Wil Roberts, or Wil Coed as he was universally known, was a well-known figure in Plaid Cymru who died in October 2022. He played an active role in all the party’s campaigns from the nineteen sixties and served as secretary of the Pwllheli branch. Former Plaid Cymru leader Dafydd Wigley delivered the eulogy in his funeral which we publish in full.
Translation of the Funeral Tribute by Dafydd Wigley to the late Wil Roberts.
I would give anything not to be here today; but nothing would have stopped me from accepting the invitation from Siw and the family, for me to pay this tribute, on behalf of Elinor and myself, to one who was such a friend to us all, in differing ways and at different stages of our lives. He was a very dear friend, whose course is now run; and whose immense contribution to his family, his community and his nation, have now, alas, come to an end.
This morning, our deep condolences go to Siw, to Dewi and Ifan; and to Quentin, who is also part of the family; and to Jordan, Mia and Cai, for whom Wil was a loving Taid; and indeed to all the family. And I know that everyone would want me to thank Siw for the loving care she gave Wil over the years, and particularly in this recent challenging period which they as a family had to face.
Siw has the certainty which she derives from her faith, rooted in this church; and that will be an anchor for her in the storms through which she is living. Siw was, of course, brought up in the Catholic tradition in Cardiff and came under the inspiration of the renowned Father Gregory Fitzgerald; and her faith, together with the Catholic church, have been a strength to Siw down the years.
So may I thank Bishop Emeritus Edwin Regan, for leading us today and for his support to Siw during this recent difficult period; and to everyone associated with this church for their support for Siw and the family; for their kindness towards them; and for their practical help in their time of need. Also, may I thank Archdeacon Andrew Jones for the exceptional support he has given the family.
Siw has asked me to draw attention to the invitation extended to everyone, to join her and the family for a light lunch at Pwllheli Golf Club. The burial will be at Deneio Cemetery after this service; but those who don’t wish to attend the cemetery are welcome to go directly to the Golf Club.
William O Roberts was born on the 23rd December, 1943, the son of J.O, and Catherine Roberts, Cefn Coed Chwilog; and so it was as “Wil Cefn Coed” he was known to everybody, later truncated to “Wil Coed”. His father was manager of the Creamery at Rhydygwystl; and a Caernarfonshire County Councillor.
Many of our generation don’t realize that Wil was one of twins, but sadly his sister died at birth; and it was a miracle that Wil survived. And the family suffered another tragedy, when Wil’s younger brother, Richard, then aged sixteen, was killed in a motor bike accident.
But I am under orders from Siw not to be too sad in my remarks today, rather to remember Wil as a delightfully happy friend, as indeed he was to all of us. I’ll try to obey that request.
After being a pupil at Ysgol Uwchradd Pwllheli, Wil went on to study to be a Vet, at Liverpool university; but while his written work was excellent, he had difficulty with spoken English – a frequent feature amongst children in rural Wales. So he went to work for a year at the Creamery, before going on to the University at Bangor, to study agriculture. He was in the same year as Dafydd Elis Thomas, whom I am glad to see here today.
It was at about that time that I first met Wil. I was working over the summer vacation as Plaid Cymru’s organiser in the Arfon Constituency. I arranged to meet a crowd of young party supporters in Pwllheli – and I handed them a pile of Welsh Nations – Plaid’s English language newspaper – for them to distribute from door to door.
I immediately sensed that I had a problem. Wil and his school friend Osborn Jones (whom I’m also glad to see here today) were both glaring angrily at me.. One of them declared “There are already far too many English papers being read in Pwllheli!” – threatening to leave me with my mountain of unwanted papers. Somehow, a compromise was reached – and Osborn, Wil and I became lifelong friends!
After graduating in Bangor, Wil won a scholarship to take a higher degree, in Agricultural Economics at Aberystwyth. So, naturally, his first job was with the Welsh Agriculture Department in Cardiff. He was in his seventh heaven travelling around the farms in the Vale of Glamorgan – and was surprised to discover how many farmers were still, at that time, Welsh speakers. And the farmers themselves were equally happy to deal with a civil servant who spoke Welsh.
Wil went on to work with the Welsh Folk Museum at St Fagans, with the task of driving around Wales, recording interviews in Welsh with farmers. Those recordings remain some of the treasures of St Fagans up to this day.
Wil was Plaid Cymru to the core; and he had no fear of declaring his allegiance. Despite his stammer, he was willing to knock doors the length of Wales; and wherever there might be a rally, or protest, or byelection, Wil would be there.
By 1970. Wil had met Siw – and guess where they met? Yes, in the romantic location of a Plaid Cymru Constituency Committee in Cardiff. Siw was then sixteen years of age and Wil ten years her senior.
