A dark January day – Plaid Cymru members, family, friends and neighbours lined the streets to pay their last respects to Menna Battle, a stalwart of Caerffili for decades.
Originally from the village of Glynneath a village she retained contact with all her life.
Menna eventually settled in Caerffili. A proud and passionate nationalist she threw herself into the cause. She was Secretary of Penyrheol branch and served as Constituency secretary for 17 years.
She was elected to Penyrheol Community Council and served her community unstintingly. When she decided to “retire” she moved to Abertridwr where of course she became branch secretary and yes, elected on to Aber Valley Community Council. Her partner of 30 years John (bach) Roberts is the County Councillor.
To say she was involved in her community would be an understatement. Book clubs, Aber Valley Arts, Undercurrents and the festival all benefitted from her tireless work.
She valiantly fought Parkinsons disease for the last few years of her life and a tumour on the brain was sadly to see Menna lose her fight, and we and Wales lost a heroine.
I shall forever be in her debt for her encouragement throughout my political life. Wales is in her debt.
To John bach and of course her son Gareth and daughter Ceri and grandchildren we in Wales owe you. Thank you for lending us this kind and gentle warrior to our cause. Menna you will live in our hearts forever.
We remember the hero Chris Rees (1931-2001), a native of Swansea who suffered a year’s gaol sentence for his stand against conscription by the London government. Pioneer of the Wlpan system of teaching the Welsh language and veteran of elections as Plaid Cymru candidate. He would be 90 today, 6 January, 2021. Photo by the late Alcwyn Deiniol with Chris Rees on the left, Gwynfor and Rhiannon Evans and Winifred Ewing, SNP, with thanks to Rhoswen.
Hundreds of people – from Ireland, Scotland and every part of Wales – attended the funeral of the author, journalist and noted nationalist Ioan Roberts in Chwilog, Gwynedd on Saturday 4 January 2020.
Ioan played a key role inthe work of Plaid Cymru from the 1960s on – not as candidate or lead official but as a talented, creative and prolific writer. He was responsible for most of the election literature of former Plaid president Dafydd Wigley, who also pays tribute to his sense of humour – alway seeing the amusing side in events, circumstances and people that most of us wouldn’t have spotted.
Here you can find copies of the tributes paid by the Chairman of Plaid Cymru, Alun Ffred Jones, former General Secretary Dafydd Williams, the Archdruid Myrddin ap Dafydd – a tribute that includes a pearl of a poem to Ioan and personal memories on behalf of the family by Ioan’s daughter Lois. There is also a recording of the funeral service led by the Reverend Aled Davies.
Cymdeithas Hanes Plaid Cymru’n extends its condolences to Ioan’s family and thank them for their help to remember the career of one of the great characters of our national movement.
Alun Ffred’s eulogy to the late Ioan Roberts. Siloh Chapel, Chwilog, 04/01/2020.
The large congregation here today in Chwilog is testimony to the respect we had for Ioan and to his gentle but mischievous personality. I am sure that as a family you sense the sympathy wrapping around you in your grief and ‘hiraeth’. Thanks for the honour of saying a few words on this sad occasion. I have been warned by Alwena to be brief and to be decorous. Therefore some stories will be kept for another time. Myrddin has captured much of Ioan’s essence in his excellent poem and we have heard Ioan’s way-with-words in the excerpts he read.
So, Ioan Roberts; Ioan; Io Mo. The day after hearing the sad news I went to visit Dora, Wil Sam’s widow. (Wil Sam was a writer, dramatist and folk hero to Ioan’s generation and a close friend and collaborator.) On the table in front of her was Ioan’s latest book on Geoff Charles, a Christmas present from Ioan to her. She mentioned how he used to visit her on the occasional Saturday. “And I’ll tell you why,” she said.”Because I had told him once, after I lost Wil that I felt his absence most keenly on Saturdays.” That was typical of Ioan, being loyal and supportive.
And, of course, there were similarities between the two men; both of them were skilled wordsmiths; both fond of telling tall tales; both evergreen in spirit and neither had ever completely lost the ‘boy’ within. In 1989 Ioan received an invitation to produce the television series Hel Straeon – (Telling/Gathering Tales) a series which Wil Aaron had already started as part of his ‘empire’ at Ffilmiau’r Nant. The title Hel Straeon happens to encapsulate much of Ioan’s life.
In his professional life,- after one false start – his profession was gathering and telling stories as a journalist, programme editor and in his wonderful books; and he did so in clear plain Welsh. And, socially, as all of you know, he was never happier than when telling stories about people and their foibles; a wonderful memory for details and quotations even in the early hours when every sane person was abed. Pengroeslon, Rhoshirwaun was where it all began for him and his sister Kate and though he left to go to college and to find work he actually took Pen Llŷn with him in his language, its sing song lilt and his gentle nature.
And though he was glad to return and contribute to the community- and the Plas Carmel project was close to his heart and will benefit from your contributions today – there was nothing parochial about him. His politics had a national and international dimension as his close ties with Scotland and Ireland proved. The interest in Ireland started early on and in his youth a group of friends were frequent visitors to Dublin and the West. He used to tell a story – one of dozens – about him and a friend, Wil Coed, hiring a car to explore the West of Ireland. If they exceeded the agreed mileage there would be an added fee payable. Somewhere around Dingle funds were getting low but the mileage was going up so they hatched a plan to hoodwink the hiring company by reversing the car round the Dingle peninsula to wind back the mileage clock! The experiment was not a success. The interest in Ireland, indeed the obsession, lasted of course and he became very knowledgeable about the people and the politics of the island.
Anyway, after attending school at Llidiardau and Botwnnog the details about his higher education are a bit sketchy. But he went to Manchester University to study Civil Engineering. In his first week he met the typhoon known as Dafydd Wigley and so began a friendship that lasted the rest of their lives. Soon they were sharing a flat, an unfortunate arrangement academically speaking; according to Dafydd far too much time was spent reciting poetry; Ioan reading Yeats to Dafydd and he in turn reciting Williams-Parry back. You are welcome to believe that story if you wish. Anyway, Dafydd left the college with a degree – and Ioan simply left. Years later when he was interviewing the estimable Sir Thomas Parry, the knight asked Ioan which university had he attended and which course had he followed? Ioan told him the truth. Tom Parry looked aghast and said in his booming voice,” What an awful thing to happen to a man!”
Awful or not, Ioan obtained employment looking after the roads and bridges of Montgomeryshire and getting to know the good folk of the county he came to love. He shared a house with a group of sober and upstanding young men ( pause for tittering). Later he was promoted to oversee the sewage systems of Shropshire; of the two responsibilities he thought the first had more dignity. Sometime during this period a group of nationalistic students came from Edinburgh to Cardiff to a rugby international match. Ioan and some friends met them and though he was dissuaded from boarding the bus back to Scotland, new friendships were struck and a great deal of toing and froing between the respective countries began. Ioan, and later Alwena, came to know Morag, who is here today, and others who have become members of the extended Roberts family.
