Categories
Stories

Shemi Wâd’s Flight

Folklore

Shemi Wâd's Flight

James Wade, better known as Shemi Wâd was something of a local character and storyteller, and a number of folktales from north Pembrokeshire in particular either involve him, or are attributed to him. in a small, whitewashed cottage opposite Berachah Chapel in Broom Street, Goodwick (which was later renamed Duke Street). Shemi earned his crust as an itinerant worker: gardening for the local well-to-do, going from farm to farm to kill pigs and help out with the harvest. But he also owned a small boat, and spent much of his time fishing for Fishguard herrings which he sold on to be salted and fried, and also shellfish which he sold to locals and visitors during the season.

Shemi Wâd, National History Museum, Wales

He died on 2 January 1897 at the grand age of 80. His tombstone in Rhos-y-Caerau, Pencaer faces some of his favourite haunts, Garn Fawr, Garn Fechan and Garn Folch. Shemi was also somewhat notoriously known as the best tobacco spitter around, and anyone poking holes in his tall tales did well to stand more than six feet away. Here’s one of them.

A Tall Tale

One summer’s day, Shemi was fishing on the Parrog with a dozen hooks all baited to lure fish. After a long hot afternoon, waiting for a bite, Shemi felt his eyelids droop, so he took a few steps back, lay down on a grassy bank, tied the lines around his right ankle and within moments, he was fast asleep. He was so deeply asleep and bound in dreams that he didn’t notice the tide go out, exposing all the bait on his fishing lines.

Soon a flock of seagulls descended, swallowing the bait – hook, line and sinker. Moments later, Shemi’s snoring disturbed them and they all took flight, heading off across Cardigan Bay, dragging the still sound asleep Shemi with them! They flew all the way across to Ireland, coming to land finally in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. Shemi came down to earth with such a thud that finally he woke up. Startled, he freed himself from the fishing lines and stumbled around in the strange surroundings trying to get his bearings. He soon realised that he was in Ireland, but knowing nobody and with the night setting in, he went in search of somewhere he could shelter for the night. At the edge of the park he saw a row of cannons. Now Shemi was only a small, slight man and so he climbed into the barrel of one of the great guns, curled up and went to sleep.

What poor Shemi didn’t know was that the military fired a salute from the cannon ever morning. And so it was that a still slumbering Shemi was shot out of the barrel straight across the Irish sea. Lucky for him, he had a soft landing on the lush grass of Pencw, just above his Goodwick home.

Shemi swore ‘till his dying day that every detail of the story was true…..and those who heard the tale swore blind they believed him…..unless they were standing at least six feet away.

Sources:

The Story of the best tobbacco spitter around, County Echo Reporter, 13 December 2017

Tall Tale from Goodwick (8.4), Pembrokeshire Folk Tales by Brian John

Categories
Stories

Record-breaking Daredevil trip across the Irish Sea

Folklore

Record-breaking Daredevil trip across the Irish Sea

On the 16th of August, 1960 three young men from County Wexford decided to set sail for Wales. Instead of taking the usual passenger ship from Rosslare to Fishguard, they undertook a more daredevil and dangerous expedition. Seamus Organ (aged 21), Peter Donegan (aged 19) and Peter Sinnott (aged 18) visited a friend who had a homemade two seat canoe and asked to borrow it for the trip. The friend agreed but was sworn to secrecy because the boys knew that their parents would not be in favour of such a foolhardy trip.

Seamus Organ, Peter Donegan and Peter Sinnott

The three young lads set sail on the plywood canoe at 11pm from Ardamine beach, Courtown, County Wexford. To help them make the 85 mile /140km crossing, the boys brought supplies with them which consisted of three bottles of lemonade, nine bottles of water and four packets of biscuits! They also brought a radio and compass but the wake of a passing ship swamped their canoe shortly after leaving the beach and destroyed their radio, so they had no contact with land and could not receive the weather forecast. The journey across the Irish Sea took over 24 hours. Throughout that time the stern of the boat was submerged because it was only a 2 seater canoe, one person had to sit astride it, swapping seats every hour. The three hardy sailors even found a leak in the canoe shortly after leaving Ireland, but refused to turn back.

The danger didn’t end there, as they got closer to the Pembrokeshire shore, they encountered strong currents, rocks and swells that threatened to overturn the boat and resulted in the men spending six hours paddling the last two miles to shore. Once they had landed in a small cove near Stumble Head, they spent a further three hours trying to scale a 150ft cliff in darkness. When they finally reached the top of the cliff they made their way to the nearby coastguard’s house. He had been looking out for the three men because their disappearance caused a huge air and sea search on both sides of the Irish Sea. The police were called and the boys were promptly arrested because they had entered the country illegally. They were told that the last time someone had unexpectedly landed in that cove it was the French, about to invade!

