble, and generous soul propelled him into future storytelling as the likely King Arthur we know today and who appeared throughout Celtic legends from about 300AD. We read ancient Welsh poetry and text, searching for proof that King Arthur’s legend is based in fact. Elusive as it is, Prof. Davis showed us where references have been found.

(This post was written by our president, Susan Sit.)

President’s News – September 2013

Croeso i’r hydref – welcome to Autumn!

It has been a steamy July and a cooler August and we are already seeing the Fall colors arriving on our trees, so I find myself thinking back to our wonderful month of June when we held Welsh Classes and an Afternoon tea.  The Welsh classes gave many of us a renewed energy to further pursue our mother-tongue by taking more lessons, and speaking more Welsh.  I am speaking some Welsh to my 4 year old grandson who says a pretty good “Diolch”!

Our Autumn program looks to be quite exciting with a trip to “Peint o Gwrw” (“Pint of Beer”) Welsh Pub in Chatham, NY. The St. David’s Welsh Society of the Capital District (Albany, NY) will be holding it’s annual informal pub night in honor of Owain Glyndŵr on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013 at 4:00 pm, everyone is invited! The Peint o Gwrw Tafarn is located at 36 Main Street, Chatham, NY, phone 518-392-2337. For more information, e-mail the society at: harp@nycap.rr.com.

The WSWNE will also hold a luncheon in October, see inside this newsletter for more details as well as the presentation by Craig Davis of Smith College about King Arthur’s legends and myths.
Pontarddulais Choir at NAFOW.
Four of us are recently returned from Toronto, Canada and our time at the North American Festival of Wales (NAFOW) which was another wonderful weekend of Welsh culture, language, history, dancing and of course music and song. A highlight for me was about 150 of us at the pub sing-along with the 3 Welsh Tenors and Male Choir members – so much “Hiraeth” it was palpable.

Hopefully some of you are planning a trip to Wales this fall. Several of us were born in Wales or have traveled there so please just email us to ask about any travel or tourist information. Pob Hwyl!

Susan Davies Sit, WSWNE President

P.S. Check out our newest gallery posting for more pictures of NAFOW!