Of course the most important thing that happened to Ioan in Montgomeryshire was meeting a young lass named Alwena while out canvassing for Teddy Millward, which proves the value of canvassing for Plaid Cymru, perhaps. In time a successful duet was formed, one with a voice like an angel and one with no voice at all. He had already written a few articles for the Welsh language weekly Y Cymro about rural villages in the county and when the opportunity arose he joined the staff. That was the start of a new career and learning his trade as a journalist. They were trained to write stories simply and effectively and he ended up as the chief reporter and a very skilled and influential writer. As Robin Evans, a fellow journalist and friend, said of him, “The contents came first for Ioan; the style merely served the story.”
They moved to Penycae, Wrexham, in the wake of Alwena’s developing career and came to know a very different society – an industrial and post industrial community and a new set of friends. Three years later the head of news at HTV, Gwilym Owen, headhunted him to become the editor of the daily Welsh language news programme Y Dydd . They moved, not to Cardiff but to the less fashionable Pontypridd and made new friends, both Nationalists and Socialists and at least one Communist! There is no record of him befriending a Tory however. There were two news programmes broadcast by HTV, Y Dydd and Report Wales but only one newsroom and there was a bit of tension between the rival teams , partly because the Welsh programme was aired before RW at six o’clock . But Ioan and the RW editor, the wonderfully eccentric Stuart Leyshon of Sketty, got on like a house on fire and Ioan won over the cynical hacks with his professionalism and his good nature.
Of course Ioan was not what you would call a ‘company man’ and the relationship between him and senior management was not always cordial. I remember him being called in to be given a ticking off following an unfortunate incident in Dublin after a rugby international. In the meeting he was reminded that wherever he was and at all times, he was an ambassador for HTV! The message fell on deaf ears I’m afraid.
Amazingly, despite his responsibilities, during this period he edited both Plaid’s journals Y Ddraig Goch and the Welsh Nation, often burning the midnight oil to meet deadlines. And when Gwynfor threatened to fast to death over a new Welsh Language channel I remember Ioan asking us as journalists what our response should be if the worst scenario came about? He had no difficulty being impartial as an editor but first and foremost he was a Welshman and a nationalist.
Ironically, the creation of S4C brought Y Dydd to an end and he lost his job. He was hurt and it was a difficult time for both him and Alwena. Deliverance came once more in the shape of Gwilym Owen, who had had a rough time himself but had been appointed as head of news at Radio Cymru. He employed Ioan as an editor and producer on news programmes. Ioan always had a deep respect for Gwilym as a hard working news chief.
Escaping to Ireland for holiday breaks with the family was important. Galway, County Clare and, more often than not, the Dingle peninsula and the small village of Baile an Fheirtéaraigh – Ballyferriter – in the Gaeltacht was journey’s end. New friends were made there, James and Treasa, Geri and the late Scott and their families; they are also by now an important part of the family and here today. From Scotland and Wales people were enticed there to talk, sing, make music and to drink the occasional glass. And Ioan’s response whatever the occasion was, “Isn’t it wonderful.”
Ioan and Alwena with their friend Morag Dunbar (centre) from Scotland, in the Dingle peninsula, Ireland
Mecca, as Myrddin described it, was a piece of land by Trá an Fhíona, the Wine Strand, looking out towards the Three Sisters headland. Reed covered rough ground, the nearest water tap half a mile away, a toilet and shop a good mile away and August storms whipping in from the Atlantic regular as clockwork. Ideal as a campsite! But for Ioan and many others the place was, and is, simply heaven.
One of the people Ioan came to know there was Bertie Ahern who, at the time, was Chancellor of the Exchequer (or the equivalent of). Early one rainy morning Ioan spotted Bertie taking his dog for a walk down by Wine Strand. In the afternoon he bought a copy of the Irish Times and was alarmed to read that the Irish punt was in trouble; “Punt in crisis” read the headline. Later in the day, presumably because it was raining, Ioan called in at Ui Chathain’s pub and was amazed to see the aforementioned Bertie Ahern there enjoying a pint. They were introduced and, just making conversation, he referred to the alarming headline and asked why the Minister wasn’t hotfooting it back to Dublin to deal with the crisis. Bertie’s dry answer was,” I never read the papers on holiday.” Years later with Ahern ensconced as Ireland’s Taoiseach, Ioan arranged a meeting between him and Dafydd Wigley in the Dáil, and we witnessed two wily politicians engaged in a lively debate.
The Pontypridd era came to an end with Wil Aaron’s phone call. Siôn and Lois were now part of the family and it was a big decision to move from a place where roots had been planted. But up they came and under Ioan and Wil Owen’s leadership Hel Straeon became one of the Channel’s flagship programmes. He also contributed ideas and scripts to the Almanac drama documentary series. The Hel Straeon period was a busy one and they travelled to America, to trace the history of the Welsh settlements, and made series in Ireland and Scotland. In a military camp on the island of Benbecula and running out of patience he introduced a pompous moustachioed Major to the presenter Lyn Ebenezer with the words, “Major Fairclough of the British Army, may I present Lyn Ebenezer who was a major too, in the Free Wales Army.”
The plug was pulled far too early on the series in one of those reorganisations that every institution feel duty bound to carry out. Once again Ioan was out of work and disgruntled. To be even handed Ioan could get tetchy and prickly at times. When Alwena was in the company you would hear the sharp command, “Shut up, Ioan.” He did get work on the current affairs strand Y Byd ar Bedwar but he deserved better. One of his little pleasures in recent years were the Robat Gruffydd tours with Meibion y Machlud ( the Sunset Boys) – a sort of international Last of the Summer Wine,- where socializing and compulsory jazz was enjoyed in Berlin, Donostia, Madrid and Lisbon.
But the latter years were very productive for Ioan the author. He had already edited a volume to celebrate the contribution of Elfed Lewis (a preacher, folk singer and choirmaster) and a book about the strange conspiracy case in Cardiff, Achos y Bomiau Bach ( the Case of the Small Bombs). He had also edited two volumes of the autobiography of Dafydd Wigley, who pays tribute to his sharp political opinion. For the publisher Carreg Gwalch he wrote Hanes C’mon Midffild and Pobl Drws Nesa ( Next Door Neighbours) – a busybody’s journey through Ireland – and Rhyfel Ni (Our War) about Welsh and Patagonian soldiers’ experiences in the Malvinas conflict. Myrddin ap Dafydd says that people talking about personal and sensitive feelings could trust Ioan to convey them truthfully and sensitively. Dylan Iorwerth called him “ an astute journalist and a good writer…behind the smile and the leg pulling he had a keen mind.”
