I am President of the The Great Plains Welsh Heritage Centre, the only museum in the US and Canada dedicated to the Welsh immigrants who settled on this continent. We are located in Wymore, Nebraska, about one hour south of the capital city of Lincoln.
This year we are honoured to host the North American Festival of Wales (NAFOW), sponsored by the Welsh North American Association. It began on 30 August and runs until 3 September. This is the first time the festival has come to Nebraska in its nearly 100-year history.
Festival of Wales 2023
Many people have hitched their wagons and hit the trail to Lincoln, Nebraska for the North American Festival of Wales this year. This celebration of Welsh culture features concerts by leading artists from Wales, lectures, and many more events. The Cornhusker Marriott hotel in Lincoln is the headquarters for the festivities.
The traditional Gymanfa Ganu (Singing Festival) will be held at St Paul’s United Methodist Church, directly across the street from the Cornhusker. A trip to and tour of the Great Plains Welsh Heritage Centre, as well as Welsh sites in Kansas, are also on the programme. As are Welsh corgis!
On the way to Wymore, we can visit the Homestead National Monument in Beatrice, which commemorates the passage of the Homestead Act of 1862, and includes historical exhibits and an original settler’s cabin. The trip will then travel south to Arvonia, Kansas, established in 1869 by Welsh settler John Mather Jones, and once home to more than 700 residents.
The lovingly restored Arvonia School, Calvinistic Methodist Church, and Town Hall are all listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Emporia, Kansas was also heavily settled by Welsh immigrants in the late 19th century. Many came to mine coal, although others were farmers and entrepreneurs.
A banner year
The ‘Welsh capital of the Great Plains’, Wymore was home to a significant Welsh community. Today it is home to our Welsh Heritage Centre which incorporates the largest Welsh-American archive in the country, a historic one-room school, and a railroad museum. The nearby Bethel Cemetery is the final resting place of many of the original Welsh settlers.
There are new additions to the displays at the Centre, including an historic Chicago-Welsh banner. This beautiful item is more than 80 years old and features Y Ddraig Goch (the Red Dragon). It’s believed to have been made to represent the Welsh at the 1939 Chicago World’s Fair.
The banner is one of many items graciously donated by the Cambrian Benevolent Society of Chicago, including photographs, event programs, and documents related to the Society’s 170-year history, all now housed at the Archive for Welsh America in Wymore.
The spirit of the Festival of Wales
We now also have a replica of the Cofiwch Dryweryn mural, thanks especially to our board member, researcher, and translator Robert Humphries, originally from Newport and now a resident of Wisconsin. The original mural is of course on a wall near Llanrhystud in Ceredigion, and commemorates the 1965 drowning of the village of Capel Celyn and the Tryweryn valley near Bala to supply water for Liverpool.
The original mural has a storied history, and has been defaced repeatedly, including in 2020 when a swastika was painted on it. It is not only swiftly repaired by volunteers, but replicas have sprung up across Wales and the world, over a hundred that are known of.
We are proud to have one such now, on the other side of our more famous mural wall. And we are proud that Welsh-Americans, Welsh-Canadians, and visitors from Wales will see it and the rest of our remarkable collections and community during the North American Festival of Wales.
Daytime seminars, theatre, Welsh cinema, a banquet, concerts, daytime seminars, an eisteddfod, the National Gymanfa Ganu, noson lawen, exploratory trips, and more are still to come this long weekend. Keep your eyes open for news of the North American Festival of Wales, try to attend future festivals yourself if you can. Please make sure you visit us in Wymore if you do.
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