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Llangwm Village Voices was established to provide opportunities to minimise social isolation in rural Pembrokeshire and to bring together people and give them a sense of belonging, identity and purpose. This manifested itself in an incredible village opera based on the true stories of those who fought in WW1 and those left behind. It was played in venues around Pembrokeshire in 2014-2018 to celebrate the centenary of the conflict.
In 2020, the same team came together and proposed another opera, of an entirely different genre – a rock opera – entitled ‘Little Things’. The concept was to use the story of the friendship of St Aidan & St David but to project it into the dystopian future of 2122, where the planet has undergone an environmental disaster. The key message of the play would be that, like St David’s words “Do the little things”, it is not too late to save the planet if we all pull in the same direction.
The support given by Ancient Connections was for a first phase in this project, to write the words and compose the music, to engage singers, professional and non-professional from each region and to make a series of videos that could be used to leverage more funds in the future.
The team enlisted writer Peter George to write the Libretta and composer Sam Howley to create the musical score. They worked with Fishguard/Wales-based choir Bad Habits and Ferns/Ireland-based choir Chord-On-Blues; as well as several local school groups.
Here are the films they created:
Non, the mother of St David is cast out to sea in a boat without a sail at the mercy of the elements.
The year is 2122 and the Earth has had an environmental disaster. The Celtic saints David and Aidan return to remind mankind that it is only by doing ‘The Little Things’ that balance can be restored to the planet and society.
There are food and water shortages and the people that remain are forced to leave their homes in search of the precious commodity, water. This piece conveys the anger of our future generations.
Young people from Wexford and Pembrokeshire, celebrating the importance of bees to the health and wellbeing of our planet.
Choirs from Ferns in County Wexford and Llangwm in Pembrokeshire sing together to celebrate Saints David and Aidan.
For more information or to get in touch with Llangwm Village Voices please click here to visit their Facebook page.
Animating Schools was an Ancient Connections project led by Cardiff-based animation company Winding Snake. The project commenced in 2020 and brought together three schools: Ysgol Penrhyn Dewi in St Davids, Pembrokeshire, Scoil Naomh Maodhog and St Edan’s School, both in Ferns, County Wexford; to create a tri-lingual, cross-border animation piece entitled “The Tales Between Us”.
Children at these schools engaged in a programme of exchange visits and workshops in storytelling, script writing, puppet making and animation. The children were at the heart of this project, making choices about which stories to tell and how to tell them all the way along.
Many talented specialists from Ireland and Wales were involved in mentoring the children such as storytellers Joe Brennan, Lorraine O’Dwyer and Daniel Morden and Deb Winter, artist David Begley, writers Sylvia Cullen and Nigel Crowle and puppet makers Ann Shrosbree and Bill Hamblett from Small World Theatre. Music is by BAFTA Cymru winning composers Tic Ashfield and Benjamin Talbott with voice over by Sara Gregory and Róisín Murphy.
One pupil said of the project, “I really enjoyed the animation [project] because I had the chance to make new friends from Ireland and I also learnt some history about the local area.”
The film highlights tall tales and local legends that link the two regions; saints, sea beasts, banshees, mermaids, selkies and witches all feature in the film. We find out why no one ever goes fishing on St Martin’s Day, 11th November in Wexford and what happened to the mythical land of Cantre’r Gwaelod.
Glen Biseker of Winding Snake said, “There are a lot of stories and a rich history between the two regions, but finding the right parts from the [pilgrim] trail was a priority and a big undertaking. With the help of storytellers and writers we unearthed some great stories. The participant’s interpretation of those stories, through the production process, gives it a real identity.”
Ruth Jones, Project Officer for Ancient Connections said, “It has been wonderful to see this project develop over the last eighteen months. We’ve seen friendships flourish as well as a deeper understanding of the importance of knowing our stories and being able to share them. Winding Snake have given the young people involved such an incredible insight into animation filmmaking, and they have also learnt new skills from many other creative professionals. We hope that it’s an experience that they will remember all their lives and might even inspire some of them to take up creative careers.”
Ancient Connections, held a spectacular outdoor community event in St Davids Bishop’s Palace on Monday 29 May supported by local communities, artists, traders, visitors and project partners. The sun shone and over 4000 people enjoyed the lively occasion.