For the Lolfa publishing house he edited three volumes of the photographs of Geoff Charles, his old co-worker on Y Cymro, spending weeks turfing through the files at the National Library. And the jewel in the crown, so to speak, was the beautiful volume on the life and work of the Magnum photographer, Philip Jones Griffiths. He was a slow worker according to Alwena but meticulous in his attention to detail. I can attest to that from the time he worked with me as Press Officer when I was an Assembly Member.
A book he has been wrestling with for a decade ‘Y Cylch Catholig’( the Catholic Circle) is about to be published. He became so concerned about it that he decided to retreat to a nunnery for peace and inspiration to finish it. He lasted one cold and silent night in a cell before beating a hasty retreat to the bustle of Pwllheli! There is more to be said, much more, but I can feel the shadow of his red biro hovering above the script.
Every parting is painful as we know but as a story teller surely he would appreciate that the setting in Porthdinllaen was striking, in the company of his family after a glass of wine at Tŷ Coch. So today we celebrate the life of a true and proud Welshman, productive and lived with zest, brimful of mischief, tears and laughter. It’s a story worth telling. Thank you.
The magical land beyond the the sea that he saw from Rhoshirwaun
was a portal to longing. An island of dear friends;
the passion of their history and the craic of their congenial camaraderie.
The island where he could be free, Ioan being half and half Irish.
All his summers, his world was a merry haven along the sandy track,
a canvas roundhouse of convivial people, of poetry and song,
of wine and the legends by the Clann of the Dunes:
and he, the father, a strong current of love.
His peaceful haven was not a place for the petulant storms
of a homeland oppressed by the ebbing tide.
The unease was the same as he felt in Llŷn, but the wild landscape
soothed, far from arrogant pricks and their brash ambition.
His gentle haven was for the family – a sanctuary
beyond thoughts of furrowing the autumn toil,
the donkey-work to come, and the sweat of effort
as he nurtured the spring wheat in his favourite fields.
The harvest of his humour and storytelling captivated us all.
His voice, and his pithy quotes, gladdened every gathering .
His flair will be long remembered –
Master of the eloquent anecdotes.
Now the raconteur is put to rest,
A witty warrior has met his Culloden;
But there are so many vivid chapters to recall.
As we stand on the shore, his words are there, on the horizon.
Myrddin ap Dafydd
Ioan – Friend and Fellow Nationalist
I met Ioan for the first time in the mid 1960s, although exactly where and when I can’t be sure. But by the time I joined the full-time staff of Plaid Cymru in the winter of 1967, beginning with a month’s induction in the office in Stryd Fawr, Bangor, we were good friends. By then, Ioan had been an active Plaid member for a number of years – at least since 1959 when he went to Manchester University and shared a flat with Dafydd Wigley.
So for more than half a century Ioan played a valuable role in the ranks of the national movement. Throughout that time he was close to the heart of Plaid Cymru – not as a leading candidate or official but as a talented and creative writer and as a grass-roots member who was willing to put his shoulder to the wheel. He made his home in many different parts of Wales – in the rural Llŷn peninsula, in the Borders and also at the heart of the Valleys in Pontypridd – and everywhere he would contribute greatly to the work of the national movement and the Welsh heritage of the area.
As his lifelong friend, Wil Roberts (Wil Coed), secretary of Plaid’s Pwllheli Branch, says – Wales, Welshness and the Welsh language were Ioan’s concerns from an early age, “interpreting and presenting them to the Welsh people and his fellow Celts was his bread and butter, and he was to become one of the best and most entertaining communicators of his generation “.
When I first got to know Ioan, he was working as a civil engineer looking after the bridges of Shropshire County Council, and living a mile or so on the Welsh side of the border in Y Crugion (Criggion) in Montgomeryshire. I stayed there several times and enjoyed a number of jaunts around the county. As Wil Coed recalls, he helped Plaid Cymru’s election campaigns in Montgomeryshire. This included the design of a canvassing form suitable for recording results in rural areas where, more often than not, the names and addresses of electors were set out in alphabetical rather than geographical order – a real headache for election organisers as this information had to be rewritten in order to canvass from house to house and record the results systematically. I remember that we were still supplying these forms from Plaid’s National Office well into the 1980s.. They were printed in several colours – I don’t know whether Ioan was responsible for that detail but the headings were in his handwriting.
Ioan was among the crowds of spirited young people who flocked to Carmarthen in July 1966 to win Gwynfor’s historic victory. And as Wil Coed recalls he was campaigning with the same enthusiasm decades afterwards for Liz Saville Roberts in Dwyfor Meirionnydd and for Hywel Williams in Arfon in the December 2019 general election.
As well as being a dedicated nationalist Ioan was also by instinct a socialist, and I learnt that his father and the deep community roots of his family strongly influenced his view on life. When Alwena and he moved to Pontypridd, he made friends among trade unionists and nationalists alike and enjoyed the time he spent in Clwb y Bont among an interesting milieu of acquaintances. The couple settled in a house near the top of the hill in the Graigwen area, and during the Pontypridd by-election early in 1989, Ioan designed most of Plaid Cymru’s campaign literature.
Because of the nature of his work as a journalist – first for Y Cymro and later on for HTV and the BBC – his contribution to Plaid Cymru had to be kept confidential, although no-one could be in any doubt where his heart lay. And where job formalities collided with his dedication to the cause of Wales, there was no doubt which came first.
I remember one occasion during the early hectic days of one general election campaign – in 1987 I believe – when the press line rang in Plaid’s Cathedral Road headquarters: Ioan had just emerged from a meeting of correspondents where they had been briefed on how BBC channels in Wales would report the election. The plan was to allocate one slot to the ‘British campaign’, followed by another to the campaign in Wales. The consequence of course of such a scheme would be a substantial cut in any coverage of Plaid Cymru – and that was before taking any account of the huge coverage the other parties would receive on UK-wide channels broadcast in Wales. But inside information in good time is priceless – thanks to Ioan (and another correspondent who dropped off a copy of the offending memorandum by lunchtime) we were able to pile pressure on the Corporation to scrap the plan and replace it with one that was slightly fairer.
Ioan also worked as editor of Plaid’s Welsh-language newspaper, Y Ddraig Goch, although the obligations of his job meant that this role had to stay in the shadows. With his natural flair for vivid writing and a gift for identifying the newsworthy angle, he would always turn out a lively and interesting paper. Ioan was also responsible for most of the election material produced by the former Plaid leader Dafydd Wigley. Dafydd points out that he was blessed with an incredible sense of humour – seeing the amusing side of events and circumstances that most of us might not appreciate at the time. And he is dead right – it was always fun to be in Ioan’s company, as raconteur, listener and a true friend. He also had a photographic memory – an ability to recall details and reproduce them to good effect. No wonder he made friends everywhere, and kept them.
