Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Mimosa Festival

Well after a week the blog is back - I missed it too much.

Today I went to the Bethel Presbyterian Church of Wales in Liverpool. I walked down Penny Lane (as in the song) and it was litter-strewn and run-down looking, especially the millennium park which was particularly bleak. The Welsh chapel stood proud of the hill, instantly recognisable - that characteristic combination of austerity overlain with dour ornament. Inside there was another country - Wales in England, people coming up to me talking a language I should know but don't. They were my height, my complexion, my people, all of us from the same stock - Romano-Celt. For an hour I listened to the language that should be mine, but isn't, the language I was used to hearing as a child on holiday but never learnt: Gareth James and his talk entitled 'Cefndir y Mimosa'. The sparse snatches I understood sounded very interesting and not for the first time I wished there was some sort of hat you could wear, the universal translator that is always so freely available in most works of science-fiction. But then there was a talk in English which I know was fascinating - author Susan Wilkinson from Toronto talking about 'The Romance of the Mimosa'. The Mimosa was a ship that began life as a tea clipper but is most famous for being the ship that transported about 160 Welsh people to Patagonia. They left from Liverpool. At the time 80 000 people out of a total population of 450 000 were Welsh in Liverpool and there were 70 Welsh chapels in the city. Bethel is one of just seven that remain and is due to be demolished in the near future. Like much of the rest of the Welsh legacy in Liverpool it is crumbling away, is in desperate need of expensive refurbishment and is under-used. However the Welsh community in Liverpool is live and kicking and still publishing.

THE WELSH OF MERSEYSIDE is one of their recent publications. It is well-researched and contains a catalogue of Welsh buildings and characters including one John Davies 'Cadvan'. He was a 'cantakerous' competitor in the National Eisteddfod (a Welsh cultural festival). Although his heroic verse won first prize in the 1884 competition his love lyrics in the 1900 competition were not similarly lauded and he protested vehemently. He stares out of the pages of this book - a handsome man but clearly eccentric - his Wesleyan Methodist ministerial robes festooned with eleven medals dispersed over the entire expanse of his chest.


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