A Heroes Welcome

The three adventurers were taken to the large port town of Fishguard where they reported their story to journalists. The story later appeared on the BBC six o’clock news for all to see. As if that wasn’t enough, the Lord Mayor of Fishguard gave the boys the freedom of the town before they were sent back home (along with their friends canoe) on a Fishguard to Rosslare mailboat!

As they got closer to landing in Wexford the boys saw their parents waiting for them in Rosslare. Anxious to avoid their parents wrath, they asked the skipper of the boat to lower their canoe into the water with a fishing net. He agreed and the boys paddled up the coast to Courtown avoiding their parents. Back in their home town the boys were met by the Gorey Piper band and received a heroes welcome. When they did meet their parents, all was well and they never tried anything like that again, warning others that “no one would do it except mad dogs and a few Courtown men” Peter Sinnott, Gorey Guardian, 2005.

In 2005, forty-five years after that impressive journey celebrations were held in Fishguard for the young Wexford men. The three young men were the first people to cross the channel in a two-man canoe in recorded history. There have been attempts to break their record but with no success. 

 

 

Sources:
Article in The Times Archive (August 20th 1960):
www.thetimes.co.uk

Article from the Gorey Guardian (August 18th 2005):
www.independent.ie

Categories
Community

The MacMurrough Inquiry – Ferns Heritage

Community Project

The MacMurrough Inquiry – Ferns Heritage Project

The MacMurrough Inquiry took place on October 12th, 2019 to mark the 850th anniversary of the arrival of the Normans in Wexford. The event took place in St. Edan’s Cathedral and was part of the 2019 Ferns Conference.

The Inquiry, which was packed with local members of the community and visitors from Wales, used a model of judicial inquiry with real barristers and a real high court judge in modern dress and the key characters from the medieval period dressed in medieval costume. It explored the extent to which Diarmuid MacMurrough was responsible for the Norman ‘invasion’.

Witnesses from the period gave testimony, based on historic facts, and on events leading up to the ‘invasion’. Ancient Connections brought two actors from Wales to play the parts of Strongbow (The 2nd Earl of Pembroke) and Robert Fitzharding, a Bristol merchant. Ancient Connections also arranged for historian Dr Euryn Roberts from Bangor University to set the historical scene for cross-border relationships between Wales and Ireland during this period.

The Inquiry found Diarmuid McMurrough not guilty of causing the invasion.

Date: October 2019

Project Outputs: A Mock Inquiry

Categories
Community

Aberjazz Parade

Community Project

Aberjazz Parade

Aberjazz is a local live music promoter based in the twin towns of Fishguard and Goodwick, that organises local music events, mainly in Fishguard. The main Aberjazz event of the calendar is the Fishguard Jazz & Blues festival, which runs for 5 days over the August bank holiday weekend.  This comprises about 35 events in various venues, a jazz parade and the Aberjazz Fringe which takes place in various pubs in the town.

The Aberjazz parade planned for the August Bank Holiday 2021 will be a major attraction, with local involvement, themed fancy dress and workshops throughout August. On the parade day, the town will be filled with street artists and a portable busking stage will attract buskers.

The parade will celebrate local history such as the first flight across the Irish Sea, the last invasion, local pirates and the Happidrome, Goodwick’s first and only cinema.  The Market Hall will come to life with craft stalls, street food, buskers, fire eaters, jugglers and a gin wagon.

Date: August Bank Holiday 2021

Project Outputs: Festival Parade and Workshops

Learn More at: www.aberjazz.com

Categories
Archaeology

St Patrick’s Chapel Excavation

Archaeology Project

St Patrick’s Chapel Excavation

The site of St Patrick’s Chapel is a sandy, grassy mound lying between the Pembrokeshire Coast Path and a beach immediately to the north of a car park at Whitesands Bay, St Davids. Surprising little is known about the chapel prior to recent excavations.

In January 2014 the site was damaged when a series of almost continuous storms hit the west coast of Britain. Dyfed Archaeological Trust and the University of Sheffield, with financial support from Cadw and other organisations excavated the most damaged part of the site over a total of eight weeks in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The excavations demonstrated that a cemetery had been founded in the late eighth century AD and continued in use until at least the eleventh century. A stone-built chapel was built on the site in the twelfth/thirteenth century – this was ruinous by the sixteenth century.

Three more seasons of excavation are taking place as part of the Ancient Connections project. The first of these took place over three weeks in 2019, with two more three-weeks seasons planned for 2021. During the 2019 excavation the foundation walls of the western end of the stone-built chapel were recorded, carefully dismantled and the stone safely stored – the foundations will be rebuilt following completion of the excavation in 2021. Dismantling the foundations will allow for the excavation of the graves and archaeological deposits beneath the chapel during 2021. Outside the chapel the 2019 excavation uncovered several burials, several in stone-lined graves, called long cist graves, including some with crosses lightly scratched on the covering slabs indicating the Christian beliefs of the people buried on the site.

