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Happy Saint David's Day! With Gwenno David, our Saint David's Day Ambassador to the World

user image 2020-02-29
By: gaabi
Posted in: Art

If you've been a regular visitor to our website over the last few years, you will have probably seen the name Gwenno Dafydd. We have written many articles noting her contribution to the growth of Saint David’s Day celebrations, not only in Wales but also world-wide. That’s why, in 2017, we asked her to become Americymru’s Saint David’s Day Ambassador to the World. It's now fifteen years since Gwenno became involved in developing some of her ideas for Saint David’s Day celebrations, most of which have come to fruition.

We asked Gwenno to share with us her contributions to promoting St David's Day and reviving the tradiiton of parades on the day, and the history of the anthem she created for Saint David's Day.

Gwenno Dafydd

Americymru Saint David’s Day World Ambassador, February 2020

Back in 2004 I heard about the National Saint David’s Day Parade, which for ease of purpose I will call the NSDDP. Gareth Westacott and Henry Jones Davies came up with the original idea in Cilmeri. The village is famous for being close to the spot where the last native prince of Wales of direct descent, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd , was slain in a skirmish by soldiers in the service of Edward I of England , on 11 December 1282. A memorial stone to Llywelyn ap Gruffudd was erected on the site in 1956 and serves as the focal point for an annual day of remembrance on the anniversary of his death. I believe it was a challenge initially to create a parade to celebrate our patron Saint David and I heard about the very first one, which attracted around 150 people, too late to attend.

2004 St David's Day Parade in Cardiff, Wales

However, by the second NSDDP I was determined to be present and got there nice and early and was presented with a bell and clapper to bang on my way. It was a reproduction of the bell used by Saint David himself, which was called Bangu , and had been made by the blacksmith David Petersen who was involved with Henry, Gareth (Westie) and a few others, including the legend that was Rhob ap Steffan or Castro as he was known to his pals, in organising the parade.

As I was hitting this bell and going past Cardiff Market in the very place where Dick Penderyn (one of the protagonists of the Merthyr Rising) was hanged, I felt as if I had been hit by a bolt of lightning – I suddenly realised that I had to write an anthem – in both English and Welsh, a song that could be sung by choirs and individuals not only in Wales but also on any Saint David’s Day celebration anywhere in the world.

The idea mulled around my brain for a few months and coming back on a very long 16 hour bus journey from a skiing trip, from Italy to Brugges I wrote most of the words in Welsh and English – the rest were completed in our static caravan directly opposite Carn Llidi near Saint David’s in Pembrokeshire, where I like to believe Saint David himself drew inspiration.

I took the words to my then song-writing partner Heulwen Thomas and told her what I had in mind and she came up with the music for ‘Cenwch y Clychau i Dewi’ (Ring out the bells for Dewi) which is what I was doing when I came up with the idea and we performed the song to a very receptive audience at the end of the 2006 NSDDP. At that point I was invited by the NSDDP committee to become the voluntary School Liaison Officer as I worked extensively with schools at that time. Heulwen didn’t want to be involved in any of the organising – and had I known how much time, energy and effort the role was going to take I would have and should have said a big resounding NO!

However I didn’t, and I decided to use ‘Cenwch y Clychau’ (Ring out the bells) as a way of engaging with schools and also of getting lots of publicity. I work as a freelance broadcaster (amongst many things - see my website for some of the projects I am now involved in. ) and had many contacts in the media which I used to get thousands of pounds worth of free publicity which enabled the next NSDDP to grow from a couple of hundred people to around the 1,500. I was personally able to get 300 children there from schools such as Ysgol Treganna, Ysgol Plasmawr and Mountstuart Square.

 Ysgol Treganna, Ysgol Plasmawr and Mountstuart Square students in the St David's Day Parade

This became a slight dilemma for the NSDDP Steering Committee as we had become a victim of our own success. We needed help and in 2007 I suggested we approach the National Assembly of Wales and Cardiff City Council for support. This in turn became the ‘Partnership’ and with their backing and additional access to media resources the NSDDP grew phenomenally

In 2008 I contacted the National Grid for Learning (then called the Ngfl now called Hwb) and learnt that their online resources for teachers did not have anything available about Saint David. ‘Cenwch y Clychau i Dewi’ became the central focus of a large educational package of resources for teachers and pupils throughout Wales.