Ioan and Alwena attracted a number of people from Wales and Scotland who would cross the sea year after year to the Irish-speaking heartland of Corca Dhuibhne, the Dingle peninsula, meeting up with a crowd of Irish people during their summer holidays. Ioan’s Tir na n’Og lay beyond the town of Dingle or An Daingean – the village of Baile an Fheirtéaraigh (Ballyferriter). And in the company of Ioan and Alwena, and later on Siôn and Lois, we were all part of one big extended family.
Somehow or other, you were bound to come across interesting people in Ioan’s company. I went with him once to meet the scholar Donncha Ó Conchúir, former headmaster of the local village primary school and chairman of the cooperative enterprise. Another time when both of us were relaxing in Dic Macs, Dingle, who strode past with a big smile on his face but the Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, no doubt on his way to his personal holiday island, Inis Mhic Aoibhleáin. Later on, Ioan kicked himself for not placing his baby son Siôn, in Charlie’s arms and taking a quick photo – photography was one of his delights. He also got to know Bertie Ahern, later on Taoiseach himself – well enough for them to be on first name terms.
It was quite an experience to be in the company of a host of friends from Ireland, Scotland and from every part of Wales when the time came to bid farewell to our old friend. Ioan himself would have loved to be among us.
Dad – Lois
Firstly, as a family, we’d like to extend our deepest gratitude for all the support that we have received during our bereavement. The messages, visits, tributes, and bara brith (!), have helped to slightly alleviate the grief we’re experiencing during this period of shock and sadness. We, the younger generation, have had the opportunity over the past few days to learn even more about dad, and we’ve almost been able to get to know him from scratch, through the memories of his friends and colleagues that have been shared with us. Sion and I were keen to take this opportunity to share a few stories of our own about dad, from the perspective of his children.
Well, it turns out that dad was quite a guy, wasn’t he?! Of course, Sion and I were already well aware of this, but at the end of the day, to us, he was just dad. Looking back, I appreciate that his patience with us as children was endless. He would often tell us about how Sion, when he was a little boy on their holiday in Scotland, would always insist that they stop the car each time he saw a hint of a loch, so that he could go out to throw stones into it. I know that dad gave in every time, and that he would pass the time by filming Sion on his camcorder. We have these videos still to this day. He’d do a lot of this – follow us around silently with his camera without drawing any attention to himself. We’re so glad that we still have these precious videos to treasure forever – thanks, dad!
It was going to Portmeirion, not throwing stones, that delighted me as a child. I’d better explain, although most of you will probably know this already already – but for certain parts of a year, mam would have an Eisteddfod or committee more or less every weekend. And so it would be up to dad to entertain us. Once, he took me to Portmeirion, and from then on, that was it. I’d insist we’d go there every weekend, until his loyalty card became completely battered. He’d let me play on the boat by the waterfront in my own little world for hours. He was probably bored to tears, but never ever did he make us feel as if anything else was more important than the both of us when we were with him. Dad’s patience never ended once we became adults either. He was always there for us, to listen and help with any problems, big or small, and tended to end a conversation with ‘you’ll be ok, you know’, with a solid pat on our heads. Only a month ago, Sion and dad had to venture to our next-door neighbour’s garden to dismantle Cadi’s trampoline when it flew, overnight, over the hedge during a storm. While Sion was ranting and raving when undertaking this task (it was massive to be fair, and by then it was dark!), dad remained completely calm, chuckling to himself every now and again. In every crisis, he could see the funny side. I think this completely sums up dad.
As a father, he was very mischievous. Once, he told Sion that he used to play for Arsenal. Poor Sion believed him and told everyone at school the next day. Sion has since admitted himself, that from seeing how dad kicked a ball, that he should have realised that it wasn’t a true story. Myself, I remember learning about shapes and angles at primary school, and asking dad, ‘what’s a polygon?’, and quick as a flash, he replied: ‘a dead parrot’.
Dad was a proud Welshman, and this would probably be at its most prominent during Wales matches. Sion described as he’d always well up during the national anthem, and when they went to the matches, instead of shouting ‘Wales! Wales’ like everyone else in the crowd, dad would yell ‘Cymru! Cymru!’ even louder. I had no idea that he did this until Sion told me the other day, and I really laughed because as it turns out, I do exactly same thing!
I cannot thank dad enough for teaching us about the importance of politics. I will miss our long conversations about current events, the future of Wales, Plaid Cymru… often these conversations would last hours, sometimes long into the night. On the night of the 2017 General Election, dad and I stayed up, and we both almost lost it – by the time Ben had won Ceredigion, the only appropriate word that comes to mind to describe how we felt (and behaved) is ‘hysterical’. I’m glad, in a way, that he will not have to endure the torture of seeing the devastating effect of Brexit on the Wales that he was so proud of.
Well, we couldn’t possibly talk about dad without also mentioning the legendary holidays that we took each August with the caravan. We’d always go to the Eisteddfod first, then off we’d go to Ireland. He used to tell us that he felt guilty at times that he never took us to more exotic places when we were growing up, especially when he learned that Tomos and his family holidayed in places such as France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy etc. I suppose that on paper, a caravan holiday, on a completely exposed field in the south west of Ireland, with absolutely no facilities whatsoever, doesn’t exactly sound like the ideal holiday. But to us, that is just what it was. What better way to spend two weeks, than in the company of incredible friends that mam and dad had made years before we were even born, in a cosy awning, on a field that was idyllic when the weather was nice… but hell on earth if the weather turned. These holidays are such a valuable gift that we’ve been given by mam and dad and they have made us who we are today. We’ve been taught so much about the ability to socialise with people of all ages, and how to enjoy life. Thanks again, dad, and with a hand on my heart, I promise I’d never exchange our experiences for a holiday on the Costa del Sol.
I mentioned earlier that the Eisteddfod was first, before Ireland, again with the caravan. This would be a sort of pre-med before the big Irish holiday! But for Sion and myself, Eisteddfod with dad was a bit of a pain in the arse. People tend to associate mam with the Eisteddfod, don’t they, but with dad, if we let him get his way, and talk to everyone as he wanted to, we’d never see more than a quarter of the field! To entertain ourselves, we’d have to invent games such as ‘how many steps can dad take before he stops again to speak with someone else?” – the record? 2 steps!! We’d also be in stitches hearing people greet dad as ‘Io Mo’, and we had absolutely no idea why. Did he have a middle name? Morris? Morgan? Mohammed? As it turns out, no, it was just a catchy nickname. By now, I don’t think that he minded that people called him Io Mo, but when I was younger, I thought that he hated it. I realise now that he just didn’t like me and Sion to call him that. If I ever saw someone that I knew had worked with dad (and there are many of you!), I’d approach them shyly and say “I think maybe that you know dad…”, “Oh, who is he then?” “Ioan Roberts…” and on more than one occasion there would be no reaction for a second or two, then suddenly “Ooooh! You mean Io Mo!!”
