THE JOINT CENTENARY TOUR TO IRELAND, WALES AND ENGLAND
Twenty six members of the DTSA went on the joint tour to Ireland, Wales and England. The majority of these were also members of the Sydney
Welsh Choir. The tour group flew directly to Dublin from Abu Dhabi, where we had stayed in five star luxury, with some members touring Dubai
and going up to the viewing level in the world's highest building, the Burj Khalifa.
Part of the view from the Burj Khalifa - almost like a model
As soon as we reached Dublin the Dylan Thomas links began. Some of them were quite unexpected. Our bus driver, Noel, who was wonderfully
helpful, informed us immediately that he had a grandson who had been christened 'Dylan Thomas' in honour of the Welsh poet.
We went on a literary tour of Dublin and visited the Book of Kells and the Long Room - the old library at Trinity College Dublin. Two of our
DTSA members, Rob Horlin and Rob Ferguson, have strong links with Trinity and helped show us around, along with our impressive local guides.
Inside the famous Long Room of Trinity College
One new buildings that Dylan would certainly have enjoyed is the Blooms Hotel, based on James Joyce's Ulysses, shown below.
Tour members reflected in a gold sculpture at Trinity College
Our concert with the Dublin Welsh Male Voice Choir at historic St Brigid's Cathedral in Kildare was a very moving experience, with a few Dylan
Thomas items in the program.
The two choirs join in a rousing Welsh hymn known to Dylan
Moreover, the afternoon tea and post-concert supper and singalong were both held in a pub appropriately called The Silken Thomas. How Dylan
would have loved the singing in the pub, beer glass in hand!
The memorable Silken Thomas pub in Kildare
From Kildare we travelled back to Dublin and then made our way to Limerick by an implausible route via Glendalough, Kilkenny, Cashel and Tipperary.
The myth of Dylan's 18 whiskies is hard to shift, even in Ireland. Here is The Dylan whisky bar in Kilkenny.
We travelled from Limerick to Galway and back via the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher, stopping at the Falls Hotel in Ennistymon for afternoon tea.
The Falls Hotel in Enistymon, the home of Dylan's father-in-law
It was Francis Macnamara, Caitlin's father, who turned this old ancestral home into a hotel, and it is here that an Irish Dylan Thomas festival was held.
The photo below shows the choir singing one of Dylan's favourite hymns on the steps of the building. Needless to say, the bar was named the Dylan
Thomas Bar and the hotel was full of photos of Dylan and Caitlin.
Gathering on the steps of The Falls Hotel to sing a few songs
Caitlin would have loved our next stop - the Corn Barn at Bunratty Castle, where we enjoyed dinner and a live show of music, dancing and humour.
Enjoying a meal and watching the show at the Bunratty Corn Barn
Our one rainy day in Ireland was on our trip to the Ring of Kerry, but there was still much to see. We visited the statue of the wild goat in Killorglin,
the symbol of the ancient, annual Puck Fair.
King Puck The choir at Blarney Castle
This was the place Dylan visited to write a magazine article which never eventuated - a combination of Guinness and 24 hour bars proved
irresistible. In Cork we sang briefly in St Finn Barre's Cathedral, visited Cobh with its Titanic links and beautiful flowers, and sang in Blarney
Castle before heading for Wexford and on to Rosslare for the ferry to Fishguard in Wales. We arrived in Tenby on a beautiful afternoon
in time for a brief reception with the Mayor. Our coaches found the ancient , narrow streets of Tenby a challenge, and some tour members
struggled with stairways in one hotel, as this was the one place we were split to stay in several locations. But the town itself retained its
Looking over Tenby harbour during our stay in the town
On the morning of our Tenby concert we went to one of the two main centres of Dylan Thomas in Wales: the village of Laugharne. Our first stop
was at St Martin's Church where Dylan and Caitlin are buried.
Tour members gather around the simple cross marking the grave
From here we were free to explore the Boat House, where Dylan and Caitlin spent their last four years, the nearby writing shed, Browns Hotel,
their favourite pub, and all the other buildings in Laugharne with Dylan Thomas associations. It was also a good opportunity just to enjoy lunch
in pleasant surroundings.
Many of us walked across to the Boat House in front of the castle.