Although still a teenager, Siw was an experienced as a canvasser – and also of selling Welsh Nation papers from door to door in Cardiff. Just as well that Will hadn’t baulked at selling that paper in Cardiff as he had earlier in Pwllheli!
Wil and Siw “became an item” in 1971 – the year Elinor and I moved to live in Merthyr Tydfil; and that’s where I first met Siw. She and Wil came to canvass there in a famous parliamentary byelection and stayed in our home, where it seemed that half of Wales had chosen to camp down. In their sleeping bags, all; across our floors!
Wil had one abiding characteristic: he could sleep anywhere!…so much so, that on one occasion while riding his bike along Lon Goed, he dropped off – to sleep and from his bike – and suffered a nasty accident.
Wil was a person with whom accidents seemed to have an abiding relationship… On one occasion, he smashed his foot severely in a hay harvester. On another occasion, while a schoolboy, he went to play in the fields, and put down his coat, without realizing that a nosy pig was busily eyeing it; and when Wil turned his back, started to devour it for supper. Wil’s mother was not best pleased!
On another occasion, Wil suffered a serious accident while travelling in a car driven by his lifelong friend Geraint Eckley, which, on traversing the brow of a hill, hit black ice and Wil broke his back in three places. Geraint apologises that, for family health reasons, he cannot be here today.
Geraint recalled to me another of Wil’s traits – that he would suddenly get a great idea into his head – and off he would go! One morning, Wil announced to his house-companions in Aberystwyth that he was going to see the great Welsh author and patriot, D J Williams, down in Fishguard. Geraint went with him – and they landed, unannounced, on DJ’s doorstep. They were given a great welcome and Wil became a bosom friends with DJ and visited him in Fishguard half a dozen times before DJ died, to chat with him about his recollections.
But let me return to Wil’s own story. Wil and Siw were married in 1973 at St Peter’s Church , Cardiff – and that was another story worth recalling. Wil had already by then introduced Siw to the Welsh mass at Cowbridge; and it was Welsh language Catholic marriage service which they enjoyed in Cardiff, with the famous Bishop Mullins officiating.
But there were two other officials responsible for organising the wedding ; and they hadn’t discussed which of them was responsible for organising the registrar to be present. During the service, it dawned on them that no registrar was in attendance; Panic! Someone was despatched from the Church to scour the suburbs of Cardiff for an available registrar.
The poor harpist, Eleri Owen, had to improvise on the harp for over half an hour until some deputy registrar was found and the legal niceties of the wedding could be concluded. At long last, Wil and Siw were then declared husband and wife.
After the wedding Wil was due to start a new job, as deputy secretary of the Welsh Black Society in Caernarfon. So off they went on honeymoon – only for Wil to get an urgent message – that his new boss had been taken ill and he was required immediately in Caernarfon. So Wil had a new job, a new home, in a new area,…and a new wife!
Their new home was on a small group of houses in Llandwrog. Their neighbours included Huw Jones (Sain) and Siân; Menna and Ceredig Davies of Gwynedd council; around the corner lived Wil’s old school friend Osborn Jones and Glesni; as did poet Gerallt Lloyd Owen and Alwena. Up the road was Richard Morris Jones and Manon Rhys; and a little further, John and Gwenno Hywyn. What a gallery of 1970s young Welsh talent.
This was quite a change of scene for Siw; but Wil was in his element and in his territory. According to Osborn, Wil was the character who held that diverse group together. Wil had the ability to deal with everyone; he was one of the most likeable people you could ever meet.
It is Siw’s belief that if Wil had his time over again, he would have studied history and Welsh. Wil certainly had a delight in writing, particularly for newspapers. He had a column in Y Cymro on agricultural matters; he wrote for the Herald papers under the name of Thomas Parry (and such was his articulate style, many thought that it was Professor Tom Parry, Principal of Aberystwyth!); and Wil was an active member of the small group which produced the Ddraig Goch and Welsh Nation papers.
This was serious and responsible work; but Wil’s humour found an outlet as he wrote letters to the Herald papers – not in his own name but in that of Twtws Parry of Llandwrog – expressing controversial views that would anger the more respectable residents of the village. No-one could make out who was this Twtws Parry. Only close friends realized that was the name of Wil and Siw’s pet cat!
Wil was also a first class photographer and for a while was the Western Mail’s official photographer in international rugby matches.
Siw and Wil lived in Llandwrog for five years and during that time Wil was appointed estates valuer for Gwynedd Council. They then moved to Wil’s childhood home at Cefn Coed, where they lived for ten years before moving to Yr Ala in Pwllheli where they resided for thirty-six years.