It’s virtually impossible to convey how much he will be missed, but one important comfort is the fact that he became Taid to Cadi Shân. He took pride in his new role – and he took it seriously. I never thought I’d see him get up from his chair after such little persuasion, to dance around with her in the middle of the living room, or that he’d be so happy to wear her flowery hat on his head. If ever Cadi refused to eat when we were all around the dinner table, who do you think was the first, without fail, to start laughing? Well, of course, it was dad. And then we’d all completely lose it ourselves! It says a lot about the nature of our upbringing, and our relationship with our parents, that dad, mam, Sion, Sarah and Cadi were able to live happily under one roof – not an easy feat for any family, I’m sure you’d agree. I would also go home religiously, twice a week, to see them since moving to Caernarfon. This is such a tribute to the close bond we had. Being able to say that ‘Io Mo’ was our dad is a badge of honour that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives.
Ioan with his family
Recordiing of the Funeral Service on 4 January 2020
Ioan (left) as best man at the wedding of his cousin the Reverend Reuben Roberts, October 1959 – and the same people in the golden wedding celebration in October 2019: Ioan Roberts, Reuben Roberts, Aelwen Roberts a Dr Helen Wyn Jones
The 100th anniversary of the birth of the celebrated nationalist poet Harri Webb has been marked with the laying of flowers at his grave at St Mary’s Church, Pennard, Gower (12 noon Monday 7 September 2020).
Harri Webb was born in Swansea at 45 Tycoch Road and grew up in Catherine Street near the centre of the city. His family had strong links with the Gower peninsula.
He became a leading figure in Plaid Cymru, editing the party’s newspaper Welsh Nation and standing as its candidate at Pontypool in the general election of 1970.
Harri Webb came to prominence as a poet during the 1960s, when political nationalism was beginning to make headway in the industrial valleys of South Wales, and became a regular contributor to the magazine Poetry Wales.
The gathering at Pennard was told by Emeritus Professor Prys Morgan that Harri Webb had succeeded in achieving great popularity as a poet.
“His work was mainly through the medium of the English language, but no-one was a more warm-hearted Welshman than Harri Webb”.
Flowers were laid at the grave by Guto Ap Gwent, Kittle.
Guto Ap Gwent and Professor Prys Morgan at the grave of Harri Webb
after the ceremony in St Mary’s Church, Pennard
The ceremony was promoted by the Plaid Cymru History Society and Swansea and Gower Plaid Cymru with the kind cooperation of the Rev Peter Brooks, Vicar of the Parish of Three Cliffs, and conducted in adherence with current social distancing regulations.
Full details of the life of Harri Webb may be found at:
On what would have been his 100th birthday, here’s a lovely little film about the great poet Harri Webb, and his Merthyr connections. ‘Sing for Wales or shut your trap, all the rest’s a load of crap!’
This film shows the inspiration of Harri Webb’s life and poetry on the people of Merthyr. Those who knew him,read his verse and admired his politics. Children from three schools wrote poems in workshops inspired by his work for a competition. Locals at a monthly Open Mic at the Imperial Hotel read his poetry, sing songs and read their own poems based on Webb’s verse. Featuring ‘Colli Iaith’ music track with the vocals of Erin Lancaster and produced by Gwyncy Jones . Harri Webb lives on through all of them…
At the age of 78, Alcwyn Deiniol Evans died at his home in Romilly Park Road, Barry. A former Director of the famous department store Dan Evans, Alcwyn was a familiar face and a very well-known figure in the public life of Barry.
He was the eldest son of Gwynfor Evans, the former President of Plaid Cymru and a native of the town. During the Carmarthen by-election of July 1966, Alcwyn campaigned enthusiastically for the party. He worked strenuously to ensure his father’s success when he won the seat to become Plaid Cymru’s first Member of Parliament. Alcwyn was passionate in his support for the Welsh language and identity, supporting and promoting the same beliefs and values as his father.
He spent over 40 years in business, and the family shop, Dan Evans, was very close to his heart. Alcwyn was a true gentleman who won the respect and affection of his staff and customers. He was responsible for a number of departments within the store, and was recognised as a specialist in the toy industry. He was a regular contributor to television and radio programmes until recently, sharing his knowledge and interest with style, polish and enthusiasm.
Dan Evans closed its doors for the last time in 2006, and as a grandson of its founder, Alcwyn recorded the shop’s history and published a book, Siop Dan Evans Y Barri (Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, 2014), which is an important historical and social portrayal of the business and the town. More recently Alcwyn worked at the St Fagans National Museum of History, where he enjoyed the further opportunity of sharing his interest, enthusiasm and love of Wales, its customs and its traditions.
He leaves an enormous gap, especially for his wife Rhoswen and son Trystan. Alcwyn will be remembered in Barry and beyond for his wide smile, his sincerity, his humour and his remarkable kindness.
Rhys Lewis (1937-2020) was a mainstay of Plaid Cymru in Cardiff Central for very many years. Ever present in party meetings, his commitment, his wisdom and his many organisational skills were a constant source of inspiration to all members.
Born in Machynlleth, he was just 1 year old when his family settled in Cardiff, and he was undoubtedly a proud Cardiffian. Although Welsh had been his parents’ language, that had been largely abandoned in the home when they settled in the city, and Rhys attributed his mastery of the Welsh language to his inspirational teacher in Cathays.
A successful career in journalism within BBC Wales and independent broadcasting companies enabled him to keep abreast of Welsh current affairs even if those roles limited the ways in which he could contribute to party political work, but he more than made up for that when, following retirement, he grasped the opportunity to work full time alongside his lifelong friend and collaborator, Owen John Thomas throughout the first two National Assembly terms (1999 – 2007). As a keen gardener he was used to nurturing plants and at a time when the fledging legislature was far from accepted in many quarters, Rhys worked tirelessly to show the relevance of the Assembly to the people of Cardiff. He was a caring individual and helped many a Plaid member and their families during difficult periods.
Rhys was a confirmed Francophile. He loved the times he spent in France and never missed an opportunity to use his French. He was a firm believer in Wales as a European nation, and the result of the European referendum was something that troubled him greatly.
Recent ill-health had left him with limited mobility, inhibiting his ability to canvass and leaflet, but he still found alternative ways to contribute to Plaid Cymru campaigns – organising, contacting supporters, and sharing his political insights and his humour.
It was while he was in hospital for an unrelated condition that he contracted Covid-19 and died on April 12th. We extend our sympathy to his wife Sue, his children Geraint, Menna and Non and his grandchildren Gwen, Sophie, Alice, Nel and Cesia. Rhys enjoyed good wine and I’m sure many of us will raise a glass in memory of a true gentleman and Welsh patriot.