Walking to the Boat House over the bridge and past the castle
We were lucky to have such beautiful weather to view Laugharne. The view from the writing shed was at its most inspirational, as was the view
from the other side of the Boat House.
The Boat House from the east, with Sir John's Hill behind
The Boat House and courtyard from the lane above
The view inside the writing shed is always rather less appealing, but is inspirational in its own way. A full-sized copy of the shed has been towed
around Wales during the year and has since made its way to London and Ireland.
The messy interior of the writing shed, originally a garage Not even the Kardomah could do that
The main event during our short stay in Laugharne was a choir recital at the castle. Dylan did some of his writing at the castle, in the days when it
was not open to the public. We sang and recited Eli Jenkins' prayers in his honour.
The choir performing the prayers of Rev Eli Jenkins at the castle
From Laugharne we returned to Tenby to prepare for the evening concert, part of the Festival of Tenby. We were met by relatives of the tour
group, by friends from the Llanelli Male Voice Choir, and even by DTSA members living in Wales.
The choir in St John's Church, Tenby
My recitation of Dylan's Holiday Memory was part of the program. The concert ended with the choir in great voice and a standing ovation.
Before we left Tenby our attention was drawn to a sign not far from the concert venue:
This was in fact Dylan's last public appearance in the UK. He left for New York soon afterwards and did not return.
We left Tenby to travel to Aberystwyth, diverting to the town of New Quay on the way. This was Dylan's original inspiration for Under Milk Wood,
and was the scene of the notorious 'Majoda incident', famously mis-represented in the film, The Edge of Love. The landlord of Dylan's favourite
pub there, the Black Lion, showed me his collection of Dylan memorabilia.
The Black Lion in New Quay
Our concert in Aberystwyth, organised by Huw Bates, was to take place in the Gregynog Gallery at the National Library of Wales, right in the middle of
the biggest exhibition of Dylan Thomas artifacts. We were given an afternoon tour of the building and of the exhibition, with DTSA member Ian Bates
and his father Geoff, who attended Swansea Grammar School while Dylan was still a pupil there. We also were given a reception and addressed by
the Chief Librarian, Aled Gruffydd Jones.
The poster of the exhibition and the hanging fragments of his work
Though our members were struggling with coughs and colds at this stage, the concert went well, with the host Sgarmes Singers in top form.
The choir performing in the middle of the Dylan Thomas exhibition
The next sections of the tour had fewer Dylan Thomas links, though passing names such as Cader Idris and Penmaenmawr were reminders of the Rev Eli Jenkins poems. We sang Men of Harlech (a tune which Dylan whistled when he was happy) at Harlech Castle itself.
Tour members climb into Harlech Castle
From there we drove to Portmeirion, the spectacular brainchild of architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis.
Helen amid the many gardens and buildings of Portmeirion
We spent two nights in Caernarfon, travelling around Snowdonia in the only wet day we faced in Wales.
The choir singing at Caernarfon Castle
We sang at Caernarfon Castle and visited Anglesey to give everyone a chance to see the name at Llanfair PG.
Evans above - what a placename!
From there we stopped at Llandudno for lunch. Many of us made the ascent to the Great Orme via the scenic tramway that has been operating
for 112 years.
The Great Orme Tramway provides spectacular views
We intended stopping at St Asaph's Cathedral, where Dylan made his only solo TV performance, but there were practice sessions taking place
there for the North Wales Music Festival. The very next day, there was to be the premiere of a new musical setting of a Dylan Thomas poem.
Instead, we organised to sing and take tea in the nearby Bodelwyddan Marble Church.
The choir singing in the impressive Marble Church
After a night in Chester, we moved on to Llangollen, a place famous for its international eisteddfod. Dylan was sent to write an article on the
1953 eisteddfod in the year that it achieved international fame through the singing of The Happy Wanderer by the Oberkirchen Girls Choir.
Dylan wrote a witty piece about the event; he could not have dreamed how the eisteddfod and the town itself were to develop. The eisteddfod
began in 1947 as an attempt to foster world peace after WWII, and two competitors who sang in Llangollen in their early careers were Luciano
Pavarotti and Placido Domingo.
