CERES visits Wales

Article published on July 28, 2008
community published
Article published on July 28, 2008
During July two members of CERES - Fiona Constantine and myself - visited Wales to attend a reception marking the twentieth anniversary of ECTARC [the European Centre for Training and Regional Cultures] in Llangollen. The visit provided an opportunity to hold discussions with colleagues at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, and this was taken.

CERES commenced a working relationship with ECTARC - known originally as the European Centre for Traditional and Regional Cultures - soon after the Centre's formation, Llangollen being visited on various occasions. The relationship was constructive and among other initiatives produced the successful MINET project [a European network of former mining areas which provided a significant prelude to Cornwall's World Heritage Site Bid] along with shared work on the economic potential of regional heritage. The latter lead on to major European conferences in Ireland and Wales, and to ECTARC's submission of relevant case-studies to the European Commission. Further joint initiatives were planned, but sadly did not materialise due to the Centre's severe funding difficulties brought on by a pre-Welsh devolution reorganisation of local government in Wales. ECTARC's survival was in serious doubt, and that it survived was due to the determination and dedication of a small group of its key staff to whom great credit is due. The Centre - under its revised name - is now administered by Denbighshire County Council, with support from the Welsh Assembly. It occupies a former school building.

As a result of the reorganisation significant parts of ECTARC's activities had to be abandoned, and these included the shared project and study initatives in which CERES was involved. Currently ECTARC [as its new name implies]is a training centre for European students, who enroll to learn about Welsh culture and to bring and share their own.

The reception was thus an occasion to celebrate a considerable achievement, and CERES is grateful for the invitation for two of us to be present. The event was attended by a wide range of Welsh-related public and executive life including the Head of the European Commission in Cardiff, together with former and present members of staff and European students. Fiona Constantine and myself were the only representatives from Cornwall, and were made warmly welcome. There were various speeches tracing ECTARC's history, problems and current success, looking towards an optimistic future. In the process I was interviewed for Welsh radio.

It is not known whether others from Cornwall were invited. Following the initial links created by us there were involvements by the Institute of Cornish Studies and the County Council, but these ceased at the time of the funding difficulties. Despite the enforced abandonment of much that had been planned CERES maintained its ECTARC association on a mutual awareness basis, and our sympathetic interest was and remains appreciated. For the moment our association will continue at informal levels, though conversations have indicated that a return to forms of project work might be possible at later stages. Dialogue will be maintained, with the hope that in time we can idenify areas of shared interest. A further visit to Llangollen is envisaged.

There was a discussion with the Head of the European Commission in Cardiff, who complimented CERES on its knowledge of Europe's affairs, saying that we seemed better informed than much of the UK's press. The remark was encouraging and appreciated.

In what was a generally dismal week for weather the sun shone in Llangollen, with much of the reception taking place in the former school yard. The event was accompanied by a young Welsh harpist, who happily played her heart out.

We were pleased to see the St Piran's Cross flying prominently in the main street of Llangollen, adding to the gaiety and life of the International Eisteddfod which was taking place at that time. Enquiries revealed that the shop concerned sells Cornish ice cream.

The National Library of Wales was visited on the day following the ECTARC reception, a meeting being held with two senior staff members. Links with the Library commenced in 1986, as part of the work of Cowethas Flamank from which CERES is descended. Subsequently archive material of potential value for research and other purposes was transferred there, for the institution is a major centre for Celtic culture and heritage and is always pleased to receive relevant documentation. It has noteworthy Cornish holdings, including the original copy of the Meriasek.

The archive and its future were discussed as well as a range of matters relating to the heritage of Cornwall and Wales, inter-alia our interlinked industrial associations, and art and literary subjects. The current work of CERES was outlined.

A local example of our interlinked industrial associaions had been noted at Ponterwyd [in the mountains outside Aberystwyth], where Fiona Constantine and myself had stayed overnight on our way from Llangollen. Nearby is the former silver-lead mine of Llywernog, now a heritage centre, the promotional leaflets for which acknowledge the part played by Cornish mining technology in the development of the mine. There are many similar examples of this key influence across Wales along with surviving Cornish engine houses, and this was mentioned at the meeting. The Library told us that a mining map of Wales is being considered, and wondered if a similar map exists for Cornwall to which reference could be made. We said we would make enquiries, and advice and information from Cornish sources will be most welcome.

The acquisition of an Augustus John painting by the Royal Institute of Cornwall was mentioned by the Library, a painting which the staff member responsible for art matters is hoping to view. We asked to be notified of any such visit, in the interests of making him welcome and of returning hospitality. CERES' Jean Monnet House initiative was outlined, and the Library told us that it is planning an exhibition of Celtic art to which a Cornish contribution would be welcome.

Literary matters centred largely on Dylan Thomas' Cornish associations and marriage, and his interest in fishing harbours as expressed famously in "Under Milk Wood".

The outline of CERES' current work included references to our contribution to the European Cultural Foundation's LabforCulture programme, details being noted by the Library. It is to be hoped greatly that Cornwall will contribute to the programme, in all ways possible.

Discussions continued over coffee and we were invited back for a further visit later in the year, to meet other senior staff members and to be shown more of the Library's work and Celtic associations. The invitation has been accepted, with a likely date in October or early November.

Llangollen weather did not extend to Aberystwyth, and from the Library's terrace we looked down on a grey, wet and cheerless scene, wondering where the sea had gone and pitying unfortunate holiday makers. Inside the building there was warmth and welcome.

John Fleet