Wil was careful with his money. On one occasion, when he and Siw came down to join me for lunch in the House of Lords, he realized – too late – that he had left his suit at home. Surmising that he would be expected to wear a jacket in the rather grand Peers Dining Room, he visited several shops and was horrified at the prices. He eventually found a charity shop which had a jacket of his size; paid five pounds for it; and no-one noticed.
I can remember as if it was yesterday, when Wil, twenty tears ago, told me on Crewe station that he had just learnt that he was suffering from prostrate cancer. He had clearly been shaken – but took a positive attitude that he wouldn’t allow that condition to define the rest of his life; however long that transpired to be.
However, he retired from Gwynedd Council to give his body every chance to conquer the cancer; and after five years, was given the all-clear.
And so it was that Wil, over the subsequent fifteen years, lived a full life – at home with his family, within the local community in Pwllheli; active with the local Plaid branch; helping Siw with her work for this church; and writing even more – including a tribute to his good friend Ioan Roberts in the book “Cofio Ioan”.
And then, just before the Covid lockdown, cancer struck again. For a time, because of lockdown, he couldn’t access the hospital. He then had several checks – all suggesting that the cancer had gone. But then, in 2020, symptoms returned and Wil suffered a fall at home.
It was feared that he had suffered a stroke; but that wasn’t the case. He had cancer in his spine and he endured protracted treatment at Ysbyty Gwynedd and Glan Clwyd. However in May this year, his spine collapsed and he fell down stairs.
Following that he was in Bryn Beryl hospital for many weeks where he was given outstanding care; and both he and Siw are so grateful to the staff.
When I called at Bryn Beryl to see Wil in July, he was in excellent spirits; chatting with everyone; but yearning to return home to Siw. He made it clear how much he appreciated the visits he had received, and the messages which Siw passed on, wishing him a speedy recovery.
And when Wil returned home in late August, a special bed was placed for him downstairs; and Gwynedd Council were excellent in providing ramps and equipment to help his mobility.
He had great assistance from Jo and Natasha, therapists at Bryn Beryl; and aid from the “Tuag Adref” service from Ysbyty Alltwen, in providing care at home; something Wil and Siw greatly appreciated. And nurses would call, day and night, to help, over the seven week period.
The family wish to pay the highest possible tribute to both the social services and the NHS; and it’s good, and appropriate that this is noted. But there is one special; person who Siw wishes me to name – that’s Bonnie, who many of you will know through her work at Canolfan y Gwystl. She called every night at Wil and Siw’s home, to clean Wil and care for him. Without her help, Siw doubts whether she could have coped. And she did this totally voluntarily: aren’t there some fundamentally good people still around?
I saw Wil for the last time at home in Yr Ala, a fortnight ago, on Wednesday 5th of October. He was in bed, and heavily sedated. But it was possible to conduct a fascinating and purposeful conversation with him; his mind was still very active and his aspirations for Wales as committed as they ever were.
When I mentioned the huge Independence rally in Cardiff the previous Saturday, where I had spoken, his eyes lit up and he was so eager to learn more. And when I told him that I would be presenting a Bill in the House of Lords next Friday, to protect the Welsh Senedd’s devolved powers, he was voluble in his support.
I don’t know whether Wil, at that stage, realized – as Siw had warned me – that he would hardly survive to the end of this month to learn of the outcome of my Bill. I chatted with Wil that day for just half an hour; he was clearly tiring; and the time had come for me to withdraw – but not before he insisted that we shook hands; and he held my hand with a grip more powerful than I ever remember.
None of us know what is our destiny; nor whether we shall ever be allowed to know, after we have left this life, what will happen to our loved ones, to our aspirations; to our community, and to our nation. But if there is any justice in this great scheme of things of which we are a part, Wil’s spirit will be with us in those struggles which we shall have to wage – for the future of our countryside, for social justice, for national freedom, for cultural fulfilment and for international peace.
Wil is with us in each and every one of those campaigns; he will not be forgotten; nor will he be indolent; his memory will fire us in our aspirations; and thereby, he too, will share in their ultimate triumph.
Thank you Wil; blessed is your memory; and rest in peace.
Penri Jones, Author of Jabas, Councillor and Welsh language activist has died at the age of 78 years.
A tribute by Liz Saville Roberts:
Penri is well known to generations of Welsh people as the author who created the character Jabas. But there was much more to Penri: Author of a number of novels, a Welsh language teacher and a highly regarded local politician.
I had the privilege of working with Penri when Coleg Meirion Dwyfor opened in 1993. He was amongst a number of teachers who chose to come to the new college to be able to provide Welsh language education of the highest standard.