Highlights of the day included guided walks with Wexford-Pembrokeshire Pilgrim Way and St Davids Cathedral, a beautiful choir concert and performance by Span Arts and members of Côr Pawb, and demonstrations by the Tywi Centre’s master builders and makers.
Cardigan-based festival organisers and performers Small World Theatre, also created a spectacular Pilgrim Parade with pupils from Ysgol Penrhyn Dewi. Their two giant puppets of Saint David and a sea monster led a crowd through the town and into the heart of the festivities.
“It was a sight to behold!” said Ancient Connections project manager Rowan Matthiessen. “We’ve been so fortunate to work with amazing Welsh & Irish artists, volunteers, partnering organisations and community groups throughout the 3-year project. Over 12,000 volunteer hours have contributed to making the project a success.”
Siobhan McGovern, Co-project manager continued, “The Pilgrim Fayre was a genuine celebration showcasing some of the finest talent, produce and crafts produced in West Wales. We wish to thank St Davids Cathedral and the Bishop’s Palace for supporting and hosting us, and everyone who took part and joined us.”
Cllr Thomas Tudor, Chair of Pembrokeshire County Council, who was at the event to greet delegates over from Ireland said, “We were delighted to welcome our Irish colleagues and friends to an event that truly represented the creative collaborations this project has achieved.”
Click here for more info on the event as well as similar events in the area.
The Festival of Ferns was a community festival, led by Wexford based events company Lantern. The festival celebrated Ferns’ unique heritage as the site of St Aidan’s monastery, ancient capital of Leinster, seat of Diarmuid Macmurrough, the Gaelic king who is said to be responsible for the Noman invasion of Ireland.
During April and May 2023, Lanterns artist Caoimhe Dunn worked with schools and community groups to create beautiful puppets and costumes for the parade. She coordinated 12 fantastic workshops which had over 300 local participants.
The festival itself took place in Ferns on the bank holiday weekend of June 4th and 5th 2023. The Sunday had a music trail around the pubs in Ferns with over 15 bands playing throughout the day and night and a beautiful concert in St Edans Cathedral by traditional singer-songwriter Melanie O’Reilly.
Monday’s festival was launched by a parade from the cathedral to Ferns Castle with 85 participants from various local groups. The event continued with a festival in the castle grounds and performances from local musicians, choirs, dancers and medieval jousting from the Horse Men of Eire. The event was attended by around 2500 people from the local area.
The event could not have happened without the contributions of:
In addition we would like to thank Small World Theatre for bringing their giant Dewi Sant puppet over from Wales to join the parade.
The community of Ferns hope to fundraise in order to make the festival an annual or bi-annual event.
A reliable and clean source of water is essential for any community, so it is easy to understand how important wells were for pre-modern peoples. More complex is the mystical relationship humans have developed with these sites, which are imbued with a sacredness that predates Christianity.
Holy Wells of Wexford and Pembrokeshire is a series of five chapbooks celebrating holy wells in two regions with common ancestry and history. Since at least the Bronze Age, sea travel between these two lands has meant cross-fertilisation of traditions and common names associated with wells of both regions. Of significance is the long-standing friendship between two early Christian saints: David, who became the first Bishop of St Davids; and Aidan, born in Ireland, who spent time in Wales and then founded monasteries in Ireland, including at Ferns. In Oilgate, Wexford, there is a well dedicated to David and, at Whitesands near St Davids in Pembrokeshire, there is one named after Aidan. Each of the five books approaches the subject from different perspectives and mediums, including fiction, poetry and essays as well as photographs and prints.
The Oldest Music, has been compiled by Phil Cope, a photographer and author based in South Wales who has several published works on the subject of holy wells. It explores and celebrates how holy wells have inspired poets for hundreds of years and includes a selection of old and new poems, in Welsh, English and Irish, including by Lewys Glyn Cothi, Gwynfardd Brycheiniog, Ieuan ap Rhydderch, Angela Graham, Tony Curtis, Grace O’Reilly, Eirwyn George, Dafydd Williams, Julian Cason, Lorraine O’Dwyer, Brian Jackson, Phil Carradice and Phil Cope. The Volume is illustrated by Phil Cope’s compelling photographs.