We were sad to hear of the recent death of one of Plaid Cymru’s leading members in the Gwent valleys, Glanmor Bowen-Knight, Tredegar. The Plaid Cymru History Society extends its deepest sympathy to his sister Rae and the family. A tribute to Glanmor by his friend Hywel Davies may be read here.
GLANMOR BOWEN-KNIGHT: A TRIBUTE
The passing of Plaid Cymru activist and former councillor Glanmor Bowen-Knight of Tredegar was fittingly observed at Llwydcoed Crematorium on Wednesday, 9 October, 2019 in a humanist service attended by a large gathering of family and friends.
Among them were Dafydd Williams, former General Secretary of Plaid Cymru, Jocelyn Davies, former Plaid Assembly Member for South Wales East, and Alun Davies, former Plaid party member and current Labour Assembly Member for Blaenau Gwent.
Though physically challenged from early childhood, and obliged to walk with the aid of sticks, Glanmor was proud to proclaim that in better circumstances he would have been ‘a 6-footer’. Politically, his life of huge dedication to the national movement of Wales confirmed his claim.
A member of Plaid Cymru since the 1960s, Glanmor served in various capacities as an officer of the Tredegar Branch and Ebbw Vale / Blaenau Gwent Constituency committee. He was also a Plaid member of Tredegar Town Council for many years until shortly before his final ill health. By profession, Glanmor was an horologist, having been trained as a young man at St Loye’s college in Exeter. He was well known in Tredegar as the watchmaker and jeweller fastidiously at work for several decades in his corner of the Gus Jones Jewellers shop.
As in his work, so too in politics, Glan used his precise and well organised brain to great effect in helping to build an effective Plaid Cymru party machine in the unpromising birthplace of Nye Bevan. He delighted in seeing the fruits of his labour, along with that of others, through the emergence from Tredegar of Plaid AM Steffan Lewis – though lost so tragically young – and the near-victory of Plaid in the 2016 National Assembly election in Blaenau Gwent constituency.
Very justifiably, Glanmor was a recipient of a Plaid Cymru Special Contribution Award.
He leaves a sister, Rae, and her husband Charles, and a wide extended family, all of whom were so proud of him and so devoted to his care.
Tributes were paid to former MEP and Gwynedd councillor Eurig Wyn, who has died aged 74 on 26 June 2019.
Eurig Wyn with Jill Evans, fellow Plaid Cymru Member of the European Parliament.
Mr Wyn was elected as a member of the European Parliament representing Wales in 1999, and served until 2004. He was later elected as councillor for the Waunfawr ward on Gwynedd council in 2012, standing down in 2016. He also served as a community councillor in Waunfawr for a number of years.
During his time in the European Parliament, Mr Wyn was a member of the parliament’s culture and petitions committees. He was also a member of the delegation for relations with South Africa and the delegation to the EU-Czech Republic Joint Parliamentary Committee.
Most notably, he was a prominent advocate of Welsh farmers and the agriculture industry during the foot and mouth crisis, and served as a member of the parliament’s temporary committee set up to respond to the foot and mouth crisis.
Tributes have been paid to the late Steffan Lewis AM, who died at the age of 34 after a courageous battle against cancer.
Steffan’s funeral took place at Abercarn’s Welsh Church, established by the nineteenth century campaigner Lady Llanover, Gwenynen Gwent. The text of tributes given at the funeral by Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price (translated text bracketed) and former Assembly Member Jocelyn Davies can be found here, together with a personal recollection of Steffan by Plaid Cymru History chairman Dafydd Williams. The funeral service on the 25 January 2019 was conducted by the Reverend Aled Edwards.
A Tribute to Steffan by Adam Price
[We are drawn together today by a great loss and a deep sense of pain. The loss of a son, the loss of a husband, of a father and a friend. And also the loss of a great Welshman. Wales has always been a country mourning the tomorrow that would never be. Because of our long history of loss, losing battle and brother. Losing Cadwallon and Rhodri and Gruffydd and Llywelyn. Owain Lawgoch and Glyndŵr. And to that roll call of princes we now add the name of another leader of hosts, our dear Steffan.
And yet woven in to that pain, there is another truth to be perceived in the vacuum. Loss after loss – and yet the history of our nation is about resolving to live despite it all.
There is something odd about the fact that we in Wales are still here as a nation – standing here only a few miles from the border, under the noses of the nation that for two centuries ruled the world. Steffan’s life, as a man of Gwent, a true Welshman, stands as a symbol of the fact that this frail nation, in the words of another borderer, Islwyn Ffowc Elis, proved it had a genius for survival.
Wales continues to live today because we are determined that it should, because of that remarkable tenacity that bends without breaking. We saw that exemplified by Steffan’s final year, by his success in living to the full, contributing until the end, and snatching life from the teeth of his sickness so many times in order to continue to make a difference for the people and the country he loved and that loved him.
In preparing this tribute I recalled the splendid tributes given by Steffan himself to Glyn Erasmus and Jim Criddle. From his early days he had counted Plaid veterans among his closest friends.
Because Steffan understood that the struggle for Wales is like a relay race that will never come to an end.
So all of us now bear responsibility not to let that baton slip from our grasp.
“When we set out for battle your sword will be like a flame before us
When we take counsel your word will be like a song in our memory
When we teach our children, your name will be melodious in our speech
And when we are no more known
To generations as yet hidden in the unfolding years,
Generations who know neither our names nor anything about us
You will be renowned as brave
You will be counted wise
You will be called great.”]
In my last conversation with Steffan a few days before he passed we talked about many, many things. Steffan was a man, in Whitman’s phrase, that contained multitudes. He had a large heart and a huge intellect – and those things don’t often come together. He was a brilliant orator and a champion listener – and that combination is rarer still. He was as we know courageously honest and he wanted me to know he had only a short time left. As I held him there were moments of silent sadness, but we also laughed a lot.
We pondered together the last message that he could convey through me to you. And his face was illuminated with a mischievous grin when he said, I know, we’ll ask them to pledge themselves to giving up beer and wine until we secure Welsh independence, forcing some of you into an excruciating choice between two of the things you loved the most. You know who you are.
He really wanted to see that independent Wales he said.
And he wished so much the prognosis would change. Knowing Steffan as we do I think he meant not so much now for himself but for Wales, for us, and for Celyn.
There was always a great sense of urgency about Steffan. Not for him the languid language of independence as a long-term goal. He wanted us to get there while he was yet young. He had the same boundless energy – but also perhaps the same foreknowledge that all of us have but limited time – that propelled the young John F Kennedy, to end his campaign speeches with those words of Robert Frost: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep /And miles to go before I sleep/And miles to go before I sleep.”
