My family’s belief that I am a Kilkenny man exiled in Kildare stems from my passionate interest in Kilkenny hurling. If they went back in history perhaps they might well believe that I am a Welsh man living in exile in Ireland. For you see the first warrior with the Taaffe name came from Wales with the Anglo Normans in the 12th century, leaving behind the Taff river and the Taff valley, two notable landmarks in the Welsh landscape.
I was reminded of the family’s historic past when Athy Lions Club announced a Welsh male voice choir performance in the Church of Ireland Church, Offaly Street on Saturday 8th April. The world famous Brythoniaid choir from the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog in North Wales are coming to Ireland to give a one night performance in Athy before passing on to Kilkenny.
Blaenau Ffestiniog, like Athy, is a town which has seen many changes over the years and indeed both the Welsh town and Athy are presently benefitting from town regeneration plans. For the town, located in the mountains of Snowdonia with a current population of about five thousand, once had a thriving slate industry and a population of twelve thousand. The slate industry has long disappeared, but there remains the Llechnwedd slate caverns which are a great tourist draw and reputed to be amongst the top five tourist attractions in Wales.
Blaenau Ffestiniog has other interests for the Irish for it was there that the Land League campaigner Michael Davitt spoke at a Land League meeting in 1885. Not too far distant from the town is the tiny hamlet of Frongoch where hundreds of Irish men were interned following the Easter Rebellion of 1916. A former distillery previously abandoned and used as an internment camp for captured German soldiers was vacated and made ready to receive the first Irish internees on 14th June 1916.
Amongst those internees was Athy man Mark Wilson who had fought under the command of Edward Daly in the Four Courts/Church St. area of Dublin during the Rising. Another internee was Seamus Malone who was later a teacher in the Christian Brothers school in Athy. Seamus, whose memoirs first published in Irish under the title ‘B’fhiú an Braon Fola’ and later in English as ‘Worth a drop of blood’, taught here in Athy in the 1920s and was actively involved in the local G.A.A. club.
Two other internees in Frangoch were James Corrigan and William Corrigan of Ballitore. Were they I wonder brothers or father and son? I don’t have any information on the Corrigans but would like to hear from anyone who can help me in that regard. Also in Frongoch internment camp, but not as an internee but as Catholic chaplain to the prisoners, was Fr. Laurence Stafford who was later parish priest of Crookstown.
I am told that Blaenau Ffestiniog is predominantly a Welsh speaking community and despite claims that it is known as the town with the highest rainfall in Wales, Welsh voices are still raised in song as they were by the Irish internees one hundred years ago. Singing and performing was a part of the internee’s life in Frongoch, with concerts held every Sunday night and on special occasions such as the 118th anniversary of Wolfe Tone’s death on 25th June 1916.
The Brythoniaid male voice choir was founded in 1964 and competed in the Welsh National Eisteddfed for the first time five years later. Since then the choir has won Wales’ biggest choral competition ‘The National Eisteddfod’ eight times and was runner up on several occasions. The choir has won many other awards over the years and has travelled far afield, including a memorable trip to Russia where the choir was awarded a diploma from the Russian Academy of Culture. Several television appearances have been made by the choir, with some of the finest performers in the world including Shirley Bassey, Harry Secombe, Willard White and the great Welsh tenor Bryn Terfel.
The performance in St. Michael’s Church of Ireland church will commence at 8pm on Saturday 8th April and promises to be a unique and memorable occasion. Featuring with the Welsh choir on the night will be the Scoil Mhichil Naofa choir and our own music legend Brian Hughes. Tickets at €10 each can be bought in The Gem, Winkles, from any member of the Lions Club and at the door on the night. However, you would be advised to get tickets early as I expect a big attendance on the night.