Community Involvement

Members of the local community as well as volunteers from further afield are participating in the excavation under the supervision of professional archaeologists. Beyond direct engagement with the participants on the excavation, community outreach is an important element of the project and one member of staff is dedicated to giving guided tours of the excavation to visitors. It is anticipated that 6000 visitors will be shown around the site during each three-week excavation season.

To learn more about our excavations visit us at:
www.youtube.com

The Dyfed Archaeology Trust welcomes volunteers for the St Patrick’s Chapel digs in 2021. Due to the high level of interest in volunteering on dig sites, details for how to find out more about this opportunity will be advertised here once dates have been confirmed for the digs.

Date: July 2019 – March 2022

Funded by: Funded by The European Regional Development Fund through the Ireland Wales co-operation fund and Cadw

In Partnership with: 
Dyfed Archaeological Trust, The University of Sheffield, the PCNPA

Project Outputs: 
Interim and final project reports. (Click to download)

‘Dig diaries’ of each year’s excavation
Guided tours are provided during each season of excavation
Talks to local and national groups and societies
Short items on TV news and programmes

Learn More at: www.dyfedarchaeology.org.uk

Categories
Pilgrimage

Creative Camino

Arts Project

Creative Camino

Ancient Connections is undertaking an experimental and creative pilgrimage from Ferns to St Davids in May 2021 – the Creative Camino. The project is teaming up with Journeying, a Celtic focused walking and pilgrimage guide company based in Pembrokeshire and Wexford Trails, who promote a series of tourism trails across Wexford County. The project will be an experiential feasibility study to ascertain the possibility of promoting a new pilgrimage route between Ferns and St Davids as a means to encourage stronger links between these two regions, as well as attract overseas visitors in a sustainable form of cross-border tourism. A feasibility study has also been undertaken to assess the long term viability of this route.

2023 marks the 900th anniversary of the granting of a privilege to St Davids by Pope Callixtus II in Rome, who declared that two pilgrimages to the Cathedral were equal to one journey to Rome. 

 

The Journey

The start of the pilgrimage will be marked by a spectacular celebration event in Ferns; pilgrims will then make their way mostly on foot to Rosslare where they will take a ferry to Fishguard. Finally, they will walk the Pembrokeshire coast path, arriving with a warm pilgrims’ welcome at St Davids Cathedral.

Media and Documentary

Throughout the journey, the experiences of the pilgrims as well as the beautiful scenery, heritage sites and wildlife will be documented by Llif:Flow a digital media company based in Angelsey. The stills and footage will be used to promote the project and new pilgrimage route concept across social media platforms and a short documentary film has been commissioned as promotion and legacy.

Date: November 2020 – June 2021

Funded by: Ancient Connections

In Partnership with: Journeying and Wexford Trails

Project Outputs: 
Eight artist performances or event
A Documentary film
Short media content for social media and still photos

Learn More at: www.journeying.co.uk/wexfordtrails.ie

Categories
Arts

Artists in Residence

Arts Project

Artists in Residence

Ancient Connections has appointed two Artists in Residence who will be exploring the shared past of North Wexford and North Pembrokeshire working alongside the contracted archaeologists and historians as well as local communities.

The artists will produce new artworks over the next two years, inspired by archaeological excavations, geophysical surveys and community story searches in Pembrokeshire and Wexford; with a final public showing of the work in both places in Spring/Summer 2022.

Fern Thomas

The artist selected for Pembrokeshire is Fern Thomas; she is based in Swansea and has a long track-record of working with communities. Fern plans to create a radio station and a series of 16 podcasts that follow the progress of the Ancient Connections project. The radio station will be broadcast from a fictional island YNYS in the Irish Sea: “A shared place for culture, history, dreams, poetry and song from all time to live alongside each other.”

Fern describes this as:

“An island where St David can sit alongside the three young men from Wexford in their borrowed canoe; where the fire of Boia’s hill fort or the mermaids off Porth y Rhaw are as present as the eroding sand at Whitesands Bay. A place where the past and the future are simultaneously considered”.

David Begley

The artist selected for Wexford is David Begley, an experienced multimedia artist. 

David invites us to:

“Wonder this: before St Aidan arrived and The Normans later, what drew the ancients to Ferns [Wexford] in the first place? Was it chance Tom Breen’s plough unearthed the first relic at Clone which led us to poke holes in the turf and speculate? Who lay the first seed? What made the first tribe put down roots, leaving charcoal and ceramic in their wake?”

David will make a video documentary on the history of farming in Ferns, facilitate a 12 week visual arts, storytelling and gardening project with St Edan’s National School, Ferns and produce a new body of work in drawing, print, painting, ceramic and writing.

It is also hoped that the two artists will find ways to collaborate together and learn from each other’s journeys.