The whole package was launched at the Pierhead Building, Cardiff Bay, by the then Presiding Officer, Lord Dafydd Elis Thomas. I organised a boat trip to bring the children of Ysgol Penygarth over to the Bay and the television company I work for regularly, Tinopolis, came and filmed the event and from that time it has been recognised as the ‘Saint David’s Day Anthem’.

 Students at Ysgol Penygarth launch the Saint David's Day anthem.

The 2008 NSDDP was a very successful event and we went on our first trip down to the Assembly. Westie had worked very hard to bring a group of dancers and a baghad (bagpipes) over from Brittany and there were in the region of 6,000 people either lining the streets or taking part with us.

Mike Peters playing the role of Saint David in the 2008 National Saint David's Day parade

In the Partnership meetings we were wondering how we could ‘grow’ our events to be as popular as the Saint Patrick events in Birmingham and one of the committee happened to talk about the use of Bounty banners, similar in size to the old traditional mining lodge banners popular in the coal communities.

I was singing in a concert in Fishguard (another thing I do!) and went for a drink with the friend who had organised the concert. She is called Gaynor McMorrin and she was and still is a very active member of Fishguard Arts Society. I happened to tell her about creating County Banners for Saint David’s Day and she quickly reminded me not only that there were amazing embroiderers living in Fishguard but that the two women who had primarily been involved with the Fishguard Tapestry, Eirian Short and Audrey Walker were also members of the Fishguard Arts Society.

LEFT - A panel of the Fishguard Tapestry. RIGHT - The first meeting of the Pembrokeshire Banner with from left to right – Audrey Walker, Glesni Williams (Embroiderers Guild), Eirian Short and Gaynor McMorrin

In 2009, the manuscript of the Anthem made history by being the very first bilingual song to be sold as a download from a website by Welsh publisher, Y Lolfa.

In February 2009 I organised a launch of the Pembrokeshire Banner in the Welsh Assembly with many of the makers and Assembly member Jane Hutt being present.

I had the honour of carrying the Banner in the 2009 NSDDP along with people from my own community of Pencaer, near Fishguard where I grew up. This again was a hugely successful parade with around 10,000 people present either in the parade or along the route. Westie has also organised another troupe of dancers and a baghad from Brittany and this, along with the fact that it was on a Sunday contributed to the huge success. A choir and brass band came up from Fishguard and Goodwick and they all performed the SDD Anthem.

By this point I found that I was spending so much time in developing Saint David’s Day activities on behalf of the NSDDP committee that it was having a detrimental effect not only on my ability to earn a living as a freelancer but also on my health so I decided to resign from the Committee and focus on my own developmental Saint David’s Day Projects with the SDD Anthem, County and School banners.

In 2010 I organised a ‘Homecoming Ceremony ’ for the Pembrokeshire Banner in Saint David’s Cathedral where it now resides in perpetuity in the East Cloister. I had persuaded the then Bishop Wyn Evans that it would be a great idea if the Banner could be given a permanent home in the cathedral and he agreed! I can be very persuasive when I want to be! It now resides close to where our patron saint’s bones lie.

This beautiful banner has been used in several Saint David’s Day children’s services when it is paraded around the cathedral by the Head Boy and Head Girl of the local Secondary School whilst children from the local Primary School sing the SDD Anthem.

Since resigning from the NSDDP Committee in 2009 I had been more or less focussing on growing the anthem and encouraging the creation of County, School and class Banners and to use in parades, either in towns or around the schools themselves. The reason for this idea was that the schools were loath to take part in the NSDDP because buses were a huge expense and also they all maintained that they had their school Eisteddfod (Singing and reciting festivals all over Wales) on Saint David’s Day. Making school banners based on the anthem and parading them around the school whilst singing the anthem could become a new ‘bolt-on’ tradition which did not affect the usual tradition of Eisteddfodau.

Ysgol Cwmgors (Cwmgors School) students with their 2014 Saint David's Day banner

In 2014, inspired by the huge success of the NSDDP there was a very succesful parade in Aberystwyth (Organiser Sion Jobbins) and in Pwllheli another was growing very quickly (Organiser Rhys Llewelyn).

In Wales we have something called Language Iinitiaitives (Mentrau Iaith) that are government run organisations to encourage the use, promotion and growth of the Welsh language. On the 24th September 2014 I did a training day with Mentrau Iaith Cymru (All Wales Language Initiatives) on networking (another string to my bow!)

