Malad Celebrates St. David’s Day
After Anne Crowther read “Melancholy Air” to the audience, Bob explained the history behind the story
“Dydd Gwyl Dewi Hapus!” is the traditional greeting for St. David’s Day in Wales. In Welsh syntax, the phrase is arranged backwards. Specifically, “dydd” means day, “gwyl” is festival, “Dewi” is David and “hapus” means happy. According to translation guides, and Welsh Valley Society member Jean Thomas, it is pronounced approximately “deeth goyle De-wi hap-is.”
While technically St. David’s Day is observed on the first day of March, the Malad Valley Welsh Society chose to honor the day on Tuesday, February 28. The meeting, which was attended by members of the Society, including several from out of town, featured a reading by Anne Crowther of Bob’s award-winning prose composition “Melancholy Air.” “Because the main character is a young girl, it didn’t seem right for me to read it,” Bob laughed.
In his historical fiction piece, which was awarded the “Prose Fiction Contest” prize at last year’s Welsh Festival, Crowther tells the story of a young girl named Estella living in Malad at the onset of World War I. A touring Welsh Men’s Chorus visiting the United States is sent an invitation to visit the town, during its tour of the country. Malad had raised a sum of money to support the Welsh troops who had already begun fighting in the Great War. The chorus agrees to visit, and several of the young members are assigned to stay with Estella’s family, which causes she and her sister considerable glee.
During the brief visit, Estella and her sister Kate get to know Hugh Morgan, one of the visiting singers. After forming a bond, the girls wait anxiously to hear of the further adventures of the traveling singers. Their world is shattered when they receive the news in the Idaho Enterprise of the sinking of the Lusitania—the act that is generally considered one of the most important motivations for the U.S. joining in the war effort.
Crowther was then asked by the audience about which elements of the story were “true” and which were “fiction.” As it turned out, most of the story was based on real events, with only the romantic subplot and the fate of the choir on the Lusitania coming from a fictionalized perspective. The Welsh Men’s Choruses did tour the United States several times during the decade, including during the same time period in 1914. The choir was world-renowned, and according to contemporary sources sang for royalty including the king of England and President Woodrow Wilson. Malad did in fact raise money for Wales in support of the war effort, and one specific chorus, under the direction of George F. Davies did visit Malad.
Hugh Morgan, it turns out, was not however a real character. Estella was a real person; in fact, she was Crowther’s grandmother (though she did not have any close involvement with the chorus other than to see them perform). The Lusitania, of course, was sunk by a German U-Boat in 1914, though only seven members of the Welsh Chorus were on board when the attack occurred. Of those, most survived. Stories from the time recount that the survivors sang from their lifeboat to raise the spirits of the other evacuees.
Bob Crowther became interested in the story of the Chorus and the Lusitania after it was brought to his attention by Joan Hawkins, former writer for the Enterprise, who had discovered it in a contemporaneous edition. During the presentation, Crowther displayed clippings from the newspaper recounting the visit of the choir and the sinking of the Lusitania. While an apology isn’t strictly necessary, it turns out that the Enterprise story on the sinking did report the deaths of the entire choir, which turns out to have been inaccurate and caused unnecessary consternation. Whether the story was taken from a wire service or simply misreported is impossible to determine at this point, but it certainly is an interesting example of misinformation spreading and becoming widely believed and leading to great fiction.
Bob’s story was very warmly received by the Welsh Society, who peppered him with many questions and suggestions afterward. The consensus in the room was a bit of disappointment that the love story in the piece was fictional, but also appreciation for the authentic and moving account of an important local and even international event.
When asked whether he was currently working on a new story for this year’s Welsh Festival, Crowther laughed it off. “This one took me years, so no. I don’t think so,” he said.
The Malad Valley Welsh Society works to promote the area’s Welsh heritage, and specifically to organize and put on the Malad Valley Welsh Festival, one of the largest events of the year. Over the past years, the Festival has become nationally recognized, and draws many people in from around the country.
Saint David’s Day itself is one of the most important national holidays of Wales, and is a source of traditional pride and religious observance. Saint David, or Dewi Sant in Welsh, is the patron saint of Wales, although he was from what is currently Ireland. Jean Thomas pointed out the irony that St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is in fact from Wales. Saint David was a bishop and missionary who lived in the 6th century, and is known for his role in spreading Christianity throughout Wales. According to tradition, he founded numerous monastic settlements and churches throughout the country, and was a key figure in the Welsh church during his lifetime. He is also said to have performed several miracles, including one of his most famous miracles wherein in order to be heard more clearly the ground upon which he stood grew into a hill. Saint David's Day, celebrated on March 1st each year, is a national holiday in Wales and a celebration of Welsh culture and heritage worldwide.
This year’s Welsh Festival, the 17th annual, will be held on Friday, June 30 and Saturday, July 1, with an evening devotional on Sunday, July 2. Author Dean Hughes will be a featured speaker, as will Dulais Rhys, a native of Wales and expert on the Welsh National Anthem. Bob Washburn will discuss the history of the Logan temple. A full range of events are planned, including the seating of a new bard and a new prose contest winner.