The Monday morning after the terrible news I couldn’t face going into a Senedd with an empty seat. So I went for a run around the Bay. My face contorted with exhaustion and grief, an elderly gentleman offered his words of kindness and encouragement: “Not far to go now. Not far”. I stopped to look out over the clouds in the Bay, and suddenly shafts of sunlight cut through onto the water. In Sunday school we learned to call that Jacob’s ladder – but for me now these rays of sunshine will be for ever Steffan’s.
And it put me in mind of the inauguration of Jack Kennedy, that other great leader who gave a nation new hope.
Robert Frost was due to read out a poem he had written especially for the occasion, but as he approached the podium a sudden glare of sunlight meant he couldn’t read his text. So instead he read out another poem from memory, “A Gift Outright”.
“The land was ours before we were the land’s.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
To the land vaguely realizing westward
Such as she was, such as she would become.”
The poem is about a sense of one-ness between a people and their land.
Monmouthshire perhaps is Wales’ Massachusetts, Virginia its Gwent, where the magnetic pull of the border is strongest, where to be Welsh is not an accident of birth but an act of defiant will. Do we choose to withhold ourselves from Wales, to follow the easy paths of personal ambition and material success, or do we sacrifice ourselves for Wales? Steffan’s answer was never really in doubt. His mother Gail made sure of that. Steffan found salvation in surrendering himself to Wales. His life to his last was a gift outright to the nation.
Cymru to Steffan was par excellence a country of companionship. He wanted to plant it thick as trees along mountain-top and valley floor, and for our shores and our rivers to constantly water its roots. He wanted us to be indissoluble, inseparable, compatriots all, with our arms around each other’s necks, Cuumraag in Manx means comrade after all. And this dear comrade wanted Wales – all of Wales – to cwtch up close.
Like his great mentor and hero Phil Williams, Steffan railed against what Phil called the false ‘psychology of distance’ which divided our nation.
This is Steffan in 2012 in an email to Rhuanedd and me:
“We should talk about ending the Walian. We are not south Walians, north Walians, west Walians etc. Yes, Wales is a community of communities but the artificial regionalisation of Wales and the cynical divides based on language, geography, urban v rural are the tools of those who seek to divide us to protect the political status quo, for their narrow self-interest. Wales is at its best when Wales is one – One Wales (yes, with capital letters), facing common challenges together. This is needed more than ever as our country faces a full frontal assault from the UK Government”.
Steffan was a proud Gwentian, but keen to emphasise its fundamental Welshness. How Zephaniah Williams and John Frost were both Welsh speakers . As was the miner Edward Morgan – the Dic Penderyn of Monmouthshire – executed at age 35 as a leader of Tarw Scotch. Though it was the working class Welsh culture of these valleys that was the crucible in which Steffan’s personality was forged – he was also quite struck, and no doubt amused, by the stories of Lady Llanofer, insisting her staff only spoke Welsh, and wearing a bespoke Welsh costume, made out of the finest materials, with a superb diamond leek in her black silk hat.
He was himself a gem of a man, and so it’s fitting that he will be followed by a Jewell. And I know that it gave Steffan great comfort to know that he could pass the baton on to someone equally able and committed.
He touched us all in different ways, and it stings to know we’re no longer able to reach out and touch him.
Before I conclude I should like to read out some special messages of condolences that we have received.
Firstly from Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister
“I was lucky to know Steffan. I first met him when he supported Leanne at those famous TV debates. I could see then what a keen mind he had and what a compassionate individual he was. As a result it was no surprise to me when he was elected in 2016. Steffan was a truly lovely man and a first rate politician. He had the good fortune in life to marry Shona, a Scots woman, and his young son Celyn has perhaps the even better fortune to be both Welsh and Scottish. Shona and Celyn can be enormously proud of what Steffan achieved and as you celebrate his life today, my thoughts, and those of Steffan’s friends and colleagues in Scotland are with all of our friends in Wales.”
And secondly on behalf of the Irish Government, Ambassador Adrian O’Neill
“I was very saddened to learn of the untimely passing of Steffan Lewis and, on behalf of the Irish Government, I extend my sympathies to Steffan’s wife Shona and his son Celyn and to all his colleagues in Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Assembly. He will be remembered not only for his notable career in Welsh politics but also for his drive and passion in furthering bilateral relations between Ireland and Wales”.
In remembering Steffan here now our hearts are both beguiled and broken.
But he would not want us to despair in this our land of living.
So every morning when we wake let’s wake for him. When we rise, let it be the rising of a nation.
As Steffan’s years were halved let’s re-double our efforts on his behalf.
Steffan never learned to take his time so nor should we. He achieved so much in such a short while, inscribing in the arc of his life a great promise of things to come. Its realisation now falls to us.
Our future may lie beyond the horizon, but it is not beyond our control. Nothing is inevitable, no irresistible tide of history will determine our destiny. It is up to us.
We do not have far to go. The future is in our hands.
So let’s build it together in the name of one we loved.
And who loved us in return.
Such was the strength of that love that one nation would never be enough to contain it.
Steffan dreamed of creating a Celtic Union so he fashioned his own in bonding forever with Shona.
So it’s fitting we should say our goodbyes on that great Scottish poet Robbie Burns’ birthday.
And so I’ll end with his words to a dear departed friend that feel so apt today:
“Few hearts like his, with virtue warm’d,
Few heads with knowledge so inform’d:
If there’s another world, he lives in bliss;
If there is none, he made the best of this.”
Eulogy to Steffan Lewis by Jocelyn Davies
From the tributes paid to Steffan over the last two weeks it is clear that Wales has lost one of her brightest and best political figures of our time.
But Steffan was so much more than a public figure – husband to Shona; father to little Celyn; son to Gail; stepson to Neil; brother to Dylan, Sian and Nia, an uncle and son-in-law; a keen historian; a nationalist and internationalist; a Celtic supporter; and a friend to many of us; and more besides and we’re here today to celebrate and remember all he was. And I’d like to share the story of my friendship with him.
When he asked me at Christmas if I would do this eulogy I started to think back to when our paths first crossed. That’s about 25 years ago. His father, Mark, used to bring him to Plaid Cymru meetings and Steff’s interest in politics was sparked by the Islwyn by-election.
Soon after, Gail brought him to the house because he wanted to discuss bullying in schools with a school governor. He was just ten – so mature; so polite; and so serious. And he wasn’t so much worried for himself, but for smaller children – like his younger sister Sian, and to whom he took his bigger brother responsibilities very seriously indeed. He wanted Sian to be safe.
Gail was, without doubt, the driving force in those formative years and it is to Gail that Plaid Cymru owes a massive debt of gratitude because she gave Steffan the gift of his love for Wales; for its language; for its culture and history; and for his nation. And, not forgetting, the typewriter she gave him from which the ten-year-old Steffan fired off letters to various people about important matters of the day!