As well as working as a lead teacher, he represented Llanbedrog Community on Gwynedd Council as a Plaid Cymru councillor where he held the education portfolio for many years and played a key role in developing and implementing the county’s language policy.
Penri was also an union representative for the UCAC teachers’ union. On his request I joined UCAC, becoming the union representative after him, and following his encouragement I stood as a county councillor in 2004. Without his encouragement, I would never have ventured into politics. I have a significant personal debt to him.
Every sympathy to Mair and the family and to Penri’s many friends.
Tributes have been paid by family and friends to former Councillor on Gwynedd Council, Pat Larsen, who passed away at Gwynfa on 20 November 2021.
A former primary school teacher Mrs Larsen served as Mayor on the former Arfon District Council. She was a member of the former Gwynedd Council and was elected onto the newly formed Gwynedd Council in 1996. She was its first chairman in 1996-98.
Apart from a period when her children were small she had been a councillor for over 50 years. One Penisarwaun resident said many villagers could not remember a time when Mrs Larsen was not their councillor.
Paying tribute in a message to the Larsen family on social media Dwyfor Meirionnydd MP Liz Saville Roberts said: “I am proud to have known Pat Larsen when she was a county councilor, remembering her toughness and friendliness.”
Gwynedd Council vice chair, Cllr Elwyn Jones, who now represents the Penisarwaun ward, said: “I’m very sorry to hear the news of Mrs Larsen’s death. She was a very special woman who had a very special relationship in the community and beyond.”
Councillor Simon Glyn, the current Chair of Gwynedd Council, said: “Pat Larsen served tirelessly and effectively for her area and for Wales for many years and will be fondly remembered as a member of the councils of Arfon and Gwynedd and especially of her tenures as Mayor and Chairman.”
Arfon Senedd Member Sian Gwenllian, who served with Mrs Larsen on Gwynedd Council for many years, added: “I was saddened to hear about the passing of Pat Larsen, a woman that was very much ahead of her time. Hers was an immense contribution not only to her local community, but to the whole of Gwynedd and Wales.
“She led the way for women such as myself in her unyielding determination and I considered it a privilege to serve side-by-side with her as a councillor.
“My thoughts are with her family at a time of inevitable sadness and grief, but I will also be celebrating the life of Pat Larsen, a life well and truly lived to the full, and on a personal level, I will give thanks for being able to know and learn from her wisdom and perseverance.”
It is with great sadness that we heard of the death of Maldwyn at the age of 93 on April 9 2021 following a short illness.
Maldwyn was a member of Plaid Cymru since his youth in Blaenau Ffestiniog, and he acted conscientiously and tirelessly for the party throughout his life.
He came to prominence in the seventies as a Porthmadog Town Councillor and Gwynedd Councillor for Plaid Cymru. This is the period when membership of the Bro Madog Branch led by Maldwyn was over 300.
As Chair of the Education Committee he was one of the founders of Cyngor Gwynedd’s Welsh Education policy, and solid foundations were laid. He also contributed to the Welsh language being at the forefront of Council services.
He was Dafydd Wigley’s agent in the 1979 and 1983 elections, and organised colourful campaigns when “Herald Ni” was being distributed to every house in the old Arfon Constituency.
His biggest contribution to the Porthmadog area was – along with Bryan Rees Jones – setting up Elusen Rebecca (charity) and buying the Cob. The charity continues to distribute the interest raised by the tolls to societies and organisations on an annual basis.
He was also active in Yr Wylan, the local community newspaper. He was Chairman of the management committee and a member of the Editorial panel.
During his life Maldwyn’s contribution to his area, Plaid Cymru and Wales was notable. He was an inspiration and a source of gratitude to those of us who are trying to follow his lead.
Our deepest condolences to his sons Dewi and Geraint, his daughter Gwenith and their families in their bereavement.
With sadness we heard of the death of R. Keith Davies, Tonteg, at the end of February 2021 after a short illness. Originally from Solfach and Fishguard, he was a teacher at Ysgol Bryncelynnog and very active in the local community.
He was a Plaid Cymru Councillor on Taff Ely Borough Council and on Llanilltud Faerdref Community Council. He was one of the founders of Clwb y Bont and a keen member of its cricket team and he taught Welsh to adult learners.
He was lead singer of the group Y Traddodiad and a soloist on Côr Godre’r Garth’s first record.
After the loss of his wife, Margaret, he was fortunate of the care and support of his partner, Sandra, and he moved to Cardiff in 2008. We extend our sympathies to Sandra and his children Elin, Rhys ac Owain, and grandchildren Harri, Marged, Taliesin and Gwenllian and their families in their loss.
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…