Many of Irish descent in Wales have traced and continue to trace, family links back to particular places in Ireland. I have not needed to do so, having simply moved myself from one part of the U.K. to another, although some of my relatives moved further afield.
But there are other links between the two countries, some of doubtful value (in my view). Take the fact that ‘The Bullfrog of the Belfast Marshes’ (my terminology) spent part of his religious fundamentalist career in Barry (near Cardiff – Ed.) — either a black mark or a commendation (depends on your point of view). Indeed, one of his daughters is called ‘Rhondda’ to indicate his association with Wales.
I recall, as a seven‑year–old, during the miners’ strike (rather Lock Out) in 1926, when our remaining coal dust was pressed together with additives into blocks to keep the house warm, supplemented by the heat from a Valor paraffin heater. My mother proudly wore a brooch, fashioned as a miner’s lamp, to express solidarity with the miners, even though our coal bunker was empty.
In the 1931 General Election I sat up late with my elder brother Tom, an unemployed shipyard patternmaker, as the results we regarded as disastrous came over the radio. There was a spark of light in the gloom when we heard that the father (I believe) of Roy Jenkins (now Lord) was returned as Member for Pontypool. I could not have anticipated then that sixty six years later I would be living in Cwmbran, now, along with Pontypool, part of the County Borough of Torfaen.
My first paid job at six shillings for a five and a half day week, after leaving school aged 14, was as a message boy, kitchen hand and cloakroom attendant in a central Belfast restaurant managed by a Mr. Thomas, a Welshman of course. One of my tasks was spreading the pre–prepared mixture on toast, grilling, and dishing up, Welsh Rarebit!
During World War Two Sunday evening meetings were held in Belfast cinemas to raise money for Mr. Churchill’s Russian Red Cross Fund and to call for a second front to relieve pressure in the East.
One principal speaker was Nye Bevan. It was impressive to see the rapt attention of the audience as he shuffled around the stage, everyone hanging on his words.
One of my prized photographs is one taken of him, other delegates and myself during a conference break at Margate (1955), at which time he was out of favour with his party’s leadership.
In a roundabout way I have another connection with Wales, a formative one, through a National Council of Labour Colleges tutor / organiser, transferred from a similar post in South Wales. Through his evening classes and Weekend Schools in Belfast I received a solid foundation in Political Theory, Economics, Trade Unions, and the Chartist Movement as well as tuition in Public Speaking.
It was at an N.C.L.C. wartime Summer School in Bangor, North Wales, that I met my wife to be. She was English – not Welsh – although her maternal grandparents were both called Jones, before and after marriage.
What these various strands of experience which, intertwined with Welsh connections, shaped my development, bring home to me is the fact that the populations of the two islands have much in common. So surely, by rational discussion and mutual respect they should be able to help each other off the tragic hooks of history upon which they are impaled.
When funds are available to create a memorial acknowledging the trials and suffering of the Famine victims it should also be remembered that times were hard for many of their contemporaries, residents in Wales, who may themselves have previously migrated from other areas of the UK.