Date: July 2020 – July 2022

Funded by: Ancient Connections and the Wexford Percent for Art scheme

Categories
Arts

Sylvia Cullen – Smugglers and Summer Snowflakes

Art Commission

Sylvia Cullen

Smugglers & Summer Snowflakes will be a bespoke new collection of short stories, responding to the Ancient Connections themes of journeying, sacred places, Celtic diaspora and longing for home. Inspired by the Story Searches from 2019, and using my own tailored process of Creative Exchanges with local communities, I will create this new collection, setting two stories in Wexford and two in Pembrokeshire.

A Summer Snowflakis a beautiful, rare, poisonous flower native to Wexford; it symbolises the elements every great short story should contain. Smugglers speaks for itself suggesting where I will glean inspiration for this new collection from – drawing on dramatic tales of piracy and bootlegging along the Welsh and Irish coastlines.

The stories will be distributed digitally and shared online as a podcast series for the global Celtic diaspora, as well as being published in book form. In addition, they will be broadcast on local radio in Wales and Wexford.

A Shared Past

“I am a rural-based writer, living in north county Wexford. For Ancient Connections, I will make new work that draws inspiration from our shared past on both sides of the Irish Sea, in order to illuminate our present. This commission is a superb opportunity to explore the interconnectedness of these two regions, creating haunting stories, which will linger on in the minds of all who listen to or read them, no matter where in the world they live.”

Creative Exchanges

“As part of the research process, I will facilitate several Creative Exchanges with local community groups in both Wales and Wexford. I see these interactions as a two-way exchange of oral history and local research. I will facilitate a creative writing workshop for a number of groups and in exchange, participants will offer me their perspectives and opinions on the four Ancient Connections themes.” – Sylvia Cullen

Cover of Sylvia Cullen’s play The Thaw, commissioned by the Arts Council of Ireland, produced by the Courthouse Arts Centre in Tinahely, published by New Island Books, inspired by the people of North Wexford, South Wicklow and East Carlow.

Date: September 2020 – December 2022

Funded by: Ancient Connections

Project Outputs: 
New short stories
Podcasts and radio broadcasts
Final exhibition book launch

Categories
Arts

John Sunderland

Art Commission

John Sunderland

“Over the last three decades, I have led parallel and interweaving careers in visual art and archaeology. Through this, I have developed a transdisciplinary practice informed by research in the fields of geography, contemporary archaeology and art. I am a founding member of The Praxis Collective, an international group of artists and transdisciplinary practitioners seeking new ways to address contemporary issues through grounded theory and art/science collaboration. My current practice draws on deep mapping and the deep time of the Anthropocene to delve into the past, in the present, with an eye to the future.” – John Sunderland

Questions of Good and Evil

'The Shooting Hut' (Site 1, Visit 9) from the project 'Touching Darkness' (2019)

“I see the discipline of archaeology, the study of the material past, as a product of the enlightenment, with all its encumbrances of colonialism and material appropriation, it has developed into a highly evidence-based enquiry into materiality in many forms (ecological and cultural) and scales from the microscopic to the changing global landscape. 

In the context of this project, I find myself considering that these philosophies and methodologies seem at odds with what would have been the prevailing philosophies or theologies of the times that the archaeologists and researchers in Ancient Connections are investigating. This disparity is interesting when considering both movement and the sacred in terms of how someone in the medieval period might have responded to encountering something old or unusual in the landscape. We cannot truly know what went on in the minds of our ancestors but rather than deciphering materials and places in terms of classifications and significations of evidence, narratives may well have turned to the supernatural or the sacred, to questions of good and evil, signs or portents. Objects and materials may have evoked fear or reverence verging on the ecstatic.

In Search of the Uncanny

“Taking this into account, I will undertake a contemporary pilgrimage from one archaeological excavation to the other in St Davids and Ferns. To mimic the medieval experience of travel overland, I will cycle and walk, as cycling would mean travelling at a pace similar to a horse or horse and cart. The purpose of this journey is to make an immersion into the landscape in search of the uncanny, the supernatural and the sacred. It will begin and end with me physically excavating at each site (as an archaeologist). 

Taking an imagined medieval mindset as an inner world, I will project this onto the outer landscape through photographic practice, mapping, drawing and writing. I will also collect found objects of curiosity, from the excavations and during travel. A selection of these would be modified and placed inside a handmade reliquary. The central component of this practice will be photographic. In order evoke atmospheres of the medieval mindset, I will use a large format pinhole camera with 5”x4” black and white negatives.

The intention is to create a visual and written narrative of this journey, not to undertake the journey as a performance, but to use deep mapping principles to investigate a route, rather than a place.” – John Sunderland

Date: September 2020 – December 2022

Project Outputs: Photographs and handmade reliquary

Learn More at: www.johnsunderland.com

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