The famous bridge at Llangollen , built in 1345
We had a scenic drive from Llangollen down to Ludlow, and then on to Cheltenham for our concert with the Cotswold Male Voice Choir. Cheltenham
was to Dylan the epitome of Englishness; in voicing his reservations about Vancouver in 1950, he compared it to Cheltenham, and opted instead for
the wicked USA.
The elegant Cheltenham Town Hall, our concert venue
The concert with the Cotswold Male Voice Choir was a great success, and raised a lot of money for a special school in the Forest of Dean. The
following day we had an idyllic tour in perfect weather through such Cotswold villages as Bourton-on-the -Water, Chipping Campden and Broadway. They have never looked better. The tour ended at historic Painswick, where we joined members of the Cotswold Choir in the Falcon
Hotel for a singalong and social chat.
The Windrush River at Bourton-on-the-water
We left Cheltenham and travelled on the scenic route to Chepstow, down the Wye Valley. Chepstow Castle was the first Norman castle in Britain
to be built of stone, and it occupies a striking site above the River Wye. We gave a recital there with Greg McCreanor's voice soaring out and
drawing in surprised tourists.
The choir can be heard from the ramparts of Chepstow Castle
From Chepstow we went straight to Cardiff Bay for lunch, with time for tour members to explore the many attractions of an area we have visited
Six DTSA members and three other choristers at Cardiff Bay
Our hotel in Cardiff was really central so we were able to explore the city centre at leisure. The following day we had a guided tour of Cardiff
Castle and many of us also enjoyed seeing the wonderful paintings and artifacts in the National Museum of Wales nearby.
One of the many beautiful rooms we inspected at Cardiff Castle
Cardiff Civic Centre, with the National Museum on the right
While based in Cardiff we gave a concert in nearby Caerphilly where we had a large and receptive audience with our friends in the Caerphilly
Ladies Choir and the Aber Valley Male Voice Choir. While all our concerts on tour were wonderfully profitable experiences in terms of music
and friendship, the Caerphilly concert also helped us financially. There was a great variety of songs and a longer Dylan Thomas section than
was intended. The post-concert reception gave everyone a chance to mingle and chat.
Viv conducts the combined three choirs in the finale to the concert
From Cardiff we travelled up the Taff Valley to Pontypridd, famous for its singlearch stone bridge, the longest in the world when it was built.
Pontypridd is also famous as the place where the Welsh national anthem was composed. It has Dylan Thomas links in that his father's ashes are
buried here, and his son-in-law, Trefor, whom we were soon to meet, was a miner here when he first met Dylan's daughter Aeronwy.
The old single-arch stone bridge at Pontypridd
Pontypridd is the confluence of the Taff and Rhondda Rivers. We drove up the Rhondda River through Porth, which Dylan said (twice in one letter)
was better than London and which now has its own bridge in the style of ours in Sydney, then over the Bwlch to Pontrhydyfen. This former mining
town was the birthplace of Dylan's friend, Richard Burton. We stopped at the entrance to the town but were unable to get our large coach round
the bends near the viaduct.
Porth with its 'harbour bridge'
We were now heading back into the Dylan Thomas heartland. We went through Swansea to the seaside resort of Mumbles where we had lunch.
A few of us went to Dylan's favourite place there, The Mermaid.
Tour members going for lunch in The Mermaid
True, The Mermaid isn't the pub where Dylan drank and played games, as that burned down, but this is the new restaurant on the site with the
same name. From Mumbles we journeyed out to Rhossili, whose beach has once again been voted the best in Britain and ninth best in the world.
The beach at Rhossili on a grey day
Dylan loved Rhossili and the adjoining Worms Head, and set several of his stories there. He also wrote to Pamela Hansford Johnson
enthusiastically about the beauty of the coastline here. It was a shame we had to put up with grey weather there, but it was mainly dry.
Our stay in Swansea was very much based on Dylan Thomas. Our hotel itself was located at the heart of Dylan's old haunts, with the No Sign Bar,
which figures in Dylan's life and in his short stories, just round the corner, and the DT Centre across the road.