He hadn’t at that point decided to be a politician. In fact, he was quite set on becoming a police officer. So, in typical Steffan style, sent one of his letters to the local police station about his intentions. So impressed were they that Steffan and Sian were treated to a tour of the station, put in the cells, and had their fingerprints taken for good measure. So, even at this tender age he had the directness and easy charm that impressed the people he met.
He was still a schoolboy when he made his first visit to the Commons by the invitation of Dafydd Wigley – after Steffan had written one of his letters, of course. Dafydd said he was immediately struck by a young man who had a passion for Wales; who already had an understanding of politics; and had a maturity beyond his years.
As a teenager, Gail continued to encourage him to maintain his interest in politics, and he seemed 28 speaking at conference – but was also happy tagging along with whatever was going on locally.
He helped us out in the historic Assembly elections of 1999, and it came as no surprise to me when he later contacted me about a work placement at the Bay. He was 15 and he spent that first summer making his way down from Tredegar to help me, and to learn, meeting everyone, and just being part of the excitement of it all – I think he also tried out my chair for size while I was out of the room! – already planning no doubt.
On the journeys home with Mike and I in the car he talked of his plans for A levels, of Welsh history (I think he’d visited every castle in the land) and of what devolution meant to him – the dawn of a new Wales.
We lost touch with our young friend when he went off to university and then travelling – and he told me later that during that time he’d even flirted for a while with the Wales Independence Party. I think he’d felt a profound deflation when it became all to obvious that the powers the Assembly had at that time were not going to build the Wales he was expecting to see.
It was 2006, with the Blaenau Gwent by-election looming, and our need for a Westminster candidate that he came back into our lives. Mike, of course, had the task of ringing him. By now he’d met the love of his life, Shona, in a pub in Cardiff when she was visiting from Inverness. He knew she was “The One”, and with his usual vigour and determination pursued her back to Scotland. He was working there and had joined the SNP, and had become a Celtic supporter – but you can’t have everything!
Becoming a Celtic supporter wasn’t, by the way, a shallow attempt to impress Shona. It was, Steffan style, thoroughly thought through and based on the fact that the team was originally formed with the specific aim of being a way of raising funds to feed poor children in the east end of Glasgow – well, that’s what he’d tell us when they were not on top form!
Luckily for us, Shona was fully supportive of him standing and he agreed to fight the seat for us. And what a candidate! Dai Davies recently told me that, in all the hustings they attended, all he need do was pray Steff answered questions before him and then agree with whatever Steff said. Steff was just 22. And already had the public speaking skills of a seasoned professional.
He and Shona came home to Wales and settled in Islwyn. It was a partnership of true equals and they were always 100% supportive of each other. I know he was happy in Scotland, but was pleased to be back near his family and to see his little sister Nia as often as possible.
It’s from this time really that he became like family to us, and not just Mike and me, but the whole Islwyn Plaid Cymru clan.
Over the years he’s paid some lovely tributes to me, and claimed I took him under my wing. Well, he was a very polite boy. I’m not sure that was entirely true. It’s probably more accurate to say I just took the opportunity to light a blue touch paper that was already there – the intellect, the talent and the drive were already there. All he needed was the benefit of some wise experience – and a little time and space – I think I gave him that. Yes, I gave him that. And if you light a blue touch paper, it is best if you then stand well back!
The real step-change for Steff was going to work for Leanne, and I know he was incredibly proud of the work they did together, and being right at the centre of the action was the perfect finishing school for him. And I’m sure she’d agree that, quite apart from his professional abilities, Steff was one of those nice people to have around – serious, yes a bit straight laced too, but he was really funny – we laughed a lot together, even on those very dark days.
He had his anxieties. He confided in me that he was worried he wouldn’t be taken seriously as an Assembly Member because of his age. Of course, his fears were completely unfounded. He was, after all, the star of the show – I might be a bit biased on that front.
I’ve come now to the really hard bit.
What happened to Steffan is a tragedy beyond words – but somehow he found the words for it.
The openness, clarity and tenderness with which he spoke about his experience and feelings was extraordinary. It was a noble selfless endeavour to tell his story in order to help others. And he did with a frankness that was truly touching. He and Shona, together, demonstrated a strength and generosity of spirit that made this last year easier for us all. And the dignity with which Sona has bore her grief is inspirational. Where she found the strength and fortitude, I have no idea. She is one of the most remarkable women I have ever met.
Steff and his whole family were on the most terrible of journeys and they invited us to share it with them and they were always grateful for our company and considerate of our feelings. And they did with a positivity that was truly humbling. They comforted us.
There are far too many people to thank individually for all the support they’ve received, and I know they are overwhelmed by the love and kindness shown to them from all quarters. But Steff would want me to say how proud he was of Nia’s fundraising work for Velindre, and he was especially grateful to Rhuanedd Richards for being a rock for Gail, who is bearing the utter despair that no mother should ever face.
The last time Mike and I saw Steff at home with Shona and his sweet sweet boy Celyn, he said one of the good things that had come from this was that his family were even closer than before, and he was looking forward to watching football that weekend with brother Dylan and his very special friend, Neil, his stepfather.
He was also making plans with us to make a last appearance at the Senedd to make a final statement to you – always planning, always working towards something. I don’t know what he intended for that statement – maybe he’d have told to, Harri Webb style, to “sing for Wales”. Steff certainly sang for Wales.
But I know for certain he would have thanked you all. So, I do that now for him. Thank you.
Steffan Lewis – A Personal Tribute
by Dafydd Williams, Chairman, Plaid Cymru History Society
I got to know Steffan during the first elections to the National Assembly in 1999. Phil Williams was standing for Plaid in the Blaenau Gwent constituency and as a friend of Phil and former General Secretary of Plaid Cymru I took part in the lively campaign run from our office in Tredegar. Steffan was a regular attendee, turning up almost every day after school was over. He must have been 14 at the time, but it was clear to all of us that he had great potential.
As time passed it was good to see how he put that talent to good use. When Steffan addressed the Plaid conference and National Council, people listened. His clarity of understanding and analysis of complex issues – especially the bumpy progress of devolution – was a revelation. His ability to put ideas across without the slightest pretension won him a growing following. It was no surprise to see him chosen as Plaid’s lead candidate in South-east Wales or to hear of the respect he gained among members of all parties in the Assembly – in a way that called to mind the respect accorded to Phil Williams in previous years.
Around eighteen months ago Steffan made time to travel to Swansea to meet Plaid members in a well-attended social function and brief us on all the latest developments and complications following the Brexit referendum. It was an enjoyable and inspiring occasion that succeeded in boosting activities in Swansea and Gower, an evening we will never forget. It came as a huge shock within a few short weeks to hear the cruel news of his diagnosis, and I cannot imagine the pain and sadness felt by his loved ones.
We extend our heartfelt sympathy and best wishes to Shona, Celyn and all the family.