The Bright Plain contains two short stories by Michelle Dooley Mahon; ‘The Deacon’ and ‘The Meadow of Women’, in which ritual devotions are placed in contemporary contexts. She writes of illness, suffering, devotion and healing with startling simplicity and a dose of humour. These are not metaphors or coincidences, but real events, requiring neither explanation nor justification. Alongside are toned cyanotype prints by Caitriona Dunnett of St Anne’s well, Lady’s Island and the surrounds of other wells in South Wexford; ethereal, uncanny images that conjure up the past or even the Otherworld, whilst also being here and now.
St Aidan of Ferns is written by Christopher Power, a historian and librarian living in Ferns. He has tracked the story of St Aidan, the founder and first bishop of the diocese of Ferns, through the places named after him, the archaeological remains and the literature that recounts his miraculous works, based on the hagiographies of the early Saints. There are two holy wells dedicated to St Aidan: St Mogue’s Well in Ferns, Co. Wexford and St Maedhog’s well at Whitesands, Pembrokeshire. Additionally, there are a number of churches and cathedrals including St Edan’s Cathedral in Ferns, St Aidan’s Cathedral, Enniscorthy, St Mogue’s at Haroldston West, Pembrokeshire and St Aidan’s Church at Llawhaden, Pembrokeshire. The locations of these sites correspond to Aidan’s life’s journey, in particular the two regions where his impact was most keenly felt: Wexford and Pembrokeshire.
Song of Water, presents two stories set in the time of the early saints by Diana Powell. In ‘Gift’, we are submerged into the birth of St David in a visceral and watery account seen through his mother’s eyes. It is said that Non, a powerful saint in her own right, gave birth to David on a clifftop in a terrible storm. In ‘A Pilgrim’s Wife’, we meet St Gwenonwy ach Meurig, a welsh noblewoman who married St Gwyndaf, an aristocrat and native of Brittany. St Gwyndaf was a contemporary of David and Aidan, and it was a falling out with the latter over a holy well that led to his settling at Llanwnda, at least for a while. Of Gwenonwy, we know very little. Did she embrace this ascetic lifestyle on the bleak and wild coastline of North Pembrokeshire, or did she long for her old life of relative luxury or did she pursue a different path all of her own? The two stories are illustrated with fluid and earthy etchings by Flora McLachlan.
Drawing from the Well takes us on a personal journey; a pilgrimage from West Wales to Wexford seeking a deeper understanding of ancestry, roots and inheritance. What is passed from generation to generation? A photo, a song. And what gets left behind or lost along the way? In Drawing from the Well, Rowan O’Neill travels with water collected from a well next to the Church where she was baptised, looking for a place to pour it, a place of connection and meaning.
The series of books is available to purchase retail from St Davids Cathedral Gift & Bookshop (in Wales) or the ferns Medieval Experience (in Ireland).
The books are published by Parthian Books, click here for their website.
Please get in touch with them if you wish to become an outlet or if you have any other enquiries about the books.
In ancient times, wells were cherished and honoured, not only as vital sources of water, but throughout the Celtic lands as portals to the Otherworld. It is thought that these watery gateways were guarded and tended by Well Maidens, who were believed to walk in both worlds and maintain the sacred respect between mankind and the Earth.
VOW Voice of the Wells is a cross-border concept album, imagining the story of ancient wells and sacred spaces, with particular focus on the untold feminine, created by artists Jo MacGregor and Dan Messore.
Jo grew up in St Davids, West Wales and has been submersed in music, folk songs and stories her whole life. She is drawn to the many holy wells that spring up in the landscape near her home and this project gave her the opportunity to give voice and song to these special places.
In Jo’s own words, “There is voice in everything, it’s just a case of tuning in long enough to decipher it… I have always sung in sea caves and rocky crevices, chapel ruins and wells. The stony parameters of these spaces give a raw resonance to the human voice….and something more…It feels to me as though the very walls of a cave, or stones of an arched well, are joining in and beginning to sing their story, their sorrow, their joy into the notes…For me, as a singer, this [album] is a small way that I can say ‘our lands are important, they have stories locked inside them. These places have names which are written deep in our bones, which we would do well to remember, and give attention to’.
The full album is available for listening and download on all major streaming platforms.