Jacqueline at the side of the Dylan Thomas Centre
Our visit to the Dylan Thomas Centre was one of the few disappointments of the tour. It is a grand building, and on my many visits there its
displays and bookshop have been a highlight. We knew the bookshop had been forced out and the beautiful restaurant upstairs with its
chandeliers, where we sang in 2002, was no longer part of the centre; we even knew that the exhibition was being changed just three weeks
from the actual centenary date and was closed to the public. That was surprising enough, but what was more surprising was that so little effort
had been made to bring in new items to fill the void. It was National Poetry Day, but no-one would have known.
Katie Bowman talks to us about Dylan at the DT Centre
One of the few exhibits of note on display
We had great difficulty gaining access to the birthplace at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive on our large coaches - walking there via Cwmdonkin Park is far
simpler and prettier, but not practicable for those with mobility problems. One coach gave up, and the other crashed, but all but one of the DTSA
members got through to the house and had a most enjoyable time.
Geoff Haden talking about the history of the house
Geoff and Anne Haden took over the lease of the house in 2005 and transformed the run-down building into the new state it was in when Dylan
lived there. It has been open to the public since October 27, 2008 and now hosts a wide range of events.
A different Clive speaks in the room where Dylan was born
The main rooms for us to view were the sitting room, or parlour, the setting for so much of the action in A Child's Christmas in Wales, the main
bedroom, where Dylan was born, his father's study, and Dylan's own little room where he did so much of his writing.
Dylan's most fertile period for writing poetry was in his youth, and the majority of his collected poems were written in some form or other in this
Dylan's bedroom, complete with Woodbines and matches
It was an educational tour of the house, and enjoyable not only because of the pleasant surroundings and the warm welcome; we had tea and
welsh cakes while Emyr played the piano for a song or two.
Emyr provides a musical accompaniment
We had time in the afternoon to stroll around Swansea and see the many places mentioned in Dylan's short stories. The evening concert, with the
Gwalia Singers, was held in the biggest church in the centre of Swansea, St Mary's. Dylan was very affected by the Swansea blitz in 1941 which
destroyed so much of the centre. St Mary's was firebombed and only the walls remained; the scene is shown below:
As the concert took place on October 2, I recited Poem in October, one of Dylan's two main birthday poems. It was all the more appropriate as
October 2 happens to be my birthday. The choir sang Tangnefeddwyr, a song about the Swansea blitz.
St Mary's as it is today: a large crowd at our concert
From Swansea, we drove directly to London and Westminster Abbey for a full guided tour. The highlight for DTSA members was seeing the large
plaque to Dylan Thomas in Poets' Corner, put there after a campaign led by US President, Jimmy Carter.
The plaque in Westminster Abbey
An unusual side view of Westminster Abbey
The guided tour of the Abbey was brilliant in every way, as was the tour of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre the next day. It is logical to expect the
guides at such a venue to be highly articulate - even poetic- but we were blessed with guides beyond expectations. When I first visited the Globe
Theatre it was certainly impressive, but just too new to look real. Now, with moss on the thatch and the weathering of the woodwork, it almost
looks as though it really was Shakespeare's theatre.
The Globe Theatre on the south bank of the Thames
We travelled by boat along the Thames and went to see the very moving World War I tribute of the 880,000 ceramic poppies in the dry moat of
the Tower of London. Then it was off to the City Temple for our final concert, beginning with a practice with all the other performers: the London
Welsh Chorale, the London Welsh Male Voice Choir, the Gwalia Male Voice Choir and the London Welsh brass ensemble.
Viv Llewellyn conducts the massed choirs at the City Temple
The concert was a great success, and the final combined items, with four choirs, a brass consort, piano and big pipe organ, created a huge sound.
Lord Martin Thomas was the compere, and there was a strong Dylan Thomas connection. Dylan's son-in-law. Trefor, was in the Chorale, and his
son Huw, Dylan's grandson, spoke about the Dylan heritage, and read one of his own poems. I recited Poem in October again.
The Sydney Welsh Choir performing at the City Temple
We left the City Hall and went with members of the other choirs back to the London Welsh Club for a while, then back to our hotel. It was a very
early start for those of us who had to go back to Sydney straight away. The tour had ended. It was the sixth tour to Britain by the choir, but the
first by the DTSA, and one that will live long in the memory.