After the training session I did an awareness raising presentation about the Saint David’s Day celebrations (anthem, banners and parades) and that I believe is what has triggered the phenomenal growth in the Saint David’s Day Parades around Wales. By 2019 there were 22 parades mostly run by the Mentrau Iaith with every year several new parades appearing. From three to over twenty in less than five years! Astounding.

Following the success of the Pembrokeshire Banner I have been able to persuade some people from Carmarthenshire and Montgomeryshire to create banners

The beautiful Carmarthenshire Banner was completed in 2017 by designer Eirian Davies with the main maker Meinir Eynon. It was used for the very first time in the Carmarthenshire Saint David’s Day Parade in 2018 and it is now an integral feature of their celebrations which are growing year on year.

The Montgomeryshire Banner was also completed in 2017. In 2018 the banner was taken around local churches on Saint David’s Day. It has a permanent home in the church in Llanidloes. This year it will be paraded for the very first time in a brand new parade in Llanfyllin organised by the local Menter Iaith

2017 also saw manuscript copies of the Saint David’s Day Anthem on sale from ‘Ty Cerdd’. It is available in four versions - SATB, Piano & Voice, TTB and SSA and note the little bee on the front is the same bee that is on the Pembrokeshire Banner! I think of everything!

In March 2018 I was very privileged to be invited to take part in the very first Pembrokeshire Parade in Haverfordwest and sang both the national and SDD Anthem. This was a real honour for me as it is my home County and I spent three winters here Directing Theatre in Education Projects back in the mid 1980’s promoting the Welsh language. I would never in my wildest dreams at that time have thought that I would be seeing 450 and more excited and boisterous children on the streets of Haverfordwest celebrating our patron saint! Had the threat of snow not postponed the parade, there would have been 1,500 children present. This year I will also be leading the singing but not before I will have played my part in carrying the Pembrokeshire Banner around the town for the very first time. What an honour. I can’t wait!

In 2019 a book about Saint David’s Day Celebrations containing information about the anthem, parades, school and county banners was published by Gwasg Carreg Gwalch and also looked at the traditions we used to have which were mostly to do with eating ‘cawl’ (soup) and ‘pice ar y maen’ (Welsh cakes) and dressing little girls up in Welsh costumes. There did used to be parades but they were a very long time ago and I am proud to have played a part in reviving them.

In 2019 the very first School Banner was invited to become part of San Ffagan’s permanent collection ( the National Museum of Welsh History) – a real honour for the children and an acknowledgement of this new tradition which we created together. The school ‘Ysgol Cwmgors’ has closed as there were not enough pupils but the banner has resided in Ysgol Gwaun Cae Gurwen who have continued with the tradition of banner creation, parading whilst singing the anthem.

Ysgol Cwmgors (Cwmgors School) staff and students with their Saint David's Day banner

The Anthem is growing year on year and so far has been sung countless times in Canada (Ontario, Toronto, Ottawa) Patagonia, Disneyland Paris, Houses of Parliament, 5 Consecutive NSDDP’s, Llandaff Cathedral, Brangwyn Hall, Saint David’s Cathedral, Los Angeles,(South California Welsh Choir) North America Festival of Wales, Scranton and I have now lost track of everywhere it has been sung on the television and in concerts Wales and worldwide which is a very good thing!

Over the last fifteen years of very hard work, since I became involved with creating and developing new Saint David’s Day traditions, I would never ever have dreamt that all my efforts would have enabled the growth of so many wonderful events. From one parade in 2005 to probably over 25 parades this year. It is so exciting and I feel proud to have played a part in this unbelievable growth.

The anthem and banner creation are two elements which are fun, colourful, can engage with the whole community and can be used and created anywhere in the whole wide world!

I think if the Welsh Assembly Government took stock and realised what tremendous economic possibilities all these developments have and their potential of drawing the worldwide Welsh diaspora back to their homeland, then that could only have a positive effect on the Welsh economy. However I have to say that all my efforts so far to persuade them have fallen on deaf ears.

Ah well onwards and upwards! As I said – I can be immensely persuasive when I want to be. I feel very honoured to have been recognised by Americymru for my work with Saint David’s Day and there’s a biblical expression about ‘Never being a prophet in your own land’, so until Wales realises what I have done I am very happy to be a Saint David’s Day World Ambassador for Americymru.

Remember ‘Gwnewch y Pethau Bychain’ – Do the small things! And thank you for the opportunity to trawl through all these wonderful memories”.

Text and Images copyright (©) 2020 Gwenno David, All Rights Reserved unless otherwise noted