Night of song opens Welsh­fest 2019

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - By Sean Wil­liams [email protected]­

For at least one day per year, ev­ery­one in Rock­mart is Welsh. Hail­ing from the south­west­ern cor­ner of the United King­dom, the Welsh are cited as one of the most in­flu­en­tial groups to set­tle the Ge­or­gia coast, and as early as the mid-1800’s, they’ve ex­isted and con­trib­uted to Rock­mart and other sur­round­ing ar­eas.

Rock­mart’s Welsh her­itage re­mains a vi­tal part of the city’s his­tory, and in or­der to both cel­e­brate the his­tory of the group and to pro­mote lo­cal tourism, var­i­ous events in honor of Welsh cul­ture are held within the city. While the an­nual WELSH­fest draws hun­dreds of at­ten­dees to down­town Rock­mart each year, fewer know about the hymn sing that takes place the day be­fore.

Or­ga­nized by former Polk County His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety pres- ident Greg Gray, the event is styled af­ter the Welsh fes­ti­val ‘Cy­manfa Ganu’ where hymns are sung in a four-part har­mony to­gether by a con­gre­ga­tion and a direc­tor.

Lo­cal acts such as the Scar­let Wool Band and the Dale Brum­be­low Quar­tet were in­vited to per­form fa­vorites such as ‘I’ll Fly Away’ and ‘Amaz­ing Grace’ be­fore Wales-born cit­i­zen Dr. Rheinallt M. Jones di­rected the at­ten­dees through var­i­ous Welsh hymns such as ‘Calon Lan.’

Jones would of­fer con­text to each song be­fore ask­ing the con­gre­ga­tion to stand and sing with him, and while most songs were per­formed in English, Jones was able to treat guests to a per­for­mance in his na­tive lan­guage of Welsh, too.

“We have Cy­manfa Ganu in Wales that last about an hour and a half,” Jones said. “We would belt out 15 to 20 songs in one ses­sion. We’re gonna do, per­haps, three tonight. When I was grow­ing up, we would have one ev­ery year, and it was a high­light of the church sea­son be­cause af­ter singing 15 songs, there would be a mas­sive spread of cakes, sand­wiches, and tea.”

True to his idea of pro­mot­ing lo­cal tourism, Gray held the hymn sing at the His­toric Van Wert Church to help high­light in­ter­est­ing lo­cal stops. While they may come to in­dulge in a slice of Welsh his­tory, they may re­turn to visit the old­est stand­ing church in the county.

Built in 1857, the build­ing sur­vived the wrath of the Civil War and it’s ceme­tery now serves as the fi­nal rest­ing place for many sol­diers. The his­tor­i­cal so­ci­ety has spent thou­sands ren­o­vat­ing and pro­tect­ing the church, and it’s his­tory with the Welsh is one of the main rea­sons.

“The Welsh came here in the 1860’s and started quarry in the slate,” Gray said. “They used this church build­ing for their chapel. Out back be­hind the place are graves of some of those early set­tlers that came from Wales to quarry. Carl Welsh, of St. David’s Welsh So­ci­ety, con­tacted me and we de­cided, for tourism, we would de­velop our fes­ti­val to draw in peo­ple from out of town.”

Num­bers from the U.S Travel As­so­ci­a­tion and Tourism Eco­nom­ics state that Ge­or­gia’s tourism in­dus­try gen­er­ated a record­high $63.1 bil­lion in eco­nomic im­pact in 2017- an in­crease of 3.8 per­cent over 2016. While Polk’s own spe­cific num­bers are un­known, his­tor­i­cal sites re­main one of the most pop­u­lar tourist at­trac­tions the state over.

In Wales, more than a thou­sand Cy­manfa Ganu are held an­nu­ally, but any­where Welsh cul­ture thrives, so does the fes­ti­val. Rock­mart first joined in the tra­di­tion in 2015, and the first Cy­manfa Ganu in the North Amer­ica was held as early as 1929 in New York.

/ Sean Wil­liams

Dr. Rheinallt M. Jones pro­vided a mes­sage for at­ten­dees dur­ing the 2019 Welsh­Fest Hymn Singing at the His­toric Van Wert Church in Rock­mart.

/ Sean Wil­liams

Scar­let Wool pro­vided both English and Welsh verse dur­ing the an­nual Hymn Singing at Van Wert Church on Fri­day night, March 15.

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