30th April – 4th May 2017
Fifty or more local historians from societies all over the island of Ireland met at Dublin port in anticipation of their much awaited visit to North Wales. It was another opportunity to meet up with old friends and make new ones.
Counties represented were Dublin, Louth, Kildare, Cork, Tipperary, Roscommon, Kilkenny, Tyrone, Antrim, Armagh, Down and Derry/Londonderry. Societies present were from Clane, Naas, Athy, Rathcoffey, Newbridge, Rathmichael, Dundalk, Drogheda, Knocklyon, Mallow, Cahir, Carrickfergus, West Belfast, Banbridge, Strabane, New Buildings, Fassadinin, Carrigtwohill/Blarney, Clontarf, Antrim, Dromore Diocese and Kinsale.
After a very smooth crossing we all arrived safe and sound in Holyhead, where we were met by our Blue Badge guide for the week, Amanda Whitehead. Amanda turned out to be a real “Hidden Gem” and a guide par-excellence. Amanda took us on a tour of Holy Island along its many scenic roads accompanied by some excellent commentary emphasising the close relationship that existed between Ireland and the Isle of Anglesey. We made a stop at the beautiful little town of Beaumaris with its impressive 13th Century Castle, interesting streets with its Church, Gaol, Town Hall and quaint harbour where lots of children were fishing for crabs. Our journey then took us to Plas Newydd, the ancestral home of the Earls of Anglesey set in some beautiful countryside. It proved to be an impressive house with the highlight being the unique painting by Rex Whistler which is the largest canvas painting in Britain filling the complete wall of the spacious dining room. Our adventurous day ended with a most enjoyable dinner in the Celtic Royal Hotel which was to be our home for the week.
After breakfast we boarded our coach and took the coastal route on our way to the walled city of Chester, making the occasional diversion to view some towns along the way. Our destination was the city of Chester situated on the river Dee. Originally founded as a Roman Fort in 79 AD it became one of the main army camps in Roman Britain. Today it is a thriving energetic and busy city steeped in history and offering may attractions to the visitor. Together with its complete city walls, the ruins of the Roman Amphitheatre, its unique Chester Rows, magnificent Cathedral and impressive museums to name a few, it proved a visitors’ paradise. An interesting Irish connection was the fine display of Ormonde Silver in the famous Grosvenor Museum having been given in times past by the then Marquess of Ormonde to help clear his debts. The group were allowed free time to explore the many attractions the city had to offer and enjoy some lunch. We bid farewell to Chester and travelled over the scenic Horse Shoe Pass stopping at the lovely town of Llangollen. This journey took us through some of the finest scenery that Wales could offer with stunning views of Snowdonia highlighted in the afternoon sunshine. It was in Llangollen, a beautiful town on the river
Dee with its 16th Century bridge spanning the river, that we learned more about the famous “Ladies of Llangollen”. It was the story of two Irish ladies, Sarah Ponsonby and Eleanor Butler who became leading socialites in the late 16th Century. We were able to visit their graves in the local church graveyard and also their house, another Plas Newydd, which is now a delightful museum. It was interesting to make another strong connection with the homeland on our journey through Wales. That evening after dinner we had the pleasure of local historian, Robat Humphreys, from the Caernarfon Civic society, give us a most interesting talk on the history of Caernarfon.
After breakfast we headed south to the village of Porthmadog to catch the unique steam train on the Ffestiniog Railway. This little train runs on fifteen miles of narrow gauge track through some of the most beautiful countryside in Wales to the village of Blaenau Ffestiniog at the foothills of Snowdonia. It was a sheer joy to sit back, relax in the glorious sunshine and watch the steam engine bellow its white smoke into the sky as we traversed the mountain side. It was now time to move on and see the beauty of some extraordinary architecture in the village of Portmeirion. Situated beside a beautiful sandy beach and near the Gwllr Woodlands with its rare and exotic plants it presented a stunning picture in the beautiful afternoon sunshine. In the style of an Italian Village it was built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 -1975 and one could be forgiven for thinking you were in the magical village of Portafino in Italy. It was a memorable visit never to be forgotten. Our final visit on a remarkable day was to see the David Lloyd George Museum and the great man’s resting place situated in his home village Llanystumdwy. The museum contains his boyhood home and has a fine collection of items covering the life and times of the man who was British Prime Minister between 1916 – 1922. His grave lies in a quite wooded area alongside a nearby river in peace and tranquillity. During dinner that evening we had as our guests the Mayor of Holyhead, Ann Kennedy and the co-directors of the Holyhead Maritime Museum. We were given a warm welcome by the Mayor, had a lovely meal and a good night was had by all. We have to compliment George Beattie through whose friendship with the people of Holyhead it was all possible.
We started with a tour of the mountains through some picturesque countryside and our first stop was at the slate Village of Llanberis and a visit to the National Slate Museum. We were treated to a “slate splitting “ demonstration by a local expert with a great sense of humour. The slate quarries were really fantastic in the story they had to tell and the area was full of tangible reminders of the industrial past. Buildings, machinery, water wheel, warehouses, all sorts of equipment and even the Quarrymen’s Cottages with open fire, crook and kettle. One had a great sense of an industrial past now gone and the Slate Museum ensures that the 3000 men who worked the quarries are remembered. The happy band then travelled in a coastward direction to our next stop at the magnificent Bodnant Gardens. The gardens comprise eighty acres of hillside, including formal Italianate Terraces, informal shrub borders with plants from all around the world ,the Dell, a Gorge and a waterfall. The rhododendrons, magnolias and azaleas which were in full bloom provided a spectacular backdrop of amazing colours. Bodnant House stood majestically overlooking the garden in all its splendour. All agreed it was the most impressive garden they had ever seen. Conway on the north coast was our next destination to see the walled town and its impressive Castle. Built by Edward 1 it stood resplendent in the bright sunshine. A guided tour by our guide Amanda was most interesting in a castle considered one of the finest examples of late 13th Century Military architecture in Europe. The day ended with a welcome meal at the Celtic Royal Hotel in Caernarfon.
We had breakfast with a certain degree of sadness as we realised that our wonderful visit was almost over. What remained was a visit to Caernarfon Castle before we said our final farewell. A most magnificent building of huge proportions and full of interesting things to see captivated the group until it was time to leave. By invitation and through the good offices of George Beattie we managed to call and see our friends at the Maritime Museum in Holyhead. We received a really warm welcome from Mayor, Ann Kennedy, had a guided tour of the museum led by John Cave, Richard Burnell and their colleagues in the Museum. We were also delighted and privileged to meet with the MP for the area, Albert Owen who met the group, thanked us for coming to Anglesey and wished us a safe journey home.
It is actually difficult to put in words a summary of our visit to this beautiful part of a truly lovely country.
We managed to see many interesting and beautiful places, learn a lot that we did not previously know about Wales, its people, its language, its culture and its fantastic history.
However the journey we made together was about sharing our common love and interest in local history.
It was a wonderful trip which will not only be remembered for the wealth and variety of the history we encountered but by the warmth, friendship and hospitality of all the people in our group and also all those we had the pleasure to meet on a